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Reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone!

Heart of Dakota Teaching Tip - How can you help your child love literature?
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Reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone!

My tip this week comes from more than 30 consecutive years as a teacher (which definitely shows my age). The reason I mention my years of teaching experience is because this tip is born out of years “in the trenches.” My tip is that reading classic literature at the “right time” can make a literature lover out of anyone. Deciding the “right time” to read various pieces of classic literature takes some thinking. The right time is not the same for everyone for every piece of literature.

How do you decide the “right time” to read various classics?
  1. Prior to reading (longer) unabridged classics, your child must have a reading level that allows him to comprehend the literature.
  2. He must either have a strong vocabulary or have had quite a bit of exposure to understanding higher level vocabulary. Having a strong vocabulary helps ensure the reading has meaning for your child.
  3. Your child should have some understanding of the historical time period of the literature in order to understand the context. Previous or concurrent study of the various historical time periods helps provide context.
  4. Stair-stepping your child up through gradually more difficult books leading to the reading of harder, classic literature is helpful. Otherwise, it may feel as if your child has suddenly been dumped into the literary deep end.
  5. It is wise to be sure your child is old enough to weigh mature elements and themes within a piece of literature. Otherwise, you may find your child has come to some disturbing conclusions. Literature is a powerful tool in shaping your child’s worldview. Discernment in reading often comes with maturity and a strong Biblical foundation.
What about reading abridgments of classic literature at an early age?

If a child reads abridgments at an early age, often the parents are given the impression the child is ready for more difficult, unabridged versions. It is true that after reading an abridgment a child can often get through the unabridged version. However, this doesn’t mean the child was truly ready for the unabridged version. It also doesn’t mean the unabridged version is appropriate in content or level! Instead, it means the abridgment provided the summary of the story that allowed the child to make sense of the unabridged version.

Charlotte Mason was not a fan of abridgments.

I’ll share that in true Charlotte Mason fashion I am not a huge fan of abridgments. I believe that waiting to read the story in unabridged form often provides a much richer experience. Plus, being able to read and enjoy literature in unabridged form first is a good indicator it is the “right time” for that piece of literature.

Even if your child can read classic literature early, should he?

Even if your child is an amazing reader who can read unabridged classic literature at a young age, should he? It is good to weigh whether the experience would be richer if your child waited until he was older. I know with my oldest son this was the case, even though he read the unabridged Robinson Crusoe when he was 8. Would it have been richer and better if he read this work in late middle school or high school? I believe so, and I believe this is true in many cases. I share these thoughts not to be controversial but instead to get you thinking. When is the “right time” for my child to read various pieces of classic literature? Just because a child “can” read something doesn’t mean it “is” the right time to read it. Truly, some books are best savored later!

Much thought goes into the place each literature selection holds in your HOD guide.

Today’s teaching tip is designed to show the thought and care that goes into each literature selection and its place in your HOD guide. If your child is well-placed within his HOD guide skill-wise, then the literature placement will be right too. Struggling through classic literature at the “wrong time,” without the steps I’ve mentioned above, can steal your child’s love of literature. Help your child love literature today! Correct placement in our guides is key to help you cultivate a love for literature as your child develops.


This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jodi

    This is such a timely post! I have been struggling with this very thing. The curriculum we have been doing uses very difficult literature, some is even difficult for me! Much of what we have been reading is lost on the kids and they are doing levels well under their “grade” level. I have been questioning whether or not I want to continue with it or possibly come back to HOD. I have decisions to make! Thank you for this!

    1. I believe Carrie truly has a gift for choosing the timing of when to read classic literature! I found myself having nightmares about the burning at the stake portion of Pilgrim’s Progress when I read it at a young age. Our young Sunday School class watched a video version of it after we read it that gave me nightmares and still bothers me today, though I am nearly 50 years old. When I reread Pilgrim’s Progress as a young adult, I loved it and related to the allegorical content so much more deeply! It is now a favorite book of mine, but I still have a total aversion to the part that frightened me as a young girl. The timing of when to read unabridged literature is crucial. I think Carrie’s mindful attention to this has helped my sons continue to love literature – even all the way through high school and now into college! Thank you, Carrie!!! I hope you do come back to HOD, Jodi! I think you’d be so pleased!

  2. Hannah Scheffel

    Thank you for this post! My daughter, who will be 6 soon, loves to be read to. One series that she enjoys is the Little House on the Prairie series. We started reading it about a year ago. What is your opinion on reading that particular series to a child her age?

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