So far, it looks like I am off to a great start in my goal of raising readers. The pile of books my kids bring home after each visit to the library is evidence of that.
But, I don’t just want my kids to be able to read. I want them to feel comfortable with turning to written materials to learn anything they want, to know the joy of reading stories that engage them and move them emotionally, and to find the great literature of the English language accessible. To succeed in the last task, making the great literature accessible, I must introduce them not only to the classics, but also to the material referred to by the classics.
So, on this weekend of Easter and Passover, I am telling them bible stories. We are neither Christian nor Jewish. We do, however, celebrate a springtime festival of chocolate that we call Easter, and a winter festival of lights and gift-giving that we call Christmas. I am not telling them these stories because they are part of our faith tradition; I am telling them these stories because they are reference material for literate readers.
So, last night, we talked about the plagues of Egypt, the slaughter of the Egyptian first-born sons, the exodus, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb. We also talked about calendars and the scheduling of holidays.
Today, we will be at a maple syrup festival and will surely talk about symbols of spring. Sunday’s egg hunt will bring us to conversations about how religions use natural phenomena as symbols. We have these conversations every year. As the kids get older, the conversations get deeper, richer, and more complex.
I am fully conscious that what I am doing is passing down cultural traditions in a way that reveals my deepest beliefs. I am sharing stories I think are necessary for my children to understand their literary heritage. I am sharing my appreciation for myth and metaphor, encouraging an understanding of the importance of the stories we tell, grounding my love of wonder and miracle in observation of the natural world, and imparting my belief that history is a vital part of understanding who we are. To me, all of these elements are part of teaching my children to read.
It is not just enough to be able to look at words and know what they mean. To read well, you need to understand what the author is talking about, and that often means understanding references to other material.
I wrote about the need for writers to read widely last April, and included familiarity with the bible in that context. I believe that raising literate readers requires the same approach.
Are there specific books and stories you think children should be exposed to?