As I began to see the value in using whole, or living books to teach our children about the world, I became concerned with how to go about changing their literary diet without turning them off of this new, healthier feast altogether.
Was it cruel to just get rid of all the “fluff” I had allowed to accumulate in the house?
The idea that they would voluntarily pick up a book like Caddie Woodlawn over the next Heartland horse novel seemed lofty, but it worked! I didn’t need to defend the use of living books; they defended themselves.
Some of our children needed a little encouragement to stray from their comfortable, colorful paperbacks and try something new – something that required greater exercising of their brain.
Here are 4 things that we found helpful in whetting their appetite for the good stuff!
1. Read Living Books Aloud To Your Children
There is nothing more contagious to a child than a parent’s own enthusiasm for a topic! It’s hardly motivating to tell a child to read something edifying without being willing to sit down and read ourselves.
“But, how can I fit reading aloud to each child into our day? I have six kids!”
That’s the beauty of living books; they appeal to all ages! You can read the same book to the whole crew and each child will pull from a chapter the information that strikes them personally (you’ll be able to keep tabs on what knowledge has been assimilated through narration….but that’s another topic for another day!).
Each day, I read a chapter (or two, or three!) out loud from 6 or 7 different books on a variety of topics covering Church History, World History, Poetry, Hymn Study, Geography, and Science. We call this our “Morning Basket” time (I will be forever grateful to my friend M. who introduced me to this idea), and typically do it right after the breakfast dishes are cleared and put away.
Everyone snuggles up on the couch and settles in for an hour of reading and discussion on the living books we’re journeying through together. When we finish a book, we start another one on the same topic. Even our 4 year old son loves to join us for Morning Basket Time – whatever he picks up is a bonus!
It’s our favorite time of the day! I didn’t think I was cut out for reading aloud that long, but now we can’t even imagine our days without our Morning Basket. Pleasant experiences are easy to build an appetite for!
2. Limit Screen Time
One of the best things we ever did to encourage more reading was to cancel our Netflix account. We’ve never had a T.V. but that means nothing since it’s so easy to stream whatever we like from multiple devices!
I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with watching a good movie (whether it’s streamed or recorded makes no difference to its substance), but I found I was becoming increasingly dependent on “Netflix time” at the end of the day to keep the kids occupied and enjoy a few quiet moments to myself. Instead of picking up a good book to get lost in, they felt they needed to watch something, and I let them “for my own sanity.”
However, I didn’t like what happened when the show was turned off. The culmination of bad moods and “I-don’t-know-what-to-do’s” seemed to nullify those moments of quiet enjoyed while the show was running!
Additionally, there was a striking lack of good material to choose from. Searching for something worthwhile to keep them entertained took almost as long as watching an episode itself!
We decided to rip off the band-aid and cancel our account. No more Netflix.
The adjustment period took far less time than I anticipated. You can’t cheat if you can’t access the junk food! We had no choice but to eat the good stuff, and not only did we find it palatable, it was actually delicious!
Now, instead of watching Netflix, that time is spent either reading, listening to an audiobook, watching a Sign Language or Torch Lighter DVD, or otherwise finding a constructive activity to do (Here are 101 different ideas!). We’ve had no regrets about this move!
3. Try A Living Audiobook On For Size
One of the greatest challenges we found in trying to whet our children’s appetites for good books, was finding material that could be enjoyed by a struggling reader. Books that were beyond their reading level were not enticing. It felt too much like work to be enjoyed, and since living books are usually unabridged and not “dumbed down,” I found myself in a little predicament!
Audiobooks came to our rescue!
Living audiobooks such as G.A. Henty’s works of historical fiction were eaten up with great delight! As novels, these books probably wouldn’t have been picked up for years, but by listening to them, their knowledge of world history surpassed anything they could have read at their level, and their vocabulary grew exponentially.
4. Declutter The “Fluff”
This is a work in progress for me, as I hate parting with books, and we have so many of them!
Similarly to canceling Netflix, you can’t eat it if it’s not in the house.
What constitutes as ‘fluff,’ or twaddle as Charlotte Mason calls it?
Twaddle is defined as silly or idle talk about insignificant and worthless things. Contrasted with the characteristics of a living book, this can refer to books that talk down to children, lack literary quality, and fail to spark the imagination or invite inner dialogue. They lack interesting plot lines and can typically be read very quickly because there is little meat for the reader to chew on.
“Fluff” is often available in a series, because the same characters are used over and over, and the plot line rarely changes.
In the process of eliminating the twaddle we’ve collected, the books I’m scrapping can generally be summed up as those we feel our kids will not be better off for reading. That’s a pretty general rule of thumb that will differ for each family based on personal convictions and beliefs about literature. Only you and your children can know which books are having a positive impact on their lives!
Have you edited your bookshelf recently?
What kind of books do you find yourself discarding freely, and which ones do you feel you need to buy multiple copies of to preserve for future generations?!