Saturday, September 16, 2006

Appropriate for what age?

Jennifer's question in the comments on my Twenty and Ten post got me thinking about the ages at which we allow various books for our children.

I approach reading recommendations, age-appropriateness and reading levels with a skeptic's eye. It's such an individual thing. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that the parent can make those highly individualized choices without it becoming an issue. We can base our decisions on personality, maturity, intellect, and emotional levels rather than on "what grade they're in."

Back to Jennifer's question: she had asked about reading Twenty and Ten to Kindergarten-aged children, as per a curriculum provider's recommendation. I was surprised that the provider would list the book for such a young age (and agreed with Jennifer's gut feeling that she would skip it, just as she had skipped a book about the homeless.) While there's nothing awful or graphic, the major themes are simply beyond what most five and six year olds need to absorb. That's not to say that a young child couldn't take something from the book. Ramona actually listened in on most of our Twenty and Ten read-aloud, and she took from it that, "the little one loved Jesus." I'm sure she absorbed even more than that (she proves to me daily that she's absorbing tons from the older girls ... yesterday she drew a picture of a cell, and copied the word "genetics" from her sister's science notebook ....) but the point I want to make is that while the absorption is fine, I wouldn't go out of my way to read this book specifically to Ramona when she is five or six years old, mainly because I'm making the choice as a parent to not delve deeply into themes surrounding WWII with her at that age.

The book was easy reading, to be sure. One could argue that it was too easy a reading level for my older girls, and that there was no reason for me to read it aloud. But I don't read aloud only to expose my kids to more complex books. No, I read aloud to spark discussion, to explore the world with them, and to add an element of shared discovery to their education. To my education.

I've sung the praises of read-alouds before -- here, here, here and here, for example. I continue to sing those praises.

Reading aloud lets me make decisions (I can edit if something is too intense for my hyper-sensitive child), initiate conversations ("Why do you think she did that?"), and be present to answer a string of questions that otherwise might not be asked in the course of reading a book.

So, reading aloud can help with the "Is my child old enough for this book?" dilemma for all of those reasons. Beyond that, trust your instincts. No one knows your children as you do. If they're not ready for the same book every other ten-year-old in the world has read, that's okay. And, if they're reading books that would make the average ten-year-old cringe, that's okay, too. Instead of looking at what's age-appropriate, we need (within the boundaries of protecting innocence, of course) to look at "what's appropriate for this particular child."


Jennifer said...

I've had so much trouble with this. There are so many readers and read alouds that I wonder about - cheating, stealing, and lying have not even occured to my daughter - is that something I should then TEACH her? This is such a tough issue for us. Thanks for mentioning it.

Liz said...

I agree about censoring as you read. My dd was really surprised when she finally read Stephen Lawhead's Arthur books to discover that I had actually censored some of the scenes as I read aloud. Apparently I did it so seamlessly that she never even noticed.

The one book that I studiously banned her from reading (she never even heard about things like Peyton Place and The Group of course) was Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like A Lotus. That was because of an explicit sexual scene. We did all kinds of stuff that touched on all kinds of subjects (eventually of course, not at 5 or 8), but I felt that even a teenager didn't need to be reading explicit sexual material, even if basically tastefully done.

Of course in college she ended up being required to read junk that wasn't even necessarily tastefully done, but she recognized it as such.

Of course I didn't keep her from reading things that some of my friends banned (like C.S. Lewis's space trilogy and other books that were deemed to have "bad" language). I think every family has to make their own careful choices with their own children. For example I love The Bird's Christmas Carol, but I suspect that it might be too emotional for at least one of your girls to listen to. It's sort of like taking the one sad chapter of Little Women and extending it out through the entire book. I can't read that one without crying myself.

What I mostly didn't allow was much junk literature. Teen romances weren't on the menu, not banned, I just offered better stuff. I pointed out that I don't read Harlequin romances or even Janet Oake. I had the opportunity to do book report book lists when my daughter was part of a homeschool lit class I taught. I think those lists comprised the bulk of her reading all the way through high school. It was all really good stuff (old and new). My friends' daughters seemed to go through a phase where they devoured teen romances. Even if they were not graphically sexual, it always seemed to me that it put the wrong sorts of emphasis on dating. I was always glad my daughter avoided them. The closest thing we got to them was Madeleine L'Engle's Murry family books and they were more about things other than romance.

So I agree with you, trust your own instincts.

Karen E. said...

I know just what you mean, Jennifer. My oldest was my most sensitive child, and there were things I skipped with her because they just wouldn't have been right *for her.* That's not to say that certain books we skipped weren't okay for other kids her age ... just not for her. Some issues were too hard for her to even think about, so why force them? As she has grown, she has employed coping mechanisms (not to mention simply maturing) and these days she can handle things I never would have thought possible. Keep listening to that gut feeling you have.