Saturday, July 20, 2013

Love Reading: Teaching Kids to Respect Literature

     I'm going to do a quick series of posts on one of my favorite things: books. I love books. I love old books. I love new books. I like paperbacks, hardbacks, and electronic books. I can't have too many. No one can have too many. It's just a matter of having enough space to keep them, of course.

So it'll go something like this and I'll start this post as the first of three:

#1. Teaching Kids to Respect Literature
#2. Printed Books vs. Electronic Books
#3. Reading Resources on a Budget

Here goes nothin':

    We have shelves and boxes full of books. We actually don't have enough space in our 900 sq ft apartment to keep all of our books on display. The three year old is certainly more aware now than ever of the importance of books but the almost-2-year old is still getting used to the idea that books aren't ready-to-make confetti. Most of our favorites are in storage. We have all sorts of things on the big shelf in our bedroom though. You'll find anything from nonfiction military history encyclopedias to Tolkien paperbacks to my 100 year old, worn out hymnals. If I was going to be a hoarder I'd be a book hoarder. Seriously. One day in a wonderful world I will have a house with a room designated just as our library with nothing but shelves full of books.

   Both my girls have been "reading" from a very young age. There hasn't been a time in their short lives they've been without a book to look at or have read to them. They love to get new books too. We happen to go to the kid's book section in Target far more often than the toy section. I'm thrilled when they get a new stack of them for their birthdays instead of tons of toys.

    Unlike many children across the world, ours here in America are afforded an incredible gift: access. There are several things that I've been taught that I try to teach my kids as well. I want them (and everyone else) to respect these now mass-produced, information-filled wonders. We seem to underestimate the value of books as we've gotten so used to the swift tap into google for information. I want my kids to understand the difference between literature and garbage. I want them to know the classics. I want them to develop thinking skills so they can determine truth and fact among piles of lore and lies. I want them to be intelligent critics of new or popular writing. I want them to be able to go into a library and access vast amounts of knowledge. I want them to comprehend the blessing that books truly are. Sadly, in this modernized, developed nation we do not reach our literacy potential. This is something we can start changing by teaching our kids the great value of literature, books, and reading.

All that said, do we actually understand the definition of literature? According to Merriam-Webster:

1. archaic: literary culture
2. the production of literary work especially as an occupation
3. a: (1) : writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (2) : an example of such writings <what came out, though rarely literature, was always a roaring good story; b: the body of written works produced in a particular language, country, or age; c: the body of writings on a particular subject <scientific literature>; d : printed matter (as leaflets or circulars) <campaign literature>
4. the aggregate of a usually specified type of musical compositions

     I think the applicable definition in this case is 3a. This snippet in particular is what I have in mind: having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.

      So, for starters we have some house rules regarding books. I think these are important to teach all kids, especially as this new generation is given so much more access to digital media and electronic versions of the books we've had sitting on shelves for years. Respecting literature really does start with respecting books. These are things I was taught as a child by my parents, through our frequent library visits, and by various individuals (strangers or family members) who maintained a love for literature themselves. Keep in mind these are guidelines for little kids. I certainly hope older children don't need to be taught some of this but who knows.

The Basics:

#1. Be gentle. Never throw, tear, bend, or bite a book. It's not a weapon. It's not for standing or stomping on. Turn pages carefully. Close it carefully before putting it away.

#2. Put it back. (This is a rule we treat loosely as we have many spots that stacks of books end up staying.) Don't leave it open. Don't leave it on the floor. Don't smash them onto the shelf. Carefully, line them up on the shelf where they belong so they don't get ruined and it's easy to find next time.

#3. Don't color on it. Don't mark on or scribble in any book. If you want to color get a clean piece of paper. The paper in books is not ours to decorate. (I usually suggest to my 3 year old that she would be very sad if someone colored on one of her drawings or in her notebook so she shouldn't color on these.)

#4. Keep it clean and dry. Pay attention to your hands. Don't flip through pages with sticky or dirty fingers. Keep your food and drinks away from it. Don't leave it in the bathroom or outside.

The Caveats:

#1. The youngest kids are going to experiment with EVERYTHING. It's built in: "what happens when I do . . . THIS?!" Hence, things are thrown, torn, bent, and bitten. This is why some genius decided to invent teether books and board books. They are way more durable for infants and toddlers. Slowly but surely they can be taught to treat books the right way. If you start with these you'll probably save yourself some effort and some money.

#2. Infants, toddlers and preschoolers aren't all that organized or coordinated yet. Expect them to cram books on top of each other and to subsequently throw them with a frustrated scream when they don't slide into place on the shelf. It seems like most kids can get a good handle on stacking books on shelves the correct way around 2 or 3 years. Before that and even beyond that, making stacks with them from biggest to smallest or having a shelf like this is a good alternative.

#3. Kiddos are creative, messy little people. They're GONNA color on books (and walls and furniture and themselves) and they are probably sticky, drooling, or dirty 90% of the time.

In the end, if you have a treasured antique or a favorite collection PUT IT AWAY. Don't just put it up high. That is considered a challenge in toddlerland. If you really, really don't want something getting messed up in some way as your sweet babes learn to respect books then put it in a box, in another box, in another box, with a lock, in a closet, in a land far away (give or take a few of those). Just make sure your expectations meet up with reality.

The Advanced:

#1. Read the author and illustrator names. In my humblest of opinions, books are works of art. They may also be scientific or historical fact in the case of non-fiction, encyclopedias, and the like. They are mass-produced, unique works of art. I wouldn't walk through the art museum ignoring the artist's names anymore than I'd read books without acknowledging the author and illustrator. I think it's important for kids to recognize books as art or in some cases more appropriately as scientific or historical publication.

#2. Be extra careful with library or borrowed books. This is a fun one. Library books are not OURS. We have to treat them the way we'd want people treating our OWN things. Very, very carefully. We are extra careful and "kind" to anything borrowed. Also important: return them on time.

#3. Remember: books are a privilege. This is probably harder to teach but it is an all-consuming concept when it comes to the importance of all these rules. Many people will never have the pleasure of owning or borrowing books if they are even able to read in the first place. It hasn't been very long since the first printing presses were invented and it's easy for us to forget the extraordinary reality of the myriad of books that sit available for us in the store.

      As N has gotten bigger I've started going a little further with these ideas. I have every intention of sharing these with all my kids. Who knows what media and literature will be like in a constitutional sense once she's an adult. Everything may be digitized and electronically filed by then. This makes it even more important, I think, to instill these things in her mind. No doubt once she's reading on her own and ready we'll be learning the Dewey Decimal System alongside practical research methods for the internet. If we think information is powerful now, imagine the difference between now and 20 years ago then amplify that into the future another 20 years. Crazy.

I'll share my thought about printed vs electronic books in the next post! 

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