When I shared my journey toward reading more non-fiction, I didn’t quite give the full picture. You see, we are a family of bookaholics. My husband and I grew up with books, and throughout our married life we have filled our own home with books. Thousands of books, both in print and in digital format.
Our children didn’t have a chance. They were doomed to love books.
It’s not so much that they had to be great at reading. Contrary to public opinion, not all of my children learned to read easily. And I’m not really referring to learning their letters and how they went together. That process came in varying degrees of ease or difficulty with each of my children, but nothing abnormal.
What I’m referring to is the act of sitting down to read for personal growth or enjoyment. Only one of my children actually has a truly inborn love for books, and most people who know my family could pick out that one child without much thought. The love for reading that the other two now have had to be actively nurtured, built, and often persuaded, just as my love for non-fiction has had to be cultivated and nourished. Despite the fact that they are all avid readers now, there still come times of persuasion when we want to encourage a new genre or challenge.
Sometimes, though, persuading our children to read certain books is as much a willingness for us as parents to think outside the box as it is for our children to do so themselves.
For example, I remember one particular book my oldest was reading for her literature class. The book was definitely outside her reading comfort zone. It was a new style and originated in a culture foreign to her. She came to me one day and told me that she was really, really enjoying the book, but she also had a problem. The comprehension questions for that particular book were strange and did not, to her, truly reflect a sense of comprehension. She began to describe some of what she’d read recently and pointed out that none of those observations were covered by the comprehension questions. Oh, she could answer the questions. But in doing so, she was having to neglect her own responses to and engagement with the book. Comprehension questions are designed to make sure that she understands. If they actually keep her from really processing the material, are they really accomplishing their purpose?
We dumped the questions. Instead, for each day’s reading assignment, she had to note five things that stood out to her and engage with those five points, explaining what she thought about them and how they had impacted her.
Parenting can never be boiled down to nutshell advice. But, the act of setting aside those comprehension questions actually does illustrate well a great number of the lessons I’ve learned about parenting over the years: We parents have to be willing to learn as we go, thinking outside the box, if we’re ever going to raise functional, adaptable children. And sometimes we have to be willing to ditch the “tried and true” advice. Not necessarily permanently, but definitely in some situations.
Each child is unique. Even beyond that, each family is unique. My nuclear family has an identity that the family I grew up in did not have. It does not insinuate anything wrong with my upbringing. But, if I parent exactly the same way my parents did, holding exactly to every bit of advice they share, then I’m holding to a standard that will not truly nourish my children—and may even cause harm. If I instead allow my upbringing and my parents’ example to be a springboard for learning how to parent my own children, then I am honoring my parents while also acknowledging the uniqueness of my children.
That’s what it means to both learn and teach well in parenting. (And yes, that goes for all parents—not just those of the homeschooling persuasion.) It means sometimes prodding because we know it’s what good for them, as with ensuring our children to learn to read well. But, other times it means paying full attention to what doesn’t quite fit. What feels off. What might not be accomplishing a desired result, even if it’s a tried and true method passed down through generations. When we are willing to stretch outside those boundaries in parenting and in learning ourselves, we set an example for our children as well, teaching them to think outside the box and pay attention to the culture, uniqueness, and specific needs of the environment or situation they are in.
And that, my friends, is learning well.