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Family Reading Practices

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My family has five children, ages 2, 5, 7, 10, and 11. The youngest is a girl, but the rest are boys. All of our boys sleep in the same room, so for as long as I can remember we've made it a practice to read in the evenings while the boys were in bed. As the boys have grown older, the books we've chosen to read have matured as well. What began as condensed Bible stories and picture books has grown into reading the Bible and books by Brian Jaques, N.D. Wilson, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, as well as series like Imagination Station, I Survived, Magic Tree House, and Harry Potter. I had never been especially carful to filter what we read for the younger children, since the older boys never really reacted oddly to the books we read. However, my 5-year-old has been more sensitive to scarier moments, and I've tried to mitigate this by reading the Bible and younger-age-level books until he falls asleep and going to more advanced books afterward. We've also considered having one of us read to the two youngest in my daughter's room while the other read to the older boys in the boys' room.

What family reading practices do you follow in your homes, and how have you navigated the variety of ages and responses to "heavier" or more difficult books?

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We naturally separated the kids when they were over 10. The bigs were no longer interested in reading time and wanted to read on their own. (Ours are 6, 8. 11 and 14) I read to the two younger boys at night and once in a while, my 11-year-old will wander in if she wants to. My bigs and I get together on Saturday mornings to chat about our weekly reading without little ears and possibly more mature conversation. We have only had one time when my son was 5 and we got to the part where Charlotte dies in Charlotte's Web, my boy broke out in hysterics! Crying, screaming, "No, NO!" It made me realize his emotional immaturity and yet, I think it helped him grow too. It is a challenge to know when too much is just that or enough to help them along.

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I am sure I have exposed my littles to things they may have not been ready for, but it was more important to me for us all to read or watch things together. We have read Gregor the Underlander together, N.D. Wilson's Dragon Tooth series, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird. We watched all the Harry Potters, we watched Lord of the Rings, but I would start the third movie after the choking scene. For me that was too intense because it was a man choking his cousin for a ring. My older children could ponder the causes and effects of that, but my concern was my younger children would internalize it. The orc-killing and wild men of the west come across as good guy/bad guy. But like I said, I know there's an argument to be had whether it is more beneficial for us to watch all together or not. I am not saying I never watch something with my older children, or that my young children never watch something without my older ones, but I try to make it so that we are reading and watching things together. My older ones do have their own books they read. I guess thinking about what is the purpose of your reading time can help you decide your material and whether to make it for the whole family or maturity-related. 

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15 hours ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

I am sure I have exposed my littles to things they may have not been ready for, but it was more important to me for us all to read or watch things together. We have read Gregor the Underlander together, N.D. Wilson's Dragon Tooth series, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird. We watched all the Harry Potters, we watched Lord of the Rings, but I would start the third movie after the choking scene. For me that was too intense because it was a man choking his cousin for a ring. My older children could ponder the causes and effects of that, but my concern was my younger children would internalize it. The orc-killing and wild men of the west come across as good guy/bad guy. But like I said, I know there's an argument to be had whether it is more beneficial for us to watch all together or not. I am not saying I never watch something with my older children, or that my young children never watch something without my older ones, but I try to make it so that we are reading and watching things together. My older ones do have their own books they read. I guess thinking about what is the purpose of your reading time can help you decide your material and whether to make it for the whole family or maturity-related. 

Movies and Television present a different challenge (or challenges) than books (unless we're talking about comics or graphic novels) because the images presented seem to stick in the mind more than images conjured in our own minds during reading. I'd say the same about audiobooks, too. We have a child who could listen to me read The Hobbit without a problem, but when he heard Smaug's voice on the dramatized audiobook he grew fearful and covered his ears. While all kids have unique aspects to their personality, I think there are some natural responses to different media that parents have to take into account. We've had to adjust our movie choices because my youngest gets very fearful. He even grew fearful of a seemingly innocuous cartoon snake on a letter learning video.

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Do you think it is part of our responsibility to also teach our children what they ought to fear, or what they ought not to fear? I take my children to amusement parks and have them ride anything they are tall enough to ride. Not the whole time. But at least once. I want them to see they can face scary things and overcome their fear. My kids aren't completely fearful of going to the park or the rides. I can't get them on the kinds of rides that "drop". So I'm not advocating going completely against their level of ability. But there is so little in this world as compared to generations ago to help younger human beings grow into mature human beings who are courageous in the face of danger, or do their duty in the face of obstacles. It makes me think of Lewis' quote about purposefully finding opportunities for our children to see evil and see it overcome: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” David Hicks infers in Norms and Nobility that we can't just read about virtue, we have to find ways to help our children practice for it. 

I am not saying I am doing the right thing, or that you are wrong at all. I'm just trying to figure out what it looks like in our culture and world to raise virtuous children who love what they ought to love and do what they ought to do, even if no one else is. 

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3 hours ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

Do you think it is part of our responsibility to also teach our children what they ought to fear, or what they ought not to fear? I take my children to amusement parks and have them ride anything they are tall enough to ride. Not the whole time. But at least once. I want them to see they can face scary things and overcome their fear. My kids aren't completely fearful of going to the park or the rides. I can't get them on the kinds of rides that "drop". So I'm not advocating going completely against their level of ability. But there is so little in this world as compared to generations ago to help younger human beings grow into mature human beings who are courageous in the face of danger, or do their duty in the face of obstacles. It makes me think of Lewis' quote about purposefully finding opportunities for our children to see evil and see it overcome: “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” David Hicks infers in Norms and Nobility that we can't just read about virtue, we have to find ways to help our children practice for it. 

I am not saying I am doing the right thing, or that you are wrong at all. I'm just trying to figure out what it looks like in our culture and world to raise virtuous children who love what they ought to love and do what they ought to do, even if no one else is. 

I think this is a consideration that requires careful distinctions. There are definitely some fears that I want my kids to face so that I can train them to overcome their fear. My oldest son (when he was around four or five) and his two brothers were hanging from a pull up bar while I supported them. I then pulled up a chair and had them jump and catch the bar while I spotted them. The two younger boys had no problem jumping because they trusted me to catch them when they missed (which I did). My oldest was paralyzed by fear and didn't want to jump. He would jump from the chair to me, he would hang from the bars, but he would not jump from the chair to the bar, even though his hands were only a couple of inches shy of the bar. It took about fifteen or twenty minutes of persistence and demonstration and even discipline, but he finally jumped and after that I couldn't get him to stop. I knew that his fears were unfounded, and I wanted him to learn that God requires us to obey the things He knows we can do, even when we are afraid that we cannot do it. So there are some fears that are results of weakness, lack of faith, or unreasonable doubt, and such fears must be faced and overcome.

On the other hand there are fears that protect us from evil. I want my child to be afraid of potential threats that they aren't equipped to overcome, of dangerous behaviors they might be tempted to attempt, or of the consequences of foolish decisions. Such fears recognize our human limitations and protect us from folly.

Another consideration is the frame of the child. Some children need only a little prompting, and others need a lot over time. One of my middle sons, when he was around four or five, used to be very afraid of close physical contact like wrestling, and he was always reluctant to engage in sports for similar reasons. I didn't make it a practice to make him play all the time, but there were times when I made him wrestle or play in a backyard ball game with the other boys. Over time he has come to be more willing and to even enjoy wrestling and physical competition, even though it isn't his favorite thing to do. I don't have to make him do these things and he isn't afraid anymore, and though a lot of that is due to simple maturation of his body and mind, I think that not allowing him to avoid rough activities because he was afraid made it easier and maybe faster than it would have been otherwise. Some fears take time to overcome, and pushing too hard could result in discouragement and passivity rather than courage and strength.

I certainly haven't mastered the skill of helping my children with the element of fear, but these anecdotes at least offer some context for thinking about the kinds of fears kids face, and our responsibility as parents of teaching them how to understand them and respond.

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These stories were very helpful. Thank you for sharing them. As a mom sometimes I am doubtful I understand my sons enough. Men truly are different than women. Your account of the pull-up bar is similar to things I see in my sons sometimes. I agree that there is good fear, especially the "fear" of the Lord. 

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14 minutes ago, Cheryl Floyd said:

These stories were very helpful. Thank you for sharing them. As a mom sometimes I am doubtful I understand my sons enough. Men truly are different than women. Your account of the pull-up bar is similar to things I see in my sons sometimes. I agree that there is good fear, especially the "fear" of the Lord. 

You're welcome. I agree that differences between men and women are pronounced, and I'm thankful for them. 

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