Mother Culture

A Personal Growth: How My Views on Literature Changed Between My Eldest and Youngest Sons

When I think of how I’ve changed as a home educator, the biggest area is literature. I like to think I understand math, Latin and our English language better. I still believe history should be taught with living books and biographies, even if I waver on the best implementation. I think science is even cooler than before, and that’s not all due to the Mythbusters.

But the biggest shift has been my view of literature: especially fairy tales, myths, Shakespeare, and poetry. I’m not claiming to know it all, or even to know much. Actually, the more I learn the more I realize that I don’t know.
When my biggest boy was only five, I could not understand why you’d read those awful, violent fairy tales to a child. When I read a few booklist containing myths in second AND third grade, I wondered why they would focus so much on myths and false gods.
When eldest was about six, I read “Peter Pan” for the first time. I really didn’t like it. But Ambleside Online and everyone else had it listed, so I tried to read it aloud to all the kids. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that we didn’t finish it.
That same year, also thanks to Ambleside, we took a stab at reading the “Just So Stories”. Oh my. That book, in my not-humble opinion, was a work of torture. All the lil’ ‘tractions, and the best beloveds, and the svelts, I dreaded it. Due to a huge detour to work on some reading & language issues with my son, we didn’t finish the book.
Fast forward to this year. I still haven’t read all of Charlotte Mason’s books, but I’ve read large sections of her books and many PNEU articles, plus a few books about her methods. I’ve seen this quote (often attributed to G. K. Chesterson) a gazillion times in various places:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

My older two boys and I read some Greek myths. I even read a few picture books about various myths & fairy tales to all three boys. I’m still not to sure about the relationships between the gods and goddesses, but we enjoy Theseus growing strong and lifting the stone, We cheer when Perseus slays the gorgon. I decide myths are kind of cool. Besides, I’m understanding those old Star Gate shows on Amazon Prime a lot better now.

I join in a huge Circe discussion on the Well Trained Mind. I listen to old talks on audio, trying to shift my mind and understand. I hear of a thing called “annotated books” from an experienced homeschool mom. My library has a few, I stick them on hold, the first one I get is Peter Pan. (Imagine my eyes rolling.) It sits on my shelf. Finally I decide I better look at it. I skim the first section about the author’s life, and get to the story, fully intent on ONLY scanning the annotations in the margin. Whether it was the added time and contemplation on my part or the annotations, I start to read the storytext as well. I pull my first book binge in what seems like forever, and read the whole book, annotations and all, within twenty four hours. It’s back on my “read to the kids” stack.

We also restart Ambleside Online, and I have another 6 year old boy. This one can narrate, but he is all wild, squirrelly, bouncy boy. I strongly consider skipping the “Just So Stories” — in fact I delay them nearly a term. But the other readings are going so well (including the violent fairy tales, which we enjoy together), and I plunge in. My tongue is still twisted, but this time I start to like the repeating phrases. They are like lifelines. I read a little snippet that Kipling wrote the stories for his daughter. In one of the final chapters, about a cat, I am rewarded. I tell my just turned 7 year old that it’s a long chapter, we’ll read half. I note my eldest son, now 10 years old, is also staying in the area, listening. I start to read, expecting this to be like the other chapters – cute and good for the kids. I should say I love cats. We read the whole chapter in one session, myself and both boys. It becomes one of my favorite short stories. I anticipate reading it to my daughter in a few more years.

Today’s blog carnival is about Charlotte Mason’s teaching of literature. I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say. But she recommends fairy tales (real ones), fables and myths. She includes tough books like Parables from Nature and the Pilgrim’s Progress. (Which we are starting this fall with a lovely dramatized audio version!) She has them hear the stories of Greece and Troy from Andrew Lang. Why?

The great tales of the heroic age find their way to children’s hearts. They conceive vividly and tell eagerly.

Education is a relationship, development of a person. Literature has a profound impact, and we need to stop worrying about what the child can handle! We need to spread the feast, and trust they will take in what they can.

Why do I read these old stories – the old children’s classics, myths and fairy tales? Because there is evil in the world – there are dragons. I want my children to know that dragons can be killed, that evil can be overcome. We need more heroes in our hearts.

4 thoughts on “A Personal Growth: How My Views on Literature Changed Between My Eldest and Youngest Sons

  1. Oh, I totally relate to your post. I only have two, but this year, my second time around with year 1, I am DELIGHTING, still difficult to me, but it is a profound feeling I am having, and not only, my second daughter narrates with easiness, understands more than I do, and oldest girl is picking up from her sister while plunging along with her year 3 readings.

    It is magical to see that, after despising books like Pilgrims Progress, year 3 girl asked me to read it again, but to stop when she was tired, and to please, not to narrate. I oblige. Battles are to be picked, but the war is being won! LOL.

  2. Parables of Nature was a book I wasn’t sure I’d continue but my dd is actually beginning to enjoy it – she used to complain she couldn’t understand it. Re fairy tales & myths – I felt much the same as you. Reading A Landscape with Dragons by Michael O’Brien was really good to get my head around the whole idea; love the Chesterton quote.

  3. I think the change in your thinking reflects a lot of us who use CM and AO! Just So Stories was *really* hard to read but I’m so glad we persevered! I’m glad you did, too. 🙂

  4. I enjoyed this…I feel like I’ve been on a similar journey through home educating my 6. I think my own maturation and skill level in reading difficult books has increased dramatically! Plutarch’s Lives was a good example–each time we sat down to read it, I’d have to tell the kids, “Ok, this is going to be hard for me too, but we can do it!!” Many blessings to you–keep up the good work.

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