- Reading biographies teaches children about other countries of the world and their culture. Reading about a man like Sundar Singh will teach the reader the culture of the Indian and Tibetan people. A poor child, in particular, may never get to travel to India or Tibet, but as he reads a biography, he can learn so much about the land where the individual lived.
- Reading biographies makes learning history interesting. Who wants to study textbooks and learn about times in history by reading short paragraphs summaries about interesting events? Vicariously living in history through reading biographies is so much more exciting and memorable.
- Reading biographies provides children strong examples of good character in action. A parent or teacher can find historical figures who have displayed specific character qualities and personally choose biographies with the intent of developing character in their own child or student. If one wanted to teach their child the quality of compassion, they might choose to read the biography of Amy Carmichael. Of course, discussing the ways that Amy displayed compassion in her life will further develop the child’s awareness of compassion. Finishing by asking how they could develop this quality would help the student to personalize the quality and apply it to his life.
- Reading biographies allows children to study leadership skills of great leaders. The best way to learn leadership skills is to observe great leaders. While one cannot go back in time to study the ways of General Douglas MacArthur or George Washington, for example, but we can study the lives that they lead and the choices they made by reading biographies written about them.
- Reading biographies will grow empathy in your child’s heart. When your child reads biographies, he will be able to experience so many other situations of life that it will help him to be able to feel how other people feel in various situations. As authors write about individuals they often include thoughts the character would have been thinking, so even if your child does not willingly empathize, the author will teach them this skill.
Today we spent some time talking about this week’s character quality, composure, the ability to remain calm in the middle of confusion and frustration. After lunch I was reading with my third grade daughter. We started this biography of George Washington Carver.
We took turns reading paragraphs in chapter one. In one of the early paragraphs my daughter came across one of this week’s spelling words. We continued reading, and in the last paragraph of chapter one, the author talked about Susan Carver trying to keep her composure as she cared for George after his mother had been kidnapped. It is just a sweet blessing in my days when this happens, and I can hardly believe how frequently it happens. Thank you, LORD!
This morning our 5 year old and I walked Daddy to the car when he left for work. Everyone else was still sleeping. As we walked inside, he asked me to sit on the porch while he played in the back yard. We have had an enjoyable hour and a half to ourselves. (!)
I brought my phone and the Book of Virtues with me. I was intending to get my Bible reading in and skim the Book of Virtues for a literature idea I am working on. I can’t say that I accomplished either completely, but I did get some thinking in.
On the page following the introduction to the Book of Virtues, William Bennett shared a portion from Plato’s Republic. Since I have been working to focus more on developing character through our schoolwork, Plato’s words really grabbed my attention.
“Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up? We cannot….Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable, and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts…”
As I think about his writing and particularly what the Bible says about our thinking in Philippians 4:8, I see a 2 part determination that must be present in our reading choices and literature classes for our families.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
We must determine 2 things.
1. We must not present our children favorable examples of bad character in our reading choices. (or viewing choices!)
It is for this reason, when my oldest children were young we decided not to watch particular programs (even on PBS!), because the producers made the parent(s) look like idiots or because a bratty child was not corrected and disciplined. It is for this reason that I do not offer reading choices which include profanity, witchcraft, or anti-God themes.
2. We MUST also teach our children to choose to read (and think) on things that pass the Philippians 4:8 test. You will notice the verse does not say “don’t think on bad things.” It says, “think on these things.”
Is this honest?
Is this just?
Is this pure?
Is this lovely
Is this a good report?
Is this a virtue we should model?
Is this praiseworthy?
For me, this means I am not offering my children literature such as Harry Potter. It means we don’t watch Caillou and Arthur. (There are other books and videos that are ruled out, but those are the ones that came to mind just now.)
For us, this is why we love to read biographies of great people in history and virtuous literature. This is why my kids love to watch “Friends and Heroes” and read the Jesus Storybook Bible.
How would you apply this to your reading and tv viewing choices? What woud you leave out? What will you pursue?