Reading for fun is the natural way to learn!
When we were kids ourselves, we read for fun. Our teacher parents had read to their six children since we were born, and by following along on the page we had each picked up the skill long before kindergarten. We found that reading to ourselves was empowering, a way to explore new situations, personas, countries and families while still safely ensconced in our own. We felt the pleasure of choosing our own worlds and wandering through them at our own pace, pausing to think, look, or feel for as long as we liked. And there was nothing faster or flashier to lure us away. The television we briefly owned was banished, and distracting electronic gadgets were yet to be invented. So none of us was ever without a book. We would read in the car on the way home from school, in our favorite nooks around the house, at the dinner table with our books on our laps, in the living room before bedtime, and under the covers with a flashlight until we were caught.
When we weren’t reading, we were pretending – and most of our pretend play was based on the books we had read. On weekends we would act out favorite scenes,or do the things the characters liked to do. It was that sensory experience, more than anything, that brought the books alive for us, that let us break from the old-fashioned syntax to feel, smell, see, taste, and hear the distant story in our own place and time. We couldn’t read Heidi, for example, without stopping to assemble a tray of a few chunky slabs of cheese and a wooden salad bowl filled with milk. Tom Sawyer had us building forts in the nearby forest. The Secret Garden sent us beyond the rosebushes to scratch out “a bit of earth” in the hidden space along the fence. Little Women introduced us to the joy of putting on plays in our tumbledown barn, and Treasure Island took us out to the orchard to bury our favorite objects, pirate-style.
When our reading triggered questions, our teacher parents responded with an enthusiastic “Let’s look it up!” It didn’t take long before we were doing just that without being told. Right in the middle of a good book we’d flip it upside down and seek out the definition, the historical context, the mythological allusion, the Latin phrase translation, the references to authors and artists, or whatever stopped us in our reading tracks. And those digressions through The Golden Book Encyclopedia or musty sets of The Book of Knowledge often proved just as enthralling as the text we had set aside.
Our book-inspired imaginings and digressions broadened and deepened our knowledge. The books we were reading simply because we wanted to sent us off to experience and self-educate – simply because we wanted to. There was nothing pedantic or overtly “educational” about it, no awareness that we were being taught. We were curious about experiences and issues our books had raised, and we enjoyed satiating our curiosity. It was fun. And we grew up to be (and raise our own) close readers and excellent students, still following book-paths down enticing trails of discovery.
Today’s students expand on their knowledge and reading by following enticing links online. But the Internet, though speedier and far more comprehensive than our old encyclopedia sets, can sometimes lead a child astray. For better and for worse, it’s not self-contained like The Book of Knowledge was. Not every digression is relevant, credible, or even safe. And though the Web can provide great ideas for having fun and learning more (for instance, the LitWits website!), it certainly can’t play. The sensory supplement is essential to experience – the tastes and touch, the smells and sights and sounds of a story. And so is the infectious enthusiasm of a present, caring human being – something that teachers have known since Socrates.
That’s why we founded LitWits Workshops – to help kids experience great books the way we did. To help them reenact, imagine, immerse, digress, consider, decipher, play – and love to teach themselves. To help them find their way through enticing allusions and tangents. We have such a wonderful time re-experiencing our childhood books with our workshop readers, but we can’t be everywhere. With the detailed help of our complete guides and the support of our online community, you can provide these experiences too.
But then again, it might turn out to be!
Becky Clendenen Kimball and Jenny Clendenen Walicek
Sisters, Friends, and Partners (Click here for our creds!)