Many parents and teachers, and college professors, encourage (perhaps require) teens and young adults to read Classics. If you are pursuing a Leadership Education for your children, you know that Classics is one of the key components. But our children should be gaining a love for classics well before they enter into scholarly studies. If they love classics before they enter into more intense, scholarly studies, they will have an easier time tackling original classics as older students.
First of all, what do I mean by Classic? In my canon, a literary work gains the title of Classic by meeting these three criteria:
1 The story has a timeless theme – teaches a timeless lesson about human nature or truth.
2 The author uses rich language and literary devices to enhance the theme.
3 The story contains a true hero – a protagonist who completes a full hero cycle (more about true heroes and the Hero Cycle in my next blog)
Our children need to hear and read whole stories. These are stories in which good is portrayed as good, evil is portrayed as evil, and good wins in the end. Stories that blur the line between good and bad are confusing to young minds. Save those shades of grey for older students, beyond puberty, who are ready to discuss the subtleties and true nature of goodness. Search out stories that teach universal truths about human nature and our divine life missions.
“Seeing ourselves as active characters in new and healthy stories
carries the power to transform lives.”
Daniel Taylor, The Healing Power of Stories
Our children need to meet truly virtuous people in the stories they hear and read. They need these hero models in a world that praises celebrity over character. Classics give children a chance to befriend truly good people, observe how true heroes behave, and experience the consequences of choices in a safe environment.
“Our own characters are greatly shaped by the characters
in the stories in which we partake.”
Daniel Taylor, The Healing Power of Stories
So HOW do you inspire a love for classics? If you break out Shakespeare or Dickens this evening and begin reading, you will most likely be met with yawns and objections. And the greater danger is that your children will grow up believing that Classics are boring stories they never want to read. Here are some steps to help your children get inspired:
1 Read Classics yourself! And share your enthusiasm for the story with your children. Leave them feeling jealous that they are missing out on this great story.
2 Share children’s versions, especially those with good illustrations. Simply familiarize children with the stories of classics. The foundation needed is a familiarization with classics and positive associations (gained through reading together). This way, when they are older and ready to read the original version, knowing the basic story will make understanding the elevated language easier.
3 Read different versions. Fairy tales, especially have different versions of the same tale, such as Cinderella tales from around the world.
4 Tell stories. Summarize the stories of the classics in your own words. Encourage your children to tell the stories to you, in their own words. Change the endings together.
5 Have them draw pictures of the characters and settings.
6 Watch movies together and discuss the similarities and differences from the original stories. Which one do they prefer? Why?
7 Teach them what a Classic is, so that they can discover their own classics.
All of this applies to children in the Love of Learning Phase – typically between 8 and 14 years old. But, if you have an older student who has not yet acquired a love for classics, try the above steps rather than pushing him or her to read the originals. I will leave you with a passage from one of my favorite classics, Lord of the Rings.
It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something….That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.