06 April 2009

What are they reading?

I wanted to encourage everyone to read! I may have said that we cycle our materials every four years. Exciting and topical to entrance and interest the first grader, in-depth for the questioning fifth grader, and even more exciting and in depth for the ninth grader. (see other entries under Curriculum) In our house, I buy books on a fifth grade level to read to our first grader, and when we cycle back to the same material in the fifth grade, they read it for themselves, and in ninth grade they read source material.

I was looking at a book from a series aimed at second-graders, called "Junie B. Jones." It has sentences starting with conjunctions all over the place! It has fragments on every page! It has adjectives like "bestest." It frequently says "me and her" etc. It says dumb, stupid, darn it, meanie, what the heck, etc. which I personally think should not be encouraged in second-graders.

On a whim I looked up classical literature for this age group. It had rough breakdowns of classical literature by grade level. One example was Velveteen Rabbitby Margery Williams. The first five sentences in The Velveteen Rabbit had an average of 29.2 words in each sentence. The first five sentences of Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth had an average of 5.4 words per sentence.

An example of one of the more complex sentences which I found in JBJ & her Big Fat Mouth was "Eating things that you find on the ground is very, very dangerous." I gave it another try and found "That's because I had tingling excitement in me about Job Day." (In addition, I found the first sentence to the Pledge of Allegiance, but I didn't think it was fair to count it, as it wasn't written by the author. In a side note, Junie's reaction to the Pledge was : "Except I don't know what that dumb story is even talking about." Uh!!)

Look how this sentence from Velveteen Rabbit teaches the meaning of the word 'superior:'

"The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real."

I must admit that JBJ is so full of incorrect grammar and simple sentences because it is written from the point of view of a first-grader, who would actually speak like that (unfortunately) and have simple interactions. However, there are quite a few older books, written in a different time, from the point of view of a five-year-old(Heidi, Little House series) They are much preferred to modern books written for our young people. Charlotte Mason emphasized very strongly the use of "whole books" instead of readers. In public schools today, segments of books are printed in textbooks with summary questions at the end. The publisher chops the most exciting or pertinent portions of a work out, puts it in the textbook, and asks directed questions which can be answered by that portion. Then we wonder later why kids can't dig through a whole book and find themes when it is not spelled out to them!

I encourage you to challenge your child's reading level by not feeding them Goosebumps or Sweet Valley High, Babysitter's Club, or such books. Always read what is a little difficult, not playground conversation in written form. When I was in middle school I really enjoyed the Sackett seriesby Louis L'Amour. A few of them are written from the point of view of a young girl. They give excellent images of early backwoods Eastern America. They encourage determination, hard work, overcoming obstacles, honesty, trustworthiness, gumption, and a host of other excellent qualities.

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