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Last checked and updated June 11, 1998.
Karen Andreola's Article "A Dickens of an Idea" This is a great article to begin a discussion of the literature we read and give our children. I read it and wrote the following:

 It wouldn't be Christmas around our house without Dickens! I read one aloud every year, and we watch any "Specials" we can. This year is Oliver Twist for us, including a nice production from Disney. What sort of Dickens do you do at your house- ideas, please! Do you put on a play, watch a video, decorate with Dickens? Do you think Dickens and the other "Classics" really are relevant to modern life? At what age do you read them to your children, act them out, have the children read for themselves? Do you use the originals? (remembering some of Dicken's language and situations are stronger than many of us care for today.)

 And, it is this part of the topic that I wish to discuss. Karen Andreola discusses the characters, the cultural relevancy, learning to discern good and evil, and many more ideas. But I would like to consider her section on "Big Words? Big Deal!

"But what about all his big words and long sentences?" another might ask. Anyone who reads Dickens should not be overly concerned with his "big words." Sooner or later the word will pop up again. Each time you will understand it better.

About those long sentences -- many of the best books ever written have long sentences. Why not dip into these great books, with their long sentences, beginning with Dickens? To read his long sentences aloud may leave you out of breath. Inhale more deeply at commas, then you can amaze yourself with your new ability to read aloud in true 19th century fashion.

You only need to start by reading aloud a single episode, not a whole chapter. A ten-year-old who is in the habit of narrating will find plenty to "tell back" in his own words. Remember, a child need not comprehend every jot and tittle. He will pick out and narrate the parts that appeal to him.

Who was it that dictated the law that a child, or grown-up, must comprehend everything he reads? The best books deserve a second or even third reading. "For, in reading a great book once," Charlotte Mason said, "we have only breakfasted." l hope this encourages you not to rob your child or yourself of the richness of Dickens's stories by feeling you should resort to simplified watered-down editions or only seeing the motion-picture version.

 There have been several question on our Charlote Mason methods loop about whether to allow the children to read simplified versions of the classics. I am not against it- if the child is not going to be able to read the original. Better to read a "Hi-Low" reader version than none at all! It is also OK to read a simplified version just for fun if you are going to read the original later, because a well-written version can lead your interest into the original. I am also willing to give a child's version to follow along in, as Mom or Dad reads aloud the original to a mixed age group. But I do not endorse giving a children's version to a child who will not be able to comprehend the spiritual material (such as in Robinson Crusoe) instead of waiting to introduce the book when they are older and more able to understand the meaty ideas.

 Which leads me to the next point- what if Mom or Dad finds them too hard to read? This question was brought up a week or so ago; someone said she found Dickens too hard for her to understand. This is a sign that your own education was deficient! It can also be a sign that you are trying to read too difficult a material to your children. You need to work up to this level. Your vocabulary needs enriching just as much as your children's does. If you don't know these words, then I am sure your children don't!

 There is nothing the matter with letting your children know you don't know what that word means! You can look it up together! Dicken's vocabulary was not something that a modern reader should find difficult. What has happened is that you have become a victim of the modern sight-word vocabulary. The basal reader, computer-controlled vocabulary of much modern education keeps you from being able to read and understand and enjoy what ought to be normal literature! There is absolutely nothing the matter with learning along with our children. Begin your readings with simpler material, and work up to the meaty stuff. If you have a mix of ages, read a mix of material regularly- children's poetry and stories as well as Dickens.

 The largest single factor in reading ability, comprehension, and speed is vocabulary. You need to be working on yours and your children's. You need to play word games of all sorts. Older children need to be playing "Rummy Roots" and working through "English From the Roots Up". You can subscribe to Reader's Digest and study their "Increase Your Word Power" section, or take the daily "A Word A Day" from Wordsmith- send a blank message to wsmith@wordsmith.org with the word subscribe in the subject line of your message.

In college I kept a section in the back of every notebook for new vocabulary. As a scientist, I learned that half of each new area was vocabulary. I would write down the word- then look up and write out its definition, and review it regularly until I knew it well. I paid particular attention to roots, so that I could often guess at new words with similar roots. When I took a speed-reading course, again we spent much of our time developing vocabulary.

 Even the SAT courses that teach the children how to take the tests concentrate on vocabulary- one drills a list of the 800 most common words to appear on the SAT vocabulary section.

 And, the homeschooled winner of the 1997 National Spelling Bee did not know her winning word- but she knew the root and figured it out! No wonder she screamed!

 I did not wait for my children to have the vocabulary of Dickens to read it to them- I began when they were small. They could enjoy much of the story even when they did not understand every word. Nowadays, my son (13) stops me as I read if he cannot understand a word or gain enough of an idea from the context. He does the same when he reads- stop, look it up or ask, then continue. That's what dictionaries are for.

 What do some of you think?

 Lynn H.

 E-Mail me!


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