Jesus' Precious Little Lambs

A Charlotte Mason Christian Home School: Preschool – 2nd Grade :)

Beautiful Fairytales

on April 15, 2014

The Value of Imaginative Literature in Character Education

I love that homeschool affords our children constant opportunity to learn how to discern between good and evil, right and wrong. Character education involves moving children deeply with sympathy for the good and repugnance for the evil, and inspiring them to act in accordance with these perceptions. This is rarely accomplished by preaching at children or moralizing to them. Although I am sure we feel that we make some really good points in our mommy “sermons” :), our children can instead be most inspired to be good by seeing goodness lived out in their parents, and also by reading and “living out” the ideas present in great stories depicting moral character. Reading biographies of historical heroes is one effective way to approach character education, and since I have previously discussed the value of historical heroes on my blog, today we will look into the value of imaginative literature such as fairy stories and folk tales.

Olive Beaupre, editor of My Book House, explains how the story of Cinderella, for example, evokes children to hate evil and side with good:

It has been said that fairy tales give many children their first clear perception of the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, and at their best this is certainly true. No child can sympathize deeply with the patience and gentleness and sweetness of Cinderella and hate the selfishness and vanity of the stepsisters, without all unconsciously registering a definite and lasting impression which forms a permanent part of his ideals.

Properly selected imaginative tales with good morals intertwined feed our children’s moral imaginations with portrayals of courage and faith, strength and perseverance, honesty and loyalty, which is motivation for character growth. According to Olive Beaupre:

Beginning with his earliest fairy tales, the child commences to see in his stories, quite without any drawing of morals or particular direction of his attention to the fact, what qualities are splendid and noble, what qualities are base and ignoble, and for the very reason that the tale does entertain him, does interest him so intensely and move him to the very depths of his being, the impression left by the story is far more lasting and permanent than any sermon that could be preached on the subject, and constitutes itself an influence upon him greater than any other one thing which comes into his life, except the ideas and ideals that surround him in his own home, which, it must never be forgotten, leave the most telling marks upon his character.

Character education done through the programs run at our local schools, such as Character Counts!, has little effect on moral imagination (sometimes neither does the character education component that comes out of a boxed homeschool curriculum for that matter). Regrettably, simplistic little morality tales seem to be preferred by school educators over rich, complex literature. School Character Education Programs also favor practical and realistic stories that have a distilled moral message containing plainly stated values and principles. Character training is a dose of spoon fed medicine. The stories have no beauty or imaginative quality to draw readers in, or draw them back to revisit and contemplate ideas further, and so the stories are disposable……and that is exactly how the children’s conscience handles them. Even when character education curricula include impressive pieces of writing, the works tend to be used for the purpose of drumming in simple lessons. School character education methods often don’t engage students in critical thinking discussions either. For sake of time, or lack of faith in the children’s powers of mind, a teacher might state plainly, “This man is a hero; do what he did,” for example, rather than involving the students in deciding who (if anyone) is heroic in a given story, and why. At school or at home, character education is sorely deficient if we don’t use proper literature or allow  ideas to germinate within a child’s soul.

I am glad that homeschool can be so different. Heart to heart discussions surrounding rich literature selections, occurring under the guidance of the all knowing Holy Spirit, can actually be the norm. A life hewn out of such experiences at home will be magnificently distinctive.

Character, the real object of all reading……let there be beauty, sweetness, and light

Rather than teach ethics from literature that reads somewhat like a “how to” manual, there is a better way. But what stories will we choose to stimulate and sharpen a child’s moral imagination? Many parents today don’t read original fairy tales to their children because they are simply too harsh, violent, scary, or downright evil. And as cute as they may appear, Disney’s versions are actually too full of bad values. Modern fairy tales, while they may lack some of the more objectionable features of the old stories, are sentimental and wishywashy, and lack also all the splendid and convincing sincerity, vitality and strength of the folk tales. The old folk and fairy tales, properly weeded, still remain the real solid foundation for a child’s reading. However, children’s stories must be carefully selected. Too many stories have competing messages in them and Olive Beaupre feels that this essentially contributes to marred character development:

……smug self-satisfaction, their mental and spiritual laziness, to express in their various relationships and lines of activity, all the subtle dishonesty, selfishness, littleness, bigotry, superstition, conventionality, narrowness, envy, hatred and greed of a flourishing and unchallenged but well veiled and covered evil, that all too frequently wears the cloak of righteousness and respectability.

As my faith in the value of great imaginative literature has grown, naturally I have increasingly sought out good fairy tales, but it has proven to be a difficult process of elimination! Its been hard to sort through books of fairy tales to try to find ones that would not just be safe to read, but also provide a feast of sweet and noble ideas for my impressionable little ones. I want so much to feed the imaginations of the little people in this house with beautiful tales that I know must exist somewhere!!

Well, finally I found a true gem…… My Book House. Olive Beaupre and her compilation of literature in My Book House has recently graced my life, and is now helping to fill that growing desire for literature that awakens moral imagination. My Book House is a 6 volume, age leveled, anthology of children’s stories, compiled in the 1920s by Olive Beaupre who carefully selected stories for their literary quality and good morals. There are indeed great selections. Now, let me mention, I still pre-screen unfamiliar selections, because Olive and I don’t see eye to eye on everything of course, but, at least I won’t be throwingout 80% of what I am finding, like my pre-screening of other fairy tale compilations from the library.

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Here is a little more about My Book House in the words of the author, Olive Beaupre:

In My BOOK HOUSE, I have tried to give children the best in literature, gathered from the greatest authors of the past and present, and from our rich heritage of old folk tales, told from generation to generation in every country in the world. But I have selected those stories with care. Avoiding those tales where evil traits of character, such as lying and cheating to gain one’s ends, have been made to appear good, I have chosen only those where truly desirable qualities invite the child’s admiration. I have tried also to grade all this material as wisely as possible, that the child might have the right story at the right age, and to put it forth so beautifully illustrated that it would be irresistable to him. Here, in these twelve volumes, adult and child can enter, hand-in-hand, a wonderful realm of imagination and beauty, portrayed in the best literary forms of verse and prose….

The permanent value of My BOOK HOUSE arises from the fact that at the time of its inception, I had no pet theory of education to advance…. I was in search of fundamentals, simple fundamentals, which must remain eternally true. Chaos then existed and is, unfortunately, still permitted to exist, in the realm of reading for children. They were being given stories, ethically sound, all jumbled up with those where the ethical slant was bad, and stories for the older children were being read to the child when he was too young, overwhelming him with fright and confusion by presenting to him characters and situations far beyond his understanding at the moment. Out of this chaos I was trying to bring order, an order that could never be disturbed. So let me review a few basic principles, with which I emerged from my search and on which I built My BOOK HOUSE.

First,–To be well equipped for life, to have ideas and the ability to express them, the child needs a broad background of familiarity with the best in literature.

Second,–His stories and rhymes must be selected with care that he may absorb no distorted view of life and its actual values, but may grow up to be mentally clear about values and emotionally impelled to seek what is truly desirable and worthwhile in human living.

Third,–The stories and rhymes selected must be graded to the child’s understanding at different periods of his growth, graded as to vocabulary, as to subject matter and as to complexity of structure and plot.

Good news! Great Classic Literature Can Be Found Free Online

The rich literature that I have spoken of in this post are, not surprisingly, primarily older works, which happens to be advantageous to homeschoolers trying to operate on a budget. My Book House, for example, being an older book, is in the public domain and can be read as an e-text for free at Google Books. Volume 1 is for the youngest children, starting out with poetry for baby, and gradually moving into longer pieces for small children. Its the perfect volume for my 3 year old. My 5 year old I think could happily stew in volumes 1, 2 and 3 right now at his age and ability. By the way, if you decide to look into My Book House, The Twin Lambs in Volume 1 (page 255), is a thought provoking story about selfishness, and one of my favorites so far.

Volume 1: In the Nursery of My Book House

Volume 2: Up One Pair of Stairs in My Book House

Volume 3: Through The Fairy Halls of My Book House

Volume 4: The Treasure Chest of My Book House

Volume 5: From the Tower Window of My Book House

Volume 6: The Latch Key of My Book House (a volume mostly for parents and teachers)

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ALSO volumes 1-4 can be listened to at Librivox.com, a site with free audio books! Since discovering this great resource, audio books have quickly become a part of our family life as they increase my kids exposure to literature, and are so helpful for homeschooling (mommy can only read so much in a day!), at no extra cost to us! Beware that not all volunteers on Librivox are excellent readers, and some can greatly detract from the story, so be choosy and preview first.

Other Character Education Resources:

The Book of Virtues

Also check out The Book of Virtues out from your library for help selecting literature that addresses specific areas of character. Helpful for planning out character training (ie habit training) for homeschool next year since the book is organized by character trait:

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“Responsibility. Courage. Compassion. Honesty. Friendship. Persistence. Faith. Everyone recognizes these traits as essentials of good character. In order for our children to develop such traits, we have to offer them examples of good and bad, right and wrong. And the best places to find them are in great works of literature and exemplary stories from history.William J. Bennett has collected hundreds of stories in The Book of Virtues, an instructive and inspiring anthology that will help children understand and develop character — and help adults teach them. From the Bible to American history, from Greek mythology to English poetry, from fairy tales to modern fiction, these stories are a rich mine of moral literacy, a reliable moral reference point that will help anchor our children and ourselves in our culture, our history, and our traditions — the sources of the ideals by which we wish to live our lives. Complete with instructive introductions and notes, The Book of Virtues is a book the whole family can read and enjoy — and learn from — together.”
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Laying Down the Rails and Laying Down the Rails Companion Books

If you have money to splurge, don’t forget about these great Simply Charlotte Mason resources, also organized by character trait/habit:

Laying Down the Rails: “Our bestselling book on habit training! Here, compiled into one volume, are all the habits Charlotte mentioned in her writings with her thoughts and suggestions for cultivating each one. This work also includes Charlotte’s help for breaking bad habits, hundreds of inspiring quotes, and lots of practical tips.”

Companion Books: “A habit-training companion for the whole family filled with more than 400 pages of stories, Bible passages, poems, activities, quotations—living ideas that will nestle into your children’s minds and motivate them toward the habits of good character. Corresponds to the award-winning book, Laying Down the Rails.

The Millers Series

I keep hearing great things about The Millers books. “Storytime” is the most simply written, perfect for using first with young children. All the books seem awesome, but “Wisdom” and “Missionary Stories” are especially popular with homeschool families.

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Storytime with the Millers: “Amos and his brothers learn a valuable lesson about returning good for evil in the story “The Indians and the Cookies.” Paul, a 3-year-old farm boy, nearly loses his life through disobedience. Betty learns the hard way, that being bossy is not much fun! Storytime with the Millers” tells these stories and others, for preschool and primary-aged children.”

Wisdom and the Millers: “Make Proverbs come alive for the children in your home, church, or school! Here is a character building collection of lively, inspirational stories. Each chapter explains and illustrates a passage from the book of Proverbs, along with a story based on true life experiences. Follow the four “Miller” children as they learn great truths of life and wisdom; sometimes through their parents’ stories, and sometimes the hard way!”

 Pictures From March– Theme: ‘I am a Helper’

Reading Lessons

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Practicing Being Helpers at School

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Pulling Weeds for the Neighbors

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At the Nature Park After a Good Rain with Friends Garrett, Max, and Ryker

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Growing Patterns

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Lovin’ My Brother

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First Day Sitting Up

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Beauty, Sweetness, and Light

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Nothing More Precious Than Little Ones Holding Little Ones

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The Little Red Hen Asks Us For Help

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A Fun Addition to “Recess” Time at School

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Pure Joy

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A Pond With Tadpoles (and Cows) Found!

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A Backyard Birthday Campout for Daddy

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My First Math Graph

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Happy 5th Birthday Tayler!

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Running Laps In the Rain

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Another Weeding Day

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Such a Hard Worker that He Got Paid For Weeding

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A Favorite Center for All: Retelling Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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Big Laughs

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So Excited About Thunder, Lightning, and Hail

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Food, Yucky! Still Nursing 100%

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Love My Helpers

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