If you love reading, you probably get excited about the idea of teaching reading and literature to your children. But literature can be one of the hardest subjects to teach well. The study of literature should open a student’s mind to new cultures, new perspectives, and new ideas. It should give students insight into experiences they aren’t likely to have. And it should challenge students to recognize biblical and unbiblical thinking in what they’re reading. It takes more than just a reading assignment and a list of comprehension questions to accomplish all that.
Teaching Literature with the Terms
Just like with poetry, you’ll need to build a foundation of terms you can use to talk about what your children are reading. Symbolism, satire, and allusion are all tools that writers use to tell their stories. Satire can help readers to reconsider the way they look at the world. Symbolism adds depth and meaning to stories. Allusion adds unity to a literary work by connecting different elements of the story.
Setting the Stage
You’ll also need to set the stage for your children. A writer’s history and family background has a huge influence on his or her literary work. Not only that, but the culture writers live in also affects how and what they write. Perhaps our children’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will one day study the popularity of dystopian fiction in the late 20th century and early 21st century and what that says about how we think and believe as a culture.
Asking Thinking Questions
Once you’ve equipped your children with the relevant terminology and background, they should really think about what they’ve read. Those questions about who did what in a story are great for determining if your children understood what they read on a surface level, but they don’t get your child thinking about what’s below the surface. Asking what kind of creature Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is isn’t like asking what 499 ÷ 7 is. The math question requires a student to use and apply math skills to show understanding. The literature question only demonstrates recall. As your children progress in reading comprehension, questions should focus less on recall and more on critical thinking development. Focusing on critical thinking questions also helps make reading and literature lessons more interesting.
Confronting Unbiblical Thinking
Sadly, your children will not be able to go their whole lives without reading something that supports an unbiblical worldview. News articles, blogs, and even children’s books will support views you may not agree with—even something innocuous as “it’s ok to tell white lies to not hurt your friend’s feelings.” Those unbiblical concepts won’t be explicitly stated. Your children will need to learn to identify worldview implications so that they can respond appropriately. Studying literature can give your children the perfect opportunity to practice that kind of worldview discernment.
Recognizing God’s Design in Literature
Have you ever read about themes and symbolism in a certain piece of literature and thought “Maybe the author wasn’t thinking that at all”? It’s a tempting—and realistic—thought. As a writer myself, I enjoy using literary tools, but in general, my first priority is telling a good, cohesive story, not burying hidden meanings in what colors I use. But it’s undeniable that there is a unity of design in every work of literature—even if that unity is unintentional or accidental. You can find meaningful symbolism in seemingly random works, and you can trace themes in even the most chaotic literature. No matter how random a work of literature may seem, the image of God in the author—however marred—will come through in the writing. As we’re teaching literature, we can study man’s creative designs, and we can grow to appreciate God’s grand design as the ultimate Creator.