reading


Trevor Cairney has posted a helpful (and encouraging) review of the ‘Your Baby Can Read!’ program developed by Dr Robert Titzer. While I was unaware of Titzer’s thesis, the concerns Trevor outlines make real sense to me. As I noted in a comment on his post, I spend all day with a 2-year-old. We cook, play, dance, listen to music, read, count the dongs on the grandfather clock, paint, sort through food, and eat leaves in the garden, among other things. It’s learning all the way, and the resultant growth in her is obvious. I can’t imagine how spending an hour a day sitting in front of a TV (which she is not interested in at all) watching DVD’s can compare with sitting on dad’s knee reading, or kicking a football or counting flower buds in the garden, or learning to share toys and attention with friends. I’m keen to hear from others who may have had experience with Titzer’s program, and whether or not their experiences echo any of Trevor’s concerns.

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Trevor has posted a helpful piece on The challenges of choosing books for children.

What criteria do you use for selecting books for your kids?

Sure we need to ask about reading levels, enjoyment and appropriate content regarding the child’s development. I also want to be asking questions about …

  • How does this book foster my child’s imagination?
  • Does this book support or undermine some of the values I’m trying to instill in her?
  • Is the artwork good, beautiful and true?
  • Is this a book that she might enjoy reading on their own?
  • Will I enjoy it? Will I look forward to reading it the 30th time?

What criteria do you use for selecting books for your kids?

During the 18th century and for much of the 19th, there wasn’t a whole lot of American literature for children. And when children’s books did get published, they weren’t designed for pleasure. Books were for schooling or for teaching religious and moral lessons—with properly serious illustrations chaperoning the text.

In what became the United States, this somber mode continued through the American Civil War. And then it went poof, dispelled by artists who became children’s illustrators by happenstance. By the end of the 19th century, the art in kids’ books had become madcap and zany and irreverent. From the postwar period, one can trace the imagery and style that are familiar from the classics of one’s own childhood.

(HT: Slate)

Robert W. Jenson & Solveig Lucia Gold, Conversations with Poppi about God: An Eight-Year-Old and Her Theologian Grandfather Trade Questions (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006). 158 pages. ISBN: 97815874321613. Review copy courtesy of Brazos Press.

When was the last time you had a conversation about baptism, temptation, purgatory, time, economics, the Nicene Creed, creation, the Trinity, Christmas, metaphysics, church calendars, evil, indulgences, the Holy Spirit, liturgy, Lucifer, hamsters, a ‘really stupid’ bishop, the disestablishment of the Roman Church, the imago Dei, and a host of other things, all with the same person? When was the last time you did so with a person who just happens to be a world-renowned Lutheran, and ecumenical, theologian? When was the last time you did so with an eight-year-old who knows more about Dante than not a few philosophy undergrads?

In this remarkable book, we are invited to eavesdrop on a spontaneous and unscripted conversation between elementary schoolgirl Solveig Lucia Gold and her septuagenarian grandfather affectionately called ‘Poppi’, more formally known as the Reverend Canon Professor Dr. D. Robert W. Jenson, B.A., B.D., M.A., D.Theol., D.H.L., DD.

The book comprises the verbatim transcripts – with minor editing of ‘Ums’, ‘Well, buts …’ and ‘You knows…’, etc – of conversations recorded on a Radio Shack cassette recorder over a series of weekends in which Solveig visited her grandparents (‘Poppi’ and ‘Mimi’) in Princeton. After each session, Mimi typed it up.

The authors invite us to read their book ‘as you would a Platonic dialogue, though in this one, the role of Socrates goes back and forth’ (p. 10). Their discussion is more wide-ranging than most systematic theologies, and is filled with wit, warmth and wisdom.

Time for an example:

Solveig: How can God pick who goes to heaven or hell?

Poppi: By looking at Jesus, who loves you, Solveig.

Solveig: Can you show me?

Poppi: One way of saying what happened with Jesus is that Jesus so attached himself to you that if God the Father wants his Son, Jesus, back, he is stuck with you too. Which is how he picks you. (p. 20)

The young Episcopalian and her ‘sort of half Anglican and half Lutheran’ (p. 70) Poppi return to some themes a number of times over the weekends. One such theme that offers some of the book’s richest insights concerns the Spirit, or ‘God’s liveliness’ (p. 38), as the good Professor Dr Poppi likes to remind his granddaughter. Solveig tries on more than one occasion to argue a case that the second and third articles in the Creed ought to be reversed not only because ‘all of us share in the Spirit’ (Father and Son included), but also because that’s how you cross yourself. Poppi agrees, ‘Father, Spirit, Son is probably a better arrangement’ (p. 146). The Spirit is also ‘God’s own future that he is looking forward to’ (p. 42). They compare God’s liveliness with Santa Claus who is ‘sort of like a messenger from the Holy Spirit – in a way’ (p. 100), before coming to discern the spirits to see if they are from God, for whom to have Spirit means that he ‘doesn’t stay shut up in himself … but that the goodness and mercy – and wrath, when it comes to that – that is in God blows out from him to hit you and me. And that means that just like your spirit is yours and not mine, even though your spirit effects me, so God’s Spirit is his and not a spirit like Santa Claus’ (p. 101).

In between laughs, they talk about what it is about Holy Communion – Solveig’s ‘favourite part of going to church’ because she gets to ‘stretch and walk around a little’ (p. 31) – that means that ‘the wine should be the very best’ (p. 33) and that dissolvable bread should be banned. The meal should be appetising, and not like those baptisms ‘when they just dribble a couple of drops on the baby’ (p. 34). They also talk about a confirmation service led by ‘this weird bishop guy’ who is ‘really stupid’ (p. 34).

While I’m trying to resist the temptation to share every gem in the book (and there are lots), allow me one more, this time on heaven, purgatory, and hell:

Solveig: Do you think of where you might go after you die as two places or three places? I think of it as three places.

Poppi: What three is that?

Solveig: Heaven, purgatory, and hell.

Poppi: So you hold to the doctrine of purgatory?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: You know that is very controversial.

Solveig: Why? It’s in Dante, isn’t it?

Poppi: Well, it’s in Dante, yes. But of course, Dante isn’t exactly in the Bible.

Solveig: No. But he’s still …

Poppi: The thing about purgatory is that it’s a very reasonable idea. It’s just that we don’t know if it is true.

Solveig: Except … Maybe God thinks that you should just go to two places. If you are bad, he has no patience with you at all, and he will just sort you to go to heaven or hell. I think that is reasonable enough.

Poppi: That God is impatient?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: That’s where I think the notion of purgatory is reasonable. I don’t think the Bible talks about God’s being impatient in quite that way.

Solveig: If he isn’t impatient, maybe he doesn’t want us to spend time thinking about where we should go.

Poppi: You know that plate that your mother and father gave us that hangs on the wall in the dining room?

Solveig: Yes.

Poppi: Remember what it says on it?

Solveig: I don’t remember what it says.

Poppi: It says, ‘I desire not the death of the wicked.’

Solveig: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’

Poppi: Right. So the biblical God takes no pleasure in sending people to hell, and that’s why I think that purgatory is a reasonable idea. The problem is we don’t have any way of knowing whether the purgatory idea is true or not.

Solveig: It’s just Dante’s idea.

Poppi: Well, it was older than Dante.

Solveig: It was?

Poppi: Yes.

Solveig: Yes. Well, see, I think of Dante as a theologian, in a way.

Poppi: He was a very great theologian.

Solveig: Yeah, I know. I’m saying that he kind of liked to make up things he wasn’t quite sure about, if you know what I mean.

The delightful exchanges in this album offer us a model of how good theological dialogue can and should take place: with mutual respect and humility which delights in both the giving and the receiving; with an eye on the scripture, an eye on the tradition, and an eye on the world (for those who possess at least three eyes); and within an environment of safety in which no idea is too whacky and no avenue of enquiry cut off prematurely.

Carl Braaten’s words regarding this book are worth repeating,

Robert Jenson has created a new medium, with his granddaughter Solveig, to teach the basics of the Christian faith. Just as Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism for children, this book of conversations covers the beliefs and practices of the Christian church – among them the commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the sacraments – in a way that parents, regardless of their denomination, can confidently read and discuss with their children. Robert Jenson has translated the core convictions of his two volumes of Systematic Theology into simple truths that his eight-year-old grandchild can understand in the course of their unrehearsed and lively conversations. If you want to know what a sophisticated theologian really believes, listen to him explain the mysteries of the Christian faith to a child in simple terms without being simplistic.

I’ve just finished reading Peter Baylies’ The Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook. Like every book on fathering, this one’s fairly hit and miss in terms of what I found most useful.

Baylies largely treats fathering as a ‘career move’, and the book is shaped to that end – that is, helping fathers enjoy their ‘new career’. While it’s not the way that I like to think of fathering, there are strengths in this (that will no doubt appeal to other personality types), such as helping new father’s approach their responsibilities thoughtfully, purposely and seriously. Adversely, although the book is clearly set out, and somewhat ‘practical’ (including a somewhat useful appendix of resources), it often lacks the personal warmth, and focus on the parent-child relationship, of many parenting books.

Whether it is just cultural or personality or values (and I suspect it’s all three and more), I found Baylies’ book just too basic. Although much of the ground that he covers is useful (the section on playgroups and networking with others for example), it is difficult to believe that most fathers have not thought through most, if not all, of the issues he raises. If you’re after a ‘Fathering 101’ handbook, this one may well be what you are looking for, though it wouldn’t be my first choice. If you feel that you could skip ‘Fathering 101′ and move up a grade or two, you would be better served to look elsewhere.

One of the strengths of the book, however, is that Baylies has clearly spent much time listening to other fathers. Although at times I was left wondering if he has spent too much time doing this – as the inclusion of copious fathering stories betrays – it does give the book a sort of common-sense, communal wisdom (or ignorance?) feel. Of course, it’s easy enough to navigate your way around the material and jump to the next section if you want.

In talking to at-home dads over the last ten years, Baylies has asked dads what they have changed for themselves that made for a more stress-free family. Here are ten useful things that he lists (pp. 152-3) that one can do to make the household a more pleasant environment:

1. Talk to them and listen to them. When your kids know you are listening to them, it makes them realize their input matters, and gives them a feeling of control and self-worth.

2. Treat them with respect. When you respect them, they will respect you back.

3. Give a lot of hugs and kisses. A feeling of being loved gives your kids a feeling of self-confidence.

4. Show you love your spouse in front of your kids. Seeing Mum and Dad show affection toward each other gives them two role models.

5. Allow kids to be self-reliant. Let them try things for themselves, no matter how foolish it may seem to you (provided it’s safe). For example, my kids liked to do experiments by mixing water with several objects and putting it in the freezer to see what happens. They couldn’t wait to see what it would look like the following day. After a while, when we trusted them with the toaster, we encouraged them to make toast. (My oldest son is twelve and is making a pretty good ham and cheese omelet now.)

6. Communicate with your spouse and agree on parenting styles. To avoid a public argument and mixed messages, make sure you and your wife agree on your children’s behavior.

7. Get to know your kids’ friends. As your children get older and a few neighborhood kids start to visit, listen to them and learn what they are like and how mature they are. This will give you better judgment when they start asking to do more outside the house.

8. Don’t expect too much, but don’t be a pushover. Pick your battles: some disagreements may not be worth the argument. For example, if your children want to walk to school without a raincoat, let them do it, and see if the consequences will help
them make a better decision next time. But if you have a serious issue, stand by it.

9. Avoid yelling at them at all costs. Always discipline with reason, not fear. When you don’t like a decision or action your children are making, calmly ask them why they are making the decision. Have them explain what might happen; sometimes they will see why you might be right.

10. Create as much adventure as possible for your kids. Creating adventure, although it may not be a popular pastime for the mums, is one way that many at-home dads deal with burnout. This does not mean taking the kids skydiving or white water rafting. It is amazing what adventures you can find within a few blocks of your house. In fact, many dads find that every time they take their children out of the house it can be an adventure.

Here’s a few more podcasts that I’ve checked out today that I thought were worth sharing here:

With the rise of the internet many parents are feelings that their kids know more about what goes on in the world wide web than they do. And with community like websites, danger for them is no longer just in the neighbourhood. In this podcast, Paul Wallbank of PC Rescue maps out some of the dangers of cyberspace.

In this podcast on living with drug and alcohol abuse in families, Shirley Smith, author of Set Yourself Free, talks about how we can help people with addictions or overcome our own. All of us know someone with a problem with addiction and it can create chaos in a lot of lives.

The first 9 minutes of this podcast includes a discussion on Boys, Men, and Fathers.

This podcast includes a discussion on reading to your children, this one and this one are discussions on co-parenting and reading to kids, while this one is on Single-sex schools.

This podcast includes an argument for co-ed schools, and this one’s on Political wives, Intensive parenting, and Maths for pre-schoolers.

There’s a discussion here on Kids and Money too, and one here on ‘From Babies to Blokes: The Making of Men’.

So that ought to keep us all busy for a wee while. I usually download podcasts to my MP3 player and listen to them at night while I fall asleep.

Just been listening to this podcast on Universal preschool, Maths for preschoolers and Reading to your children

On Universal preschool (00:00), the argument is that Preschool is the cornerstone of education – everything else is built upon it. That’’s what David Kirp has been telling Australia’s biggest and most profitable childcare company, ABC Learning. Universal preschool is something both major parties have talked about in Australia, but free preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds seems a very long way off – though South Australia is probably furthest along the track

On Maths (00:14) for preschoolers, it’’s usually assumed that kids don’’t start learning too much in the way of mathematics until they start school. Sure they read the odd counting book, or know how many feet they have, but despite the lack of formal learning, pre-school kids actually know a lot more about maths than you might think. Brian Doig has been looking at what sort of mathematical knowledge pre-schoolers have and how everyday tasks are a major part of developing that knowledge.

On Reading to your children (00:22), whilst studying children’’s language development, Susan Colmar found that there are a few key things parents should and should not do when they read to kids. One of her project’s focused on 15 mainly 3-5 year old pre-schoolers with language delay. After their parents made a few tweaks to how and how often they read to their children, there was a significant increase in their language skills.

We’re not up to even thinking about pre-school stuff yet, but I’d be keen to hear what your thoughts are on what is being said in this podcast.

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