The more risks you allow children, the better they learn to take care of themselves.
When I was a kid, most sunny summer days when I was 10 to 12 years old were spent on my bike. I would pack a lunch, get out of the house by about 9 in the morning, and ride two miles to my best friend’s house. We would roam all over the countryside, looking for big hills to fly down and creeks to explore. The only rule from our moms was that we had to be home by 6 for dinner. No one thought our parents were doing a lousy job supervising us, even though on any given day in July they would have no clue where we were or what we were up to. Somehow we survived.
During the school year, I was a free-range reader. There weren’t any books available in the classrooms beyond fat and dreary textbooks, but it was open season in the junior high school library. It was one of those imposing and ancient boxy schools with huge windows and creaky floors that smelled of mold and old varnish, and it was definitely a firetrap filled with asbestos. But I loved the access to hundreds and hundreds of old books. I would stop before or after school and roam the library stacks, many of them dusty with almost no names on the borrowing cards.
Unsupervised, you take your chances. A few times over those summers I lost control of my bike and wiped out, lucky to end up with only a few scrapes and bruises. And during the school year, once in a while I read a book I wish I hadn’t because it was disturbing. I remember one in particular, with a main character who ended up in a flophouse covered with bugs. I have no idea how this book came to rest on a shelf browsed by 11-year-olds. For a week afterward, I could feel imaginary critters crawling over my skin whenever I laid down to sleep.
We weigh the risks and rewards of free-range living and learning for children, and in the end may limit choices greatly. I worry that children miss out on many explorations, physical and intellectual, because we magnify small risks and discount the value of opening up minds, hearts, and perspectives.
My friend and I could have encountered some terrible strangers on one of those country roads or hit a car head-on, but we never did. The odds were infinitesimally small that we would become some sad statistic, and we didn’t. The odds for me as a young reader were far greater that free-range reading would lead me to some disturbing encounters — not just bugs in a flophouse, but of a child my age being flogged as a slave, or a family nearly starving to death in the Dust Bowl. But in the end, I’m grateful for the continual disruption of my comfortable life through books. Experiencing the trials of others softened and hardened me in all the right ways — and still does.
Teachers and parents often ponder how freely they will allow children to roam. In reading, what are the boundaries for exploring war, strife, and belonging? That’s this week’s topic — dealing with books that challenge students and families. Enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
Free for All
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Christy Rush-Levine explains why she stocks some books in her middle school classroom library that can provoke concerns from families, and how she deals with conflicts:
Franki Sibberson explains why we need to move beyond our cherished definitions of quality when working with third graders in transition and embrace the books students love:
Challenge yourself this summer to write more. What better way is there to feed your teaching soul? Kate Messner is again hosting her amazing writing challenge, with all sorts of tips and resources for participants:
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There is probably no population more misunderstood or vilified than refugees. Stella Villalba shares a booklist to help young students understand the refugee’s plight and experiences:
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine confers with Cam, an eighth grader who seeks to understand the complexity of war through the experiences of main characters in novels:
Comic books and graphic novels are genres tweens adore, but teachers sometimes struggle to embrace. Ruth Shagoury creates a booklist with engaging books in the genre any teacher would enjoy:
We continue our video series on student notetaking while reading in Franki Sibberson’s fifth-grade classroom. In this installment, Tre uses lots of sticky notes to sort through and keep track of characters in a book with a whole classroom full of personalities:
You can access recommended titles organized by genre and theme in the booklist section of the website:
That’s all for this week!