Children Learn Through Story
published on 2/17/2013 by Kim A. Howe, M.S.
After an earthquake hit off of the coast of Japan a few years ago, we received a phone call from a mom who uses Moving Beyond the Page. She related to us that when she discussed the earthquake with her daughter, she asked her how much she remembered about Japan. (The daughter had studied Asia in the Age 8-10 level the previous year.) In response to her mother's question, the daughter said, "I don't know anything about Japan. Wait, isn't that where Sadako is from? Now I remember..." Sadako is the main character in the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes that accompanies the social studies unit on Asia. The daughter continued to tell her mother details that she remembered about Japan from the novel.

This anecdote reinforces a central tenet of Moving Beyond the Page. Children learn through story. This is why we integrate language arts, science, and social studies from preschool through middle school. When you combine social studies or science education through story, children remember the important concepts and issues. Learning becomes meaningful and authentic.

Be Careful What You Learn

We came across an interesting TED Talk by Colin Stokes (available at the bottom of this page) that looks at what children learn through the stories they watch in popular media. His ideas about gender roles and what our children are learning are worth watching whether you have a boy or a girl. He discusses what he calls the Bechdel Test to analyze gender bias in a movie. The test is very simple.

  • Are there at least two women
  • that speak to each other
  • about something other than a man.
It sounds really simple, but about 90% of popular movies fail even this simple test. We didn't use the Bechdel Test in choosing our literature, but we did go back recently to see how the literature selection of Moving Beyond the Page rates. We felt very satisfied with the results. Not all books pass the test, but a vast majority do.

Choosing Literature for Moving Beyond the Page

Many of the books that didn't pass the Bechdel Test in our curriculum were those considered to be classics. There are homeschoolers who subscribe to a classical model of curriculum that focuses on the classics to the exclusion of modern selections. Historically, women have been marginalized in most societies, and this is reflected through the literature of the times. By no means do all classics marginalize the role of women, but modern selections do tend to be more progressive in this area. This may be a good reason to look for balance in the literature your children are exposed to. As a general rule, we do try to include a mix of classic and modern selections in Moving Beyond the Page.

When we consider a book for our curriculum, we take great care in making sure it fits the following criteria:

  • Does it tell an engaging story?
  • Does it teach a lesson worth learning?
  • Is it an example of quality writing?
We want to make sure we are shaping children's character and helping them grow and mature through the literature they are exposed to. We also want to teach them how to write well, so we make sure the writing provides examples worth emulating.

I hope you enjoy the Colin Stokes video and that it provokes some deep thinking about what your children are learning through television, movies, and books.

* Parental Note: There is nothing explicit in this video, but it does briefly discuss topics that may not be suitable for young children.
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