Inside: Simple Steps to Build Character with Books
Do you believe in the power of stories? A quick browse around Learning Through Literature shows the importance we place on this. In fact, it’s central to everything we do around here.
But knowing the power of a great story and knowing how to harness that power are separate matters.
We exist to help with both. Articles about the learning superpower of books and how stories reach a child’s heart are meant to inspire and motivate. Tools like our Book Finder help you find great books. Our guides help you use them in intentional ways.
And intention is what it all comes down to with harnessing story power, especially when it comes to character building. Sometimes we need a simple path to get us started in the direction. In this article, we’ll explore three steps to begin using books to build character in children.
Simple Steps to Begin
Think of these steps as inspiration, not turn-by-turn directions that lead to a final destination. Every family might use them differently. We hope these ideas spark intentional character-building in ways that are meaningful for your family.
Here’s a simple path to begin building character in your home through stories:
- Read Together
- Discuss & Connect
- Experience & Recall
Let’s look at what we mean by each of those steps.
1. Read Together
We hope you notice the word “together” in this first step. That’s important. This is not about assigning books to your kids and asking comprehension questions. We can’t emphasize this enough.
Be a partner in the process. The impact of your efforts will be tenfold if you do it together.
Where to begin? We suggest you start by choosing a character trait to be intentional about for a short time. The goal isn’t to pick a trait you see most lacking in your children. Instead, focus on inspiring them in an intentional way.
Once you have a character trait in mind, here’s what we suggest:
- Select one main chapter book that illustrates the character trait. (Follow character development from initial conflict to story resolution)
- Choose a variety of shorter stories to mix in. (Cover more ground on the topic with folk tales, myths, picture books, etc.)
- Pick some poems about the character trait to enjoy together. (Connect to the message in a creative way. Could be short, long, funny, inspiring, or one of each. Consider memorizing one.)
Dive in. Mix it up. Do it together!
2. Discuss & Connect
The second step is all about connection: connecting stories to the character trait + connecting as a family while you discuss.
Stories do their own work to reach a child’s heart in a way we can’t manufacture through “discussion time” with kids. However, what discussions will do is help children make mental connections as they process what they remember from the story and help them retain what was read. (We call this narration.)
Also, discussion helps children understand the value being placed on what was read. Setting aside time for conversation about stories shows them it was worthwhile. Doing it together creates family connection. Maybe everyone didn’t love a story. Maybe it’s a new family favorite. Discuss and connect over it!
Here are some tips & suggestions:
- Wait to discuss the chapter book until you’ve finished it. (Let the story unfold, and follow the story arc all the way to resolution. It makes for a more meaningful discussion.)
- Begin easy discussion with picture books & short tales. (This allows children to dip their toes into discussing story elements in a simpler way.)
- Keep discussions short & sweet. (You’re aiming for connection…not literary analysis. Only go as deep as your children can based on maturity and interest level. Remember, the goal is connection!)
- Help navigate discussion as a partner in the process. (You experienced the stories with your children. Let them feel that in how you discuss – not as an authority testing comprehension, but as a partner alongside them.)
3. Experience & Recall
Think of this last step as enrichment – not essential, but definitely adds to the benefits.
Create an Experience
A hands-on experience is not necessary, by any means, for children to reap the benefits of reading for intentional character building. However, a memorable project or experience can serve as a memory peg in their mind for future reference, as well as enriching the connection time.
Hands-on experiences could be:
- Make a banner with a character trait name
- Try a recipe mentioned in one of the books
- Draw or paint pictures inspired by a story
- Anything else you’re inspired to try!
Time to Recall
When we say “recall,” we do not mean testing for comprehension. Instead:
- Recall the discussions you’ve had for various stories, and make comparisons. How was the character trait exhibited differently or similarly? Which stories did you enjoy most?
- Throughout your reading, consider collecting favorite quotes. Read the quotes all together at the end to revisit the stories.
- Most importantly, a child will recall at later times various stories that impacted their life in a meaningful way. Don’t feel the need to force it and remind them during stressful times.
The intentional character building work was done during positive connection time. Discussing and experiencing all of it together creates a strong bond to the information as a family. Now, trust that the stories are embedded in their hearts and will have an impact long after your character trait study is complete.
We hope these ideas encourage you to begin using great stories in intentional ways to help build character in your children. It doesn’t guarantee perfect children, but it absolutely guarantees family connection.
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