Read-it-before-you-need-it means owning and reading well-chosen books that relate to important issues and significant life events before a child is touched by them.
It means building a small library of books that deal with experiences such as new babies, relationships, adventure, moving house ... and the weighty issues of anxieties, misunderstandings, disappointments, poverty, grief, ageing, illness and death.
It means reading books to a child that may be outside their emotional or intellectual capacity, knowing that the pictures or the words will carry the story to the child’s heart where it can wait until it’s needed.
And it’s about letting those stories find their way into the child’s play or quiet time so that they can wade around in the ideas and experiences that they've read about.
As ever, the best time to equip a person with tools - in this case the tools of life - is before they're faced with the rush of the moment. We pass out gardening forks before the gardening starts, not after the plot is planted ... we practice walking across a road with a child before he or she goes alone ...
And so it is that we try to provide emotional and personal responses to life’s difficulties before they arrive - we offer ideas and thoughts about life. Reading is one of the most secure and non-confrontational ways to do this, reading stories that offer a collection of life events and a collection of different responses to those events. For example:
Miss Rumphius wanted to do something that would make the world more beautiful.
Annabelle from Extra Yarn also wanted to help her community.
But Miss Rumphius plants lupines far and wide, while Annabelle knits at home. They both make use of what they have, but their motivations and methods are different.
It's the difference that is key. When a child reads those books a lot, they easily come to love both Miss Rumphius and Annabelle and they also come to understand that people can contribute in different ways. And that following your own passions can help those around you too.
Similarly, again by way of example, there are truly breathtaking books that respectfully and gently talk about varying types of grieving:
The Memory Tree is about death and remembering.
Mile High Apple Pie is about losing a loved one to Alzheimers.
Both deal with grief and both provide options and thoughts on how to grieve. The key to making use of lovingly presented life-experiences like these is: read it before you need it.
Reading certain wonderful picture and chapter books help a child to:
Gather a storehouse of possible responses to life’s many twists and turns;
Have a collection of possible life events so they won’t be blindsided when life changes (they’ll still struggle of course but it helps to feel connected with the rest of the world rather than singled out);
Feel an assurance of that there will be a resolution – not always a fantasy ending but always an ending;
Value other people’s experiences and feel empathy when they see other people dealing with life;
Remember ways to respond to other people and have an idea about how best to help; and
Understand their place in the world, geographically, culturally and historically.
All of which builds emotional resilience which in turn gives children the liberty and strength to be kind, to think of others, to make moral judgements and stand firm for what they feel is right and good. And, after the good grades, soccer trophies and ballet recitals are all said and done, that’s really what we wish for our children in the end, isn’t it? Also ...
It's nice too, that reading-it-before-you-need-it is almost as valuable for the adult reader as it is for the child snuggled on their lap.
Speaking aloud comforting words and beautiful ideas lifts the adult and elevates family thoughts and conversations.
As we search out and read books that connect adult life experiences with a child’s understanding, we can rest in knowing that the time spent reading together is enough, knowing that the collection of stories is building layers in the child’s mind so that they can assess and recall the stories in their own time.
You can scroll all read-it-before-you-need-it posts here, or go to the emotional resilience page for the latest posts. And please, if you'd like to talk about books to help with any special issue, just send me an email.
With love, Kim x