Cay at Cajun Cottage had a good post about the Advanced Child trend. She also linked to some other interesting posts on the subject, but they were more about books that are "reading level suitable" but not "maturity level suitable" for kids . I have some thoughts about that issue, but I'm not sure if it's one of the posts I really need to write. I am sure it's been written well by someone else.
But I like what Cay says:
Goodness! isn't life complicated enough without funneling books down their neural tube? Let's lighten up a bit. Let's paint our children's hearts with beauty and color. This isn't an argument for dumbing down or building up. It's an argument for touching our children's hearts with the first things that came out of our mouths and into their ears...Words!
She goes on to talk about how she will be sharing Patricia Pollaco and Jan Brett and eggnog with her children today, not pushing them into reading Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice; there are years ahead for that. "Pushing" is the operative word here, of course; if one of her children picked up Jane Austen, or if Cay wanted to invite a child to read it with her, that would be a different matter. But it wouldn't be about "reading levels" or "advancing" – it would be about an invitation to share a great book.
Ruth Beechick said something I read many many years ago, about how it wasn't necessary to be always "challenging" your kids in reading. Did your kid check a book out of the library and read a couple of chapters and then drop it? Why force him or her to finish it? Do you force yourself to read every single book you start? Maybe it would be a richer experience for the child some other time. Is your child reading at a supposed 5th grade level at age 6? For one thing, this is not that uncommon. Really, it's not. It does not mean super-geniuis, any more than heaving a Nerf Ball across the room at 9 months means you have the next Joe Montana. Those things tend to even out over time. Some plants bloom quickly, and others bloom over time. The quality is not measured by the quickness. But even supposing you have a genius on your hands, why would she necessarily then want to read only books from Sonlight's Year 5 at age six? Why ought she to have to? There are so many wonderful books out there suited for 6 year old – not dumbed down, but not accelerated either – with creative, poetic use of language, first rate illustrations and perceptive understanding of life's truths.
Ruth Beechick recommended a variety – easier books to let the child consolidate his skills and for age-level enjoyment and understanding; more difficult books for challenge and growth. Most kids naturally gravitate towards a mixture if this is encouraged. My kids went from The Hobbit and Beowulf to Frog and Toad and Peter Cottontail and back again. The key here is no twaddle. The picture books should be ones that a grown-up could find delight in reading, as CS Lewis said. As Cay says, they should be books that paint hearts with beauty and touch them with words.
Reading levels aren't really the key. I know kids who weren't really reading at age 10, who could read the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, with understanding and joy, at age 14. I know kids who were reading bits of Romeo and Juliet and the Hobbit at age six, who also had a heart of joy and wonder for Hans Christian Andersen and Beatrix Potter, and needed time and space to develop a relationship with those things.
James Taylor said that everyone should read the Pooh books. If you missed them when you were six or seven, you should read them at nineteen or forty. They are not "accelerated" – they live outside of sequence at all, in eternity. That is almost the point. Acceleration implies sequence, doesn't it? So does "advancement". They are transitive terms, leaving in question the end goal: advancement towards what? If it is towards "superior mental function" then it is the wrong goal. Children and books and their relationship shouldn't be locked into sequence like tracks in the service of academic superiority; books – particularly speaking of literature, here-- should open doors to eternity. This is a greater thing. You can be advanced and accelerated towards nothing; it happens to kids all the time. On the other hand, you can be a "bear of very little brain" and participate in eternity.
I always feel a bit sad when I walk into the local school's resource room, where Aidan has his speech therapy. The room is stacked with piles of books. … sets all of the same books. You might see a pile of Berlioz the Bear, along with a stack of The Black Cauldron. A few feet away is Tom Sawyer and on the other side is Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne. When I was a child I would have thought this was a treasure trove, except.. except.. it is not so much a trove as a warehouse. And what they do with these stacks is horrible. I have a hard time writing it, because it seems so well intentioned and yet so misguided. They put them on a list with grade levels and point systems. A school kid reads one of them. Then he takes a multiple choice test to ensure that he has really read them. Then, if she passes the test, she is eligible to pick little prizes according to how many points the book is "worth". Oh, my. I feel so sad for these stacks of paperbacks stuck in the resource room. Just the fact that they are in these stacks seems to dehumanize them, relativize them, temporalize them. This is not eternity; it is like exile, or like exploitation. I feel so sorry for the kids who encounter Lloyd Alexander and Jan Brett in a context of "reading levels" and "points" for "prizes" and stacks of paperbacks just sitting there, in a side room. Surely that kid has not at all the same experience as a child who hears them while cuddled in the arms of a parent, or picks them up while browsing quietly through a home library on a snowy afternoon.
Now such is the power of a child's heart and mind, and the power of a great book, that even this conclave of prisoners can have wonderful results, I do not doubt. One good thing about this warehouse of books is that I can see a little child browsing the warehouse, choosing a book, passing the test, even acquiring the cheap prize, and in spite of all these hurdles still connecting with a book in a real, life-changing way. Because the human spirit, of authors and children, is bigger and better than all those hurdles are small and mean. But it's not the best way. And using books as fodder for "acceleration" is not the best way, any more than it would be a good thing to shovel books into the fuel compartment of a new kind of high powered locomotive. Travelers' guides to your journey ought not to be used as your fuel.