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    Intellectual Snacking: The News Binder

    May 6, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    All through Charlotte Mason’s Volume Five {Character Formation}, I’ve been noticing something. Actually, Mason points this out over and over, so it isn’t difficult to notice it at all. What is it? Well, it is the idea that the vast majority of the world’s great men who were readers {and they weren’t all readers, interestingly enough} thrived on their boyhood reading, which is often described as “snippets” thrown together by reading anything they could get their hands on, unless their parents were persons of means and had a large library.

    Well, we have a decent library, and I am grateful for it, but there is still a lot of work to be done on it before I would consider it to be a wealth of mental nutrition.

    I am seeing a connection between how boys eat and how they read. I used to panic whenever Si’s youngest brother {who is currently 20} would come to visit. No matter how much food I prepared, that guy could eat me out of house and home! And he ate everything, pretty much.

    Teenaged boys often seem like starving people, don’t they?

    Well, I see this in my own son sometimes, though he isn’t quite eight yet. He is starving for a book to read, a thought to think. No matter what I give him, it never seems to be enough. When I couple this with the fact that my library is stronger on some points than on others, I often think the situation resembles nutritional deficiencies–sure, we’re strong on calcium, but we’re deficient on B-12 and that’s a serious situation.


    So when the DHM posted about Charlotte Mason and current events, I was ripe for it. I have caught my son trying to listen to our local radio news lately, so I know that he is curious about what is going on in the world. Unfortunately, I do not consider that news worth listening to most of the time, as it tends to be full of murders, child abuse, and other details of our city’s seedy underbelly which I do not consider appropriate for a seven-year-old. {He does, however, enjoy listening to the weather, the agriculture report, and so on.}

    We have been building a Homestead Binder for the past couple years now. He loves it when I print off articles for him about growing plants and trees, caring for animals, or details of various farming tools and how they work. He also loves using a three-hole-punch to put his articles into his binder–it never gets old! It dawned on me that I could use the same approach for news, though not quite as organized because news can hardly be predicted.

    So yesterday, we took his old phonics binder and emptied out the contents. I clipped it together and saved it for posterity even though I generally despise saving things. There was something sweet about going through his old lessons, and remembering holding a three-year-old boy on my lap while savoring a first reading of Frog and Toad together.

    End nostalgic moment here.

    I was browsing the Drudge Report, my {and every other American’s} favorite quick-reference for news, looking for ideas. It dawned on me: the oil spill in the Gulf! What a perfect first topic. What boy doesn’t love a good explosion? And what child would not be fascinated by all the different angles: cleanup, wildlife rescue, investigation into the cause of the explosion, survivor stories, and so on. The potential is great for this one event alone.

    As I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself. First, I want to choose not just isolated articles, but a story to be followed. It is so easy in our culture to read the soundbite, and then forget all about what happened and why. So instead of giving my son a bunch of different topics to read about, I’m going to try and discipline myself to select stories and follow them until the end. This doesn’t mean that we won’t read about various topics at once, but rather that we won’t read so many topics that it becomes impossible to actually follow the story and learn its conclusion.

    Moreover, I want to choose topics that are morally appropriate for his age. Some stories will simply be skipped, even though they are big news, because he is not quite ready, maturity-wise, to handle them.

    Lastly, I want to seek out Christian commentary on the stories whenever possible. If there are a few Christians–bloggers even–who have tried to apply the faith to the story, I want to offer that commentary as part of the News Binder as well. Even better if there are conflicting opinions, so that the boy is inspired to choose someone he agrees with and explain why.

    Yesterday, I printed off for him a fascinating article on the initial oil rig explosion from Watts Up with That, completely with very impressive photos from the actual sinking of the rig. There are daily updates at the Deep Water Horizon Response website {which, I believe, is run by BP}, and also interesting details on the response itself, including a hefty Shoreline Cleanup Manual. I’m also thinking of setting up some Google searches for these stories that I can follow using my Google Reader. This will be an easy way to keep up on particular stories. I won’t print them all off, of course, but I will make sure I print enough that the notebook contains the important details concerning the event.

    What are your plans for your children in regard to current events?

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  • Reply Rahime May 7, 2010 at 3:50 am

    I think having him read age-appropriate articles is a great way to start to fill the need for more reading material.

    I remember having this problem often as a kid: always “running out” of things to read. Granted, for the most part,my parents didn’t have any idea what I was reading, and, aside from dis-allowing things like sweet valley and babysitter’s club-type books, they never really gave me suggestions or limitations on what to read (not something I’d advise). I never liked to re-read books that I’d read before. There are a few books I’ve read a handful of times, but very few (which kind of makes my library seem a bit ridiculous…oh, well).

    BBC news (not the american version, but the uk version) is usually a bit less sensationalist and graphic than our local news tends to be. It also tends to focus more broadly on what’s going on in the whole world rather than the America-centric perspective of most of the news agencies.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 6, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    I wish that the “share” function in my reader allowed me to label or comment. I like the way it works in general, but I wish it had that additional ability.

    With that said, I was actually thinking about doing a weekly “Binder Roundup” just for fun.

    A friend of mine just got a Kindle. That would be the perfect way to do it with children, if a family owned one. Of course, it wouldn’t satisfy the hole punching urge. 😉

  • Reply Mystie May 6, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Wow! What a brilliant idea!

    *I* don’t keep up with current events, so I had no thoughts about helping my children do so. But I can see this being another “door to open” the children’s interests.

    So, are you going to keep all your links in your shared items so I can just copy yours? 🙂

    You know, Hans loves to read over my shoulder on the computer, too. I bet he would love having his own online reading/reader — and then I wouldn’t have to print anything, either (besides, we don’t have a color printer). Hm.

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