Reading Groups: Bring the Kids


How do you encourage your kids to read? How do you find friends for your kids who read? What can you learn from your kids who read? How do you train your kids to think and talk about what they read?

There are many answers to these questions. But there’s one answer that covers them all: If you’re part of a reading group, schedule one meeting each year or every six months to include the kids.

I got this idea from a blog post by Kyle Design, who writes about how to start a reading group. Kyle says, “Include the Kids: Once a year we select a book that we will read to our kids, then bring our kids to our book group to discuss it. We all really want to instill our own love of reading to our children.”

I like this concept. This may even be a reason for parents of young children to get involved in a reading club. By participating in a reading group event with their parents, kids will learn new ways to think about reading. Parents will get insights from their children about the reading they do. And because other kids of about the same age will be at the meeting to talk about the same book, the kids will have the opportunity to make friends with peers who read. This is one way for parents to put the power of peer pressure to work for a good cause—on the principle that friends who read don’t let friends who read lose interest in reading.

Film and Parental Discretion


“How do you help your children to be discerning and pick up themes and messages inherent in the movies, books, and visual arts?” Thank you, Cindy Gould, for another great question.

Just today I was talking with a screenwriter friend of mine about the kinds of movies producers like to make. For the fast buck, they favor films for teens. And let’s face it, most films targeting the teen market aren’t all that “intellectually meaty.”

That doesn’t mean, though, that teen films are ideologically vacuous. And some teens actually like sophisticated movies intended for a more specialized audience. Is it possible to equip them to be reflective about their film experiences without ruining their enjoyment of film? Absolutely.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Start young. Be selective about the films your children see early on. Watch them together. Afterward, probe with questions about what they thought or felt. To get specific answers ask specific questions. Remember that one scene in Shrek when the princess is singing and, just when she hits a really high note, the bird that was singing with her literally explodes? Here are some questions to ask: “Was it funny when this happened? Was it tragic? Was it both? How could it be both?” In The Lion King, the treacherous uncle looks the part. You could get some good discussion about that. “Do the bad guys always look like bad guys? How can you tell when someone might be trying to trick you into doing something you shouldn’t do? How do you know when to trust someone?”
  2. Let children express themselves fully. Ask questions about what they say. Show sincere interest in their answers. But be careful not to “cross-examine.”
  3. Affirm them for the good ideas they have and the reasonable ways they come up with those ideas. If you love the way they think, tell them, “I love the way you think!” If we’re going to raise a generation of thinkers, they have to know we value thinking. This brings us to a final point.
  4. Share your own ideas with your children. If you’ve asked for their point of view, you’ve earned the privilege of sharing your point of view and there’s a real chance they’ll listen because you’ve listened. Be careful about the tone of your contribution, though. Try not to sound too dogmatic and authoritative. Be a model of intellectual curiosity. Encourage your children to respond to your ideas with their own evaluation.

This is pretty general advice. Much depends on a child’s age and the relationship you have with your child. I hope readers will share their thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

Faith, Film and Philosophy—The Evolution of an Idea


A book I did with James Spiegel, Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, was released late last fall by InterVarsity Press. Today I heard from Cindy Gould, leader of a reading group called “Verbivores” (suggesting an appetite for words). Cindy asked about the origin of the book, how we decided on films to write about and how we selected contributors. Here’s the answer to that question.

Jim and I are college professors who teach philosophy and enjoy film. We decided we wanted to bring these interests together into a book. When big ideas are packaged in a compelling film, they have great potential to influence culture. We wanted to test this thesis by inviting other philosophers who like film to share their perspectives. We wanted this to be fun, so we thought about friends of ours who share this interest and asked them to participate.

We had an idea how long we wanted the book to be and decided we could manage about a dozen chapters. We ended up with fourteen. We didn’t start with a detailed structure for the book and then recruit authors to fit into that structure. Instead, we began with a list of people we knew we would enjoy working with. They also had to be people with talent for thinking about cultural trends and a gift for writing with wisdom and an engaging style. With list in hand, we approached each one with the basic idea and asked this question, “If you were to write a chapter for this book, what film or films would you want to write about, and what ideas would you like to discuss?” We picked the authors; they picked the films.

Now I have to qualify. We knew that if we were going to do a book of this kind, we had to include a chapter on The Matrix. Some people think of this film and its sequels as the most philosophical of relatively recent films. A potential reader couldn’t pick the book up expecting to find a discussion of The Matrix and be disappointed. Instantly we knew who we needed to get for this chapter. We just hoped he would agree. He did.

When we had chapter proposals from everyone, we recognized there was this remarkable range of film coverage that included the classic and the contemporary, the familiar and the intriguing, the safe and the edgy. On top of that, our hoped-for contributors had all settled on different topics and issues, resulting in a surprising balance of treatment of themes in philosophy. With chapter ideas set side-by-side, a natural structure for the book emerged. People who liked film could read this book and learn more than a smattering of philosophy—philosophy made (almost) painless.

I’m anxious to hear how the Verbivores respond to the book during their discussion on Wednesday. Maybe some of them will post their comments here.

%d bloggers like this: