Early on in our homeschooling journey Kristin and I shared homeschooling duties. That means Kristin was in charge and I took the literature responsibilities. She’s always been the brains behind this operation and I contribute in whatever way I can.
In those days I worked for an overnight delivery company (DHL) and usually arrived home around one or two p.m. Kristin was teaching piano lessons at a local music store and started work around three p.m. So our schedules worked out great for a little tag-team homeschooling for our only child, Seth.
I’ve had a love of literature for many decades so I spent my time reading great literature to him: old classics to modern ones. Depending on his age and the work, I would read either the original or an abridged version written for children.
We believe very strongly that children in those early years can comprehend far more than their reading levels will allow them to read. Our son was highly dyslexic, but we didn’t want him to miss out on great and interesting literature simply because he couldn’t read it.
Like a lot of boys, he was active. When he was a toddler we shared lookout duty. “Have you got, him?” we’d ask one another at a family gathering. “Yeah, I’ve got him.”
Then we’d follow him making sure he didn’t get himself in trouble. And he could get into trouble. At the playground in Balboa park in San Diego I literally caught him twice because he walked off the edge of the playground platform 6 or 7 feet above the ground. No fear….it’s not a good thing! I was a neurotic dad. My sister-in-law thought we were crazy until she had her own active toddler (in this case a girl).
Once, when I was talking to a neighbor, I heard Seth yelling, “Daddy, Daddy!”, on the other side of our backyard. I think he was about three at the time. And sure enough, he had climbed up our chain link fence and couldn’t get down. He had some nasty scrapes and was a little shaken (probably a good thing). When I asked him what he was doing up there, he informed me he was trying to get to the telephone wires another 10 feet above his head.
So when I read to him, he was active too. He often bounced on a big ball, built Legos, played with Bionicles (remember those?) or whatever else he could do to keep active. Sometimes I wondered if he was actually listening. The skeptical dad, I guess.
I started reading J.R.R. Tolkien to him when he was around 6 or 7 I think. We started with The Hobbit and worked our way through all three Lord of the Rings’ books. I’m no actor, but I decided to do voices as much as possible. It was a lot of fun, though I think I sometimes couldn’t keep my voices consistent for each character….but I did a mean Gandalf….for a seven-year-old….who had no choice but to listen. I’ll take what I can get.
Note: If you haven’t read or seen Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. You might want to stop reading now.
One day we were reading The Fellowship of the Ring. Seth was reclining on the couch, his head on a pillow playing with something (can’t remember what is was). I do remember thinking, I wonder if he’s really listening. We had come to the point where Gandalf confronts the Balrog on the bridge. “You cannot pass!” he says (“You shall not pass!” in the movie version). If you’ve read it or seen the movie it’s an intense scene. It looks as if Gandalf has beaten the Balrog. The bridge has crumbled before Gandalf and the Balrog has fallen.
“With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard’s knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. ‘Fly, you fools!’ he cried, and was gone.”
Seth gasped. He looked at me with some alarm. “Is Gandalf dead? Does he come back?”
I looked up from the book, my reading glasses slightly down on my nose, “Do you want me to tell you?”
He thought for a moment. “No,” he said simply.
And I continued reading.