Happy Resurrection Day!!
Ever since I took Christ’s phrase “Let the little children come to Me” seriously, I have come to respect and study children’s innocence, wonder, and faith much more, and accordingly I have seen a transformation in my siblings’ appreciation and love. Growing up should be both external and to a degree internal in terms of wisdom and knowledge, but in terms of attitude and spirit, the natural honesty children possess could certainly give the adult world many more rays of happiness.
A refining of attitude and spirit, though, is achieved by the humanities, which is the study of human expression throughout all time. Literature happens to be my specialty in this field, so I try to teach my four younger siblings in this regard. How should we understand and sympathize with people? As coronavirus detains us through quarantine, we most probably have the most time we’ll ever be able to have with our children before they move away, so why not find a way to help them appreciate stories bound to grow their character?
- Retell classic books to your children.
This suggestion prenecessitates the reteller’s familiarity with classic authors, but if that familiarity is indeed present, it also presents a mutually beneficial interaction. The reseller gains the best practice in communicating clearly, as clear communication with children is one of the surest ways to do so with adults, while children aren’t treated as “too little” for deeper themes, though some content is usually excluded. I enjoy retelling Hamlet, for instance, so it should come as no surprise that my siblings adore The Lion King—yet another version of my favorite Shakespearean story!
2. When reading aloud, emphasize vocal inflections.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post my younger brother with autism and his love for stories. One of the defining characteristics of autism is the incomprehension of social cues and emotions. Thankfully, I’ve found that when I use my creativity to develop my own inflections and voices while reading aloud, my brother better understands how to associate with others and how others express their emotions. For example, one family-favorite book series is Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie; years ago, I created my own voice for Gerald, the titular elephant. When he latched onto our “Gerald” impressions, he began imitating them and repeating them to himself no matter what the situation, and his social skils have improved exponentially. It’s a small price to pay for yours truly to bear the nickname “Gerald” to this day.
3. Find literary soundtracks and encourage your children to connect them with the stories they represent.
What do I mean by literary soundtracks? Any piece of music trying to tell a story—preferably, a story your children are already familiar with. The countless classic Disney movie songs are easiest to interpret where they fit in to the story and the easiest way to instill empathy by hearing the character’s perspective, but it doesn’t need to stop there. To this day, I remember sitting in first or second grade music class, utterly fascinated by how the composer of Peter and the Wolf told a story solely by music and not by words. In hindsight, I’ve seen that listening to musical storytelling has greatly aided me in developing a greater sense of empathy for, an understanding of, and fascination with other people. Start off with Peter and the Wolf and some classic lyrical Disney songs, then ask your children questions—how do these songs make you feel? What are the characters’ emotions like? What are the characters thinking about? What can you learn from this point of the story? Where in the plot are we? And the list can go on and on. This is also a greatly therapeutic practice as it increases the ability to live “in the moment” and not let your mind wander. And it grows with your children! Eventually from Peter and Disney you can move into Alan Menken or Thomas Newman instrumentals, then delve into my favorite such composer, Patrick Doyle, and listen to his instrumental interpretations of classic authors like Shakespeare (Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, Henry V, As You Like It), Shelley (Frankenstein), Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), Perrault (Cinderella), and Austen (Sense and Sensibility). Howard Shore’s arrangements for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are stellar as well, though the movies are too violent for my taste.
The power of storytelling to increase empathy is nonpareil, and I would greatly encourage you to use this time of isolation for the best and build up character, instead of having that character swallowed up in fear.
April 12, 2020
P.S. Since quarantine served as the catalyst for this post–and since it’s Easter Sunday–I wanted to share with you a few other things that have kept me bright and hopeful in isolation.