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Using Fiction in Values Education Print E-mail

Children don’t learn values in the same way they learn arithmetic or spelling.  Nor can we paste, graft, or implant our own values into their lives. Values that becomes a real part of a child’s life are those they have “grown” themselves from life experience.

Children learn values from their role models  --  people they admire and want to be like.  They learn values at home and at school when they make choices and experience the results.  They learn values when they observe “cause and effect” in other people’s lives.  

But nobody can experience or observe everything they need to know and understand.  That’s why picture books, chapter books, and novels -- i.e., fiction  --  are great tools in Values Education.   Reading fiction “simulates” life experience.  Readers become involved in a book.  They identify with one or more characters, and feel as if the story is happening. Later, talking about choices the characters made, identifying consequences of those choices, and asking “what if” different choices had been made, help readers connect what people do with what happens as a result.  Books can offer the power of Values Education without learners feeling threatened or exposed if they’re uncomfortable talking about their own lives.  

When we use fiction in Values Education, we can shape readers’ experiences by:
    1. Offering books with examples of tough life issues real children face;
    2. Including characters children know and like to read about;
    3. Talking about both the good and not-so-good role models in a book;
    4.  Choosing books in which both good and not-so-good choices are made;     
    5.  Enjoying a discussion that is impersonal and non-threatening.

One of many excellent resources for Values Education is The Living Values Educational Program, an international program implemented in 74 countries at over 1700 sites, and supported by UNESCO.  Find it at www.livingvalues.net .

Something in the Air in Values Education

Something in the Air's cover Suddenly Ben is no longer sure he has a home or a family anymore.  Everything has changed, and he doesn’t have any choice about it.  

Oh, but Ben does have choices.  We always have choices.  Like Ben, and like Mama Cat, Toots, and Sadie, we may not always be able to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose our own actions and reactions.

Values Education is about the choices we make.  What do we value?  What is most important?  How do we decide?  How do we choose?

Very young story-listeners and readers mostly understand right and wrong as what they’ve been told to do or not do.  Something is very bad if it brings a very bad punishment!  Often they don’t yet understand the reasons why, or how their actions affect other people.

We can help children grow in those understandings by listening to them respectfully, and guiding their thoughts with questions and  “wonderings”, all without moralizing.  The most effective thing we can do in Values Education for the “picture book crowd” is to create a values-based atmosphere, i. e., an atmosphere in which we model values such as respect, kindness, fairness, citizenship, and responsibility.

Examples of questions that may lead children toward new insights into values are:  What does it mean to be fair?  Was anyone in the story fair?  Was someone unfair?  How did being unfair make others feel?  How do you feel when someone is unfair?  No one is required to answer, and no answer is right or wrong  --  the children can agree, disagree, or shift the discussion as they are inclined.  Other values, such as respect or kindness, can be handled the same way.

The Choosing Tree in Values Education

The Choosing Tree's coverMany middle-readers (third to sixth grades) still think of “right” and “wrong” mostly in terms of rules and punishment.  But most are beginning to understand reasons for rules, to see and care how their actions affect other people, and to feel some responsibility for the choices they make.   

With The Choosing Tree as background, exploring each character’s choices and how each affected their own life and the lives of those around them helps readers look at their own choices and their consequences.  It may be easier for readers to recognize cause and effect in their own lives if they first recognize them in the life of a story character.

Some readers will identify more with Matt or Robert, some with Daniel or Eddie.  Asking questions about Daniel, Matt, Eddie, and Robert can lead readers to ask the same questions of themselves:  How do we make choices?  How do we decide what’s most important?  If we had made different choices in the past, would our lives be very different?  What about the future?  Will our values and the choices we make affect how our lives turn out?

No one of us always makes good choices.  Daniel and others in The Choosing Tree are no different.  The story abounds with opportunities to explore the roles of  respect, responsibility, fairness, honesty, courage, and many other traits, and how they affect both individuals and the community.

 
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Newsflash

IBBY 2012 International Book awards:

The International Board on Books for Young People has announced its 2012 list of  award winning international books for young readers.  Find the list at www.ibby.org

 

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