Teaching Values through Reading with Intermediate Readers — Part IV

Teaching Values through Reading

with Intermediate Readers — Part IV

General Manager of Family Literacy Centers, Inc. 

One of a parents’ chief concerns is rearing children with high standards of moral behavior. By the time youngsters reach the age of 8 or 9, their understanding of right and wrong is becoming clearer. The challenge is to fortify them for the coming years when the influence of peers begins to outweigh

that of parents. This article has a few suggestions for using reading and writing activities to help guide children to proper choices. 

Children on an intermediate reading level have several things going for them that help them face moral choices. They can deal with more complex ideas. They have a more sophisticated understanding of moral values than younger children. Their reasoning is better developed,

as is their understanding of cause and effect. Many have encountered moral dilemmas. So

they are ready to think about values in their lives. Many of the books that interest youngsters of this

age treat themes having to do with values - obedience to rules, being honest, kind, loyal, truthful,

and helpful. Children need models of moral behavior, and books can provide these. Some of these books are simple enough for a child to read by himself. Others might be read aloud to the child alone or as a family. 

There are so many advantages to reading aloud that experts encourage it for children of all ages. Here are a few examples of well liked books that teach values: 

(1) Where the Red Fern Grows is a story that appeals to nearly everyone. It’s a boy-and-his-dog story that teaches perseverance, courage, and sacrifice. It’s too difficult for most third or fourth graders to read by themselves, but it’s a great family book.

(2) Short stories and fairy tales like Dicken’s Christmas Carol often have something to say about values. Many children can relate to Scrooge with his selfishness and greed.

(3) In Sarah Plain and Tall the family sticks together through hard times, and the children learn to love their new mother.

(4) Crow Chief, an Indian folk tale, relates how Falling Star saves his tribe from starvation.

(5) Many books have been written to help children understand heavier issues such as death, divorce, adoption, and drugs.

(6) If religion is important to your family, read to your family from religious books. Almost all show how people in the past have handled moral decisions. 

A question you may be asking is how to find a book that your child will enjoy. The local library is a good place to start. Librarians know an amazing amount about children’s books. They also have book lists available. Many books have been written for parents, listing favorite children’s books and giving a short plot summary. But you will find that nearly any book can open

the door to a discussion about values. 

Once you have found some books dealing with a principle what do you do with it? First read it aloud to your child. Or both of you can read the same book. Next, and most important, have a little discussion. That does not mean the parent lectures. It means the parent asks questions and listens; the child answers the questions and explores ideas. An honest exploration of values is more likely if the atmosphere is loving and supportive. 

Hold back on criticism. Be a listener. Here are examples of ways to direct a discussion:

(1) It’s useful to remind your youngster of the values that a book is teaching. In The Long Winter, one story in particular illustrates courage and sacrifice. Several families are snow bound and without food. A young man, Almanzo Wilder, risks his life by braving blizzards across

forty miles of prairie to get wheat. 


“All the days of that storm Almanzo was

thinking. He did not crack jokes as usual. He

even sat thoughtfully whittling and let Royal

make the supper pancakes.

‘You know what I think, Roy,’he said at last.

‘I think there’s folks in this town that are


‘Some are getting pretty hungry,’’ maybe,’Royal

admitted, turning the pancakes.

‘I said starving,’Almanzo repeated.

‘Well come to the point,’said Royal.

‘This is the point. Somebody’s got to go get

that wheat that was raised south of town.’ Royal

slowly shook his head. ‘Nobody’ll do it. It’s as

much as a man’s life is worth.”


That is one brave teenager, I’ll tell you! In that

situation would you go for the wheat?


Gosh, I dunno. That would be scary. Would



I hope so. Some teenagers risk their lives doing

really dumb things. Almanzo wasn’t just being

dumb. He thought the situation through, and

knew it was the right thing. 

Talk about consequences. Children past the age of eight or nine are capable of reasoning and can understand consequences of actions and choices. 


What might have happened to Almanzo if he’d

run off half prepared?


He could have died in the storm. He almost

didn’t make it anyway - even with the planning

and the good horses and stuff.


How would the story have ended if he hadn’t



Laura Ingalls Wilder would probably have died

and we wouldn’t have this story. 

Youngsters over eight years of age can understand principles of behavior but they need to know the reasons behind the rules. Fish Fry Tonight is a funny story about a mother mouse who exaggerates about the size of a fish she caught. 


That was funny.


My goodness, how did she get herself in that

awful mess?


Well she kept lying about how big the fish was.

It just got bigger and bigger. Then she had to

buy pizza for everybody because there wasn’t

enough fish to eat.  PARENT [TURNING A LITTLE MORE


Why shouldn’t people tell lies?


Because it’s wrong.


Yes, but why is it wrong? Next time Mama

Mouse catches a big fish, will people believe her

when she says how big it is?


No they’ll think she’s lying again. They won’t

trust her.


And if people don’t trust us? 

As you talk about the stories, relate them to your child’s life. Have them put themselves in the story. Stress the good feelings that come from doing good. In The Rag Coat, children make fun of a girl whose coat is different. 


Minna knew how to handle that situation. What

would you do if somebody made fun of your



They do make fun of me sometimes, and I feel

bad. Sometimes I make fun of them back.


How does that work out?


Minna didn’t make fun of people back. I guess

she knew that her clothes weren’t important. 

Stories can help children develop empathy - which means being able to put themselves in somebody’s place and understand how they feel. Children who feel empathy are kinder to other people. Sometimes you can assist your child to understand the feelings a person in a story is feeling. 


How do you think Minna felt when the girls

were laughing at her?


She felt really bad at first. But she knew that

people shouldn’t make fun of her. Clothes are

not as important as people.


What could you do next time someone makes

fun of another child’s looks or clothing? Think

about someone at school that people make fun


Encourage children to keep a journal of what they learn from stories they’ve read and include real-life examples if possible. They might also share what they’ve learned with others over the Internet. Writing about these experiences reinforces the principles in their own minds and gives them the opportunity to add their own incites to these experiences.