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Using Good Stories to Compel Learning for Any Child


By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

All of our children benefit from hearing good stories. Stories convey messages we need to hear. Some of these messages resonate with our children who face significant challenges or differences in their lives.


Compelling Different Abilities
Some children with special needs can comprehend only those messages conveyed through simple picture books. Let us choose even these books well. In Frederick, by Leo Lionni, we read about a little mouse who cannot assist his family in the usual manner of hard, physical labor. He is not strong like the others. He is not a leader. He is not mighty or impressive. He seems like someone who does not contribute. Instead, in days of distress, little Frederick writes a poem. We feel our hearts warm as Frederick shares his small but unique gift of poetry with his family. (My poetic daughter appreciates this book.)


Compelled Beyond Circumstances
A compelling story can elevate our minds far beyond our circumstances. Perhaps most appealing of all, by connecting us through stories to better understand the human condition, frailty, and redemption, literature reminds us we are not alone.

An older or higher-functioning child may appreciate more complex stories. My son, a young man with autism, learning disabilities, and mental illness (schizophrenia), sometimes wonders about his usefulness in the world. He read A Wrinkle in Time, and he urged me to read it. I finally did. The main character in A Wrinkle in Time, a teenage girl named Meg, is bright in mathematics. However, Meg is “different” in many other ways. Her social difficulties leave her feeling lonely. She gets into trouble at school. “I’m a delinquent,” Meg concludes grimly. Meg grapples with thoughts that waver from honesty to self-pity. “I think I’m a biological mistake.” “I hate being an oddball.” “I try to pretend, but it isn’t any help …”

Meg’s mother tells her, “Oh, my darling …, your development has to go at its own pace. It just doesn’t happen to go at the usual pace.” Later in the story, in the midst of a grave challenge, Meg receives comfort as from an angel: “My child, do not despair. Do you think we would have brought you here if there were no hope? We are asking you to do a difficult thing, but we are confident that you can do it.” As A Wrinkle in Time unfolds, the reader gains wisdom through both the Holy Scriptures and through classical writers. “Nothing is hopeless,” we read from Euripides. Over time, love and loyalty compel Meg to move outside of her own despondency and into active courage.

Meg’s new friend Calvin has delighted in Meg all along, just as we as readers do. Calvin, too, is a little quirky and often felt an outsider. Not any more. Upon meeting Meg and her rather odd family, Calvin exclaims with relief, “Isn’t it wonderful? … I’m not alone any more! Do you realize what that means to me?”



Looking for More Good Stories?

For comprehensive literature lists categorized by a child’s ability, see Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. For good sets of read-alouds see these fiction and non-fiction read-alouds. For a special-needs program uniquely centered on good books, see the new Simply Classical Special-Needs Curriculum.


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