I found myself at a curious decision point with my daughter’s upbringing yesterday. It might seem like a small thing to be concerned with, and I don’t mean to make it into a bigger decision that it actually was, but I do think it’s an important one because there are probably many ways to consider the situation – I’d be interested in any educators’ opinions out there – here’s the synopsis:
I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter. We started this summer, finished book #1 about a month ago and now we’re about half-way into book #2. My daughter is turning 6 next month, and these are the first novel-style books that she has engaged with, and the first books for her that have no illustrations.
When we first started reading I was prepared to cut-bait on them if she wasn’t interested, or couldn’t keep up comprehensively (we’re reading them in English, which isn’t her first language). She was fine, and actually loved the stories from the start, peppering me with question after question which I dutifully answered. Especially at first, many of her questions were about what the characters look like, expressing some frustration about not being able to picture Hagrid or Harry in her head because she didn’t know what she should picture.
This was exactly what I was hoping for, to try to develop her independent thinking and creativity, and it was one of the reasons I decided to start reading the books with her. I walked through this process a bit, and we talked in some detail about “creating images of the character in your head”. I returned many of her questions about this with questions of my own: “What do you think Hagrid looks like?” “How tall do you want Harry to be?” “How long do you think Harry’s hair should be?” – always, I was sure to mention something like “You’re in charge of your own mind. You can choose what these characters look like in your own head.” She got the hang of it, it was great.
So, along come the Harry Potter movies.
It was a significant decision, I feel, about when to start watching the movies with her. I know that once we watched them, those images that she created in her mind would be forever replaced with the movie interpretations of the Harry, Ron and Hermonie characters.
I was ok with this, for several reasons. One reason being that we exist in a world with both individual interpretation AND mass culture – and, in this world, we all experience each at different times. It is worthwhile to participate in both types of information creation, the matter falls on how to balance the participation. Another reason was that she had already gone through the process of forming these images in her head, which was my main purpose – not the clinging to her created images. And another reason was that conceptually, she was missing out on a lot of the story. Because of her age and her limited vocabulary, there was much she couldn’t understand in the book, and I think having more images to associate with the language will now actually help to improve her conceptual abilities and her language abilities (perhaps at the expense of her creative thinking some…but, learning is always a balance).
So, yeah, yesterday evening we watched the first movie. It was fun and she enjoyed it greatly. There were many points where I could see the light bulb flash in her mind. I only wonder about the timing of it. Would it have been better to wait for a few more books? Or, until the end of the series?