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Unlocking Academic Skills and Empathy through Classic Literature: A Guide for Parents

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

As parents, fostering a love for literature in our children is a gift. But sometimes, it's that gift our kids don't want. In a world dominated by iPads, Netflix, PS4s, and social media, the challenge becomes not just about convincing our children to read but inspiring a genuine interest. How do we compete with the allure of screens and instant entertainment? And perhaps more crucially, why should our children care about the world of classic literature? This guide aims to tackle these questions head-on, providing actionable tips to kindle that love for reading, backed by the transformative benefits of classic literature in shaping essential soft-skills like cultivating empathy and embracing diversity.


Building a Literary Haven and Rewiring Minds: Fostering Engagement through Access to Books and Remedial Reading Training


Creating an engaging reading environment at home matters. Cultivating reading habits has the ability to transform habits - so our kids build lifelong skills that will help them today and tomorrow. Studies show that having access to books is one of the key features that drives engagement. According to the National Literacy Trust, "children and young people who said that they have a book of their own at home were not only more engaged with reading but also six times more likely to read above the level expected for their age (22% vs. 3.6%) compared with their peers who told us that they didn't have their own book." (National Literary Trust 2023)


Furthermore, researchers Timothy Keller and Marcel Just from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a groundbreaking study, revealing that 100 hours of remedial reading training have the power to rewire the brain for improved reading capabilities. Brain imaging demonstrated substantial enhancements in processing, and subsequent testing supported these findings—showcasing tangible advancements in the reading abilities of the participants. This evidence highlights the incredible plasticity of the brain and the potential for targeted reading interventions to bring about transformative changes, underscoring the significance of nurturing cognitive development in our children through tailored educational approaches. (Medical Express 2009)


Moreover, as we embark on the journey of fostering engagement through access to books and specialized reading training, we recognize that the benefits extend far beyond immediate academic gains. Cultivating reading habits equips our children with lifelong skills essential for navigating the complexities of the world today and tomorrow. The impact of a literary haven at home goes beyond academic achievements; it lays the groundwork for critical thinking, creativity, and an enduring love for learning. In this realm, classic literature stands as a beacon, offering not only captivating stories but also a gateway to timeless wisdom that shapes character and values. As we delve into seven classic reading selections recommended by the College Board, we'll explore how these literary masterpieces provide a unique avenue for intellectual growth and emotional enrichment, seamlessly aligning with our endeavor to foster a well-rounded educational experience for our children.

Navigating Literary Terrain: A Journey from Engaged Reading to Timeless Classics

As we delve into the enriching realm of fostering engagement through access to books and specialized reading training, we unveil a pathway that extends beyond immediate academic gains. Cultivating reading habits becomes a beacon, guiding our children towards lifelong skills crucial for navigating the complexities of today and tomorrow. The impact of a literary haven at home goes beyond academic achievements, creating the groundwork for critical thinking, creativity, and a sustained love for learning. In this context, classic literature stands as a timeless beacon, offering captivating stories that serve as a gateway to enduring wisdom shaping character and values. Transitioning seamlessly into our exploration of seven classic reading selections recommended by the College Board, we embark on a journey that enriches our children's intellectual growth and emotional well-being, aligning with our endeavor to foster a comprehensive and well-rounded educational experience.


Now, let's delve into the transformative classic narratives that regularly hit college reading lists:

  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: In this 19th-century English classic, readers follow the journey of the orphaned Jane Eyre as she grapples with matters of love, morality, and social class. Through Brontë's nuanced characterizations, readers gain insights into resilience, self-worth, and empathy for the diverse range of human experiences presented in the narrative.

  2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Set during the French Revolution, Dickens' novel explores themes of sacrifice, redemption, and social injustice. Characters like Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay offer a glimpse into the complexities of human nature, fostering empathy as readers witness personal transformations amid societal upheaval. The diverse cast and interwoven stories provide a rich tapestry for readers to empathize with a spectrum of experiences.

  3. A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare: This Shakespearian comedy transports readers into Shakespeare's whimsical world, where they navigate the intricacies of love and misunderstanding. This play serves as a journey through the complexities of relationships, showcasing the power of empathy in unraveling human emotions. By engaging with the diverse motives and emotions that drive the characters, readers develop a diverse understanding of varied perspectives.

  4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Harper Lee's timeless classic regularly hits the "my favorite book we read this year" from many of my students! This beloved book confronts racial injustice in the American South during the 1930s. Through Scout Finch's eyes, readers witness the impact of prejudice, innocence, and the pursuit of justice. The narrative encourages readers to question societal norms and empathize with those facing discrimination, including the enigmatic Boo Radley, fostering a deeper understanding of empathy across diverse backgrounds.

  5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Thoreau's reflective masterpiece explores the simplicity of living in nature. Through "Walden," readers delve into introspection, connection to the environment, and a contemplative look at nature. The narrative encourages empathy by connecting readers to the natural world and prompting reflection on the varied ways individuals approach and appreciate life.

  6. Animal Farm by George Orwell: Orwell's short, simply written allegorical novella takes readers on a journey through a farm where animals rebel against their human farmer. As readers explore the consequences of power and corruption, they gain a deeper understanding of societal structures and the importance of empathy in leadership. The diverse animal characters symbolize various societal groups, fostering empathy by highlighting the challenges faced by different communities.

  7. The Call of the Wild by Jack London: London's adventure novel transports readers to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. Through the eyes of Buck, a domestic dog turned wild, readers explore the primal instincts and challenges of survival, fostering empathy for the struggles faced by both humans and animals. The narrative builds empathy by connecting readers to the shared struggles and primal experiences of diverse characters in the harsh wilderness.


Image of classic literature for high school students and book club favorites
Book Club Favorites

Five Tips for Reading Success (Including Remedial Reading Tips!)

  1. Create a Reading Oasis: Designate a cozy reading nook at home, stocked with a diverse collection of books that cater to your reader's interests. A comfortable and inviting space can significantly enhance the reading experience and make it a predictable part of their routine.

  2. Family Book Discussions: Initiate regular family discussions about the books your reader loves (or hates). This not only reinforces their understanding of the material but also fosters critical thinking and analytical skills. Make time to listen, so that they can share their perspectives and opinions, creating a dynamic and engaging literary dialogue.

  3. Blend Technology and Tradition: Leverage technology to supplement the reading experience. Explore interactive e-books, audiobooks, or educational apps that complement classic literature. Integrating modern tools can make the reading process more interactive and appealing to tech-savvy young readers.

  4. Personalized Reading Plans: Tailor remedial reading programs to your reader's schedule and specific needs. Identify their strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan that focuses on reinforcing fundamental skills while gradually introducing more complex tasks and texts. Personalized approaches ensure targeted support for individual challenges.

  5. Multisensory Learning Techniques: Incorporate varied techniques that engage multiple senses and cater to different learning styles. For older students, consider interleaving, a method involving the intentional mixing of topics during study sessions to enhance retention. Additionally, dual coding, which combines visual and verbal information, can aid in comprehension. Encourage students to take notes or annotate while reading, reinforcing active engagement and deepening understanding through multisensory experiences. These strategies empower learners to connect with texts on a more profound level, making remedial instruction both effective and tailored to individual preferences.


Lightbulbs with tips for Reluctant Readers to build Success
Tips for Reading Success

Make the Most of Breaks: A Literary Celebration!


Amidst breaks and holidays, we have the perfect opportunity to infuse joy and learning into our children's lives. Capitalize on the festivities by combining cherished traditions with classic literature. Consider syncing classic book readings with significant holidays, creating a magical fusion of celebration and learning tailored to different age groups.


1. Christmas Classics: For Younger Readers (Elementary School): Introduce the timeless joy of Christmas with classics like "The Polar Express" by Chris Van Allsburg or "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr. Seuss. For Middle School Readers: Elevate the holiday spirit with more complex narratives like "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens or "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry, offering rich themes for discussion. For High School Readers: Engage older students with profound reflections on the season through works like "The Christmas Box" by Richard Paul Evans or "Little Women" by Louisa May Alcott. 2. Martin Luther King Day: For Younger Readers (Elementary School): Explore the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with picture books like "Martin's Big Words" by Doreen Rappaport or "I am Martin Luther King Jr." by Brad Meltzer. For Middle School Readers: Delve into the civil rights movement with books like "The Watsons Go to Birmingham" by Christopher Paul Curtis or "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred D. Taylor. For High School Readers: Challenge older students with impactful reads such as "March: Book One" by John Lewis, offering a graphic novel perspective on the fight for civil rights. 3. Thanksgiving Tales: For Younger Readers (Elementary School): Celebrate gratitude with classics like "The Thankful Book" by Todd Parr or "Thanksgiving on Thursday" from the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. For Middle School Readers: Deepen understanding with historical context through "Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving" by Eric Metaxas or "Mayflower" by Nathaniel Philbrick. For High School Readers: Explore the complexities of thankfulness in novels like "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, offering a nuanced perspective on societal expectations. 4. Summer Reading Challenge: For Younger Readers (Elementary School): Foster adventure with classics like "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White or "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter. For Middle School Readers: Expand horizons with iconic tales such as "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle or "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank. For High School Readers: Engage older students in literary exploration with classics like "1984" by George Orwell or "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, offering profound insights into societal challenges.

Hope You've Enjoyed This Brief Guide!

As we bring this exploration to a close, we sincerely hope that readers have found inspiration and valuable insights within this brief guide. May the journey of nurturing a love for literature and supporting academic growth be both rewarding and enjoyable for you and your young readers. Whether embarking on holiday reading traditions or exploring the timeless classics, may these endeavors become cherished moments in the ongoing tapestry of your family's literary adventure.


In this collective journey toward unlocking academic skills and empathy, our commitment as parents extends beyond the home. As an organization dedicated to educational support, we provide remedial services, including tailored strategies for reluctant readers and children with dyslexia. Our 1:1 literacy coaching and tutoring programs ensure personalized attention, nurturing a love for reading in every reader. Additionally, our customized book clubs during breaks offer engaging, colorful resources, fostering both interest and comprehension.


Partner with us to empower your child's educational journey, where the transformative power of classic literature becomes a catalyst for lifelong learning and empathy.

Carol Nelson | Last updated Monday, December 4, 2023



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