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Ingredient #19: The Bookshelf. Such an innocent looking ingredient… and yet it is one of the most challenging ingredients for many of us to implement. This simple ingredient is not unlike the item it describes.
Bookshelves are such common and ordinary objects. Homes across the world have them. All you really need is some solid structure that can hold piles of innocuous looking bound packets of paper. Open any magazine and you will see ads with pictures of a living room and some generic bookshelves in the background. Walk into a doctors office or a law office or a school principal’s office and you will find more bookshelves. The bookshelf. Simple? Ordinary? Maybe at first blush. But like any reader can attest to, bookshelves are very complicated and highly personal. The books that they support are a reflection of the tastes, ideas and values of their architects. Our bookshelf really is a mirror into who we are.
In TJEd, we are passionately focused on creating an inspiring home culture of life-long learning. Many of us have chosen this path because we want to offer our families the most customized and personal learning experience that we can create. When we take on the mantle of Leadership Education we shed our “conveyor belt” mentalities and tackle each aspect of our home life and family culture with a set of standards that are immensely personal. We use the 7 Keys to inform our standards but they do not dictate our practices.
We cannot lead if we are following someone else’s passion. We must find and unpack our own mission and vocational path.
“The bottom two shelves of the off-the-conveyor-belt bookshelf are the most important. Here you ﬁnd Core Phase books such as Dr. Seuss and his natural companions, stuck in every-which-way like a good old-fashioned toy box. If the shelf looks like books, it will not draw the attention of the two-year-old toddling through the room while mom and big brother read, big sisters are writing a poem and baby sucks on his sock. If the shelf looks like books, toddler will walk right past, search for toys somewhere or bother Mom, who is not sure what he wants. Well, what he wants is to sit on Mom’s lap and read books together, but who could possibly tell that from seeing a neatly organized bookshelf that looks like something to get yelled at for touching.” Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, Page 118.
In Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, Oliver and Rachel have mapped out some ingredients that when applied through our own family culture can be powerful in creating a truly inspiring environment. These ingredients are solid, tested and have general appeal. They, however, are recommendations not rules.
When I value something, I want it to be well ordered. I value my books more than any other material thing I own. In fact, beyond my All Clad pans and Wusthof knives, I can honestly say that my books and some religious art I have are the only material things that have any real value to me at all. I decorate with books. I live with my books. I love my books. Many of my best books were inherited from family I love and respect, were gifted to me or were purchased after great effort on my part. It is not uncommon for me to sell a whole series of books to acquire the right edition of a favorite book.
When I read the above quote in Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, I cringed inside. The wisdom was not lost on me but it chafed badly. Nonetheless, I submitted. I have looked at Leadership Education and The Student Whisperer as two mentors which are not likely to lead me astray no matter how much their suggestions challenge my thinking and attitudes.
Like a good and obedient mentee, I cleared off the bottom shelf on several book shelves and recruited my children to help me hunt down all of the Core Phase books in the house and bring them to this shelf. As the day waned on, the kids had the shelves filled and they were thrilled. I was sad. For several weeks those bottoms shelves attacked my pride. The chaos and disorganization stuck out to me like a sore thumb and filled me with feelings of angst and frustration. I wanted a tidy space. I didn’t want a school in my living room. I wanted my bookshelves to be pretty and sensible. More importantly, I wanted to be able to find the books I wanted when I wanted them!
One morning, I was engrossed in the seasonal task of trading out the winter clothes for the warm weather clothes. My children were running up and down the stairs rescuing books from under their beds and putting them away. At one point, I noticed that the kids were gone. I didn’t hear any fighting and so I didn’t worry too much. I was busy and needed to finish the task at hand while my energy held out. After some time, however, it became more than suspicious.
I discovered my kids in the mostly abandoned basement playroom. All of their toys were in the middle of the room or cast off to the side. All of the shelves, however, were filling up with books! When I surprised them with my visit, they met me with squeals of delight, “Mom! We are playing library!”.
It was brilliant. My children like order too. The bookshelf was not working for them either. Instead, we all agreed that if they could treat the books with respect, they could keep their library and they could harvest every Core Book in the house to add to it.
Six months later, our library is a happy mess but well loved and my bookshelves in the family room are reasonably tidy, cheerful, and happy. My children spend hours reorganizing their little library and an equal amount of time pouring over the Love of Learning books upstairs which are more neatly organized. Sometimes they sort the books by theme. Sometimes by format. Sometimes they collect their favorites into their own designated cubbies. This library has fostered a love for books in my children and I will let them maintain it for as long as it continues to inspire genuine learning and play.
Along the way, however, we discovered that my littlest man was not likely to wander downstairs whenever he wanted a book. To accommodate his need to still have access to board books and his favorite books without much effort, we have several baskets in the living room that serve as his bookshelf. The Little Golden Book basket is a favorite with everyone. Now, when we sit down to read in Kidschool or Family Read Aloud or before nap, Jack goes directly to the Little Golden Book basket and extracts his choices.
As you address your bookshelf, remember, the ingredients are “inspire not require” too! Let Ingredient #19 inspire you! Acknowledge the wisdom found within and apply it to your situation in a way that facilitates the goals you have.