“EXPAND YOUR CHILDREN’S HORIZONS” by Judge Jim Gray 08/18/08
The two best ways to expand the horizons of our children is for them to travel, and for them to read. In traveling they can be exposed to unfamiliar places and also see both the bad and the good of how other people live. That allows them to learn first hand that there are places in the world other than Newport Beach, and both be stimulated by the differences and more appreciative of what they have here at home. In reading they can vicariously live the lives of other beings of any time and any place, and this will in turn bring them a much deeper understanding of their own lives.
When I was 12 years old my parents took my older sister and me to Europe for six weeks. We took the train back to New York and then a passenger ship to England. Our parents did it this way so that my sister and I could see first hand how large our country is, and how far away Europe is from us. Then we traveled in England, Scotland, France, Switzerland (the birthplace of my mother’s grandparents) and Denmark before flying home.
That trip more than anything else in my life filled me both with a wanderlust and with a knowing that, as time went on, I could travel by myself too. It was a great thing for my development and my independence. What a gift my parents gave us by this trip!
A question I frequently ask other people is “where is the most fascinating place you have ever been?” Then I say that they can define fascinating any way they want to. The responses to that question have almost always been interesting. In fact, I asked that question to Dr. Eugen Weber, who was my all-time favorite UCLA professor, and his wife. They both responded that their most fascinating place was the Villa d’Est on Lake Como in Northern Italy. So several years later my wife and I went there expressly because of their answer. The Webers were right. Other than being quite expensive, overall it was a truly wonderful and stimulating place.
So where is the most fascinating place you have ever been? It would be fun to hear from you and to discuss it. Then maybe we could share your answers with other readers. My most fascinating place is Aphrodisias, which is in the Asian part of Turkey. This was an 8th century B.C. city named for Aphrodite, who was the Greek Goddess of Love, and it absolutely captured me with its stadium, theater, forum, temples, baths - and stories! Trying to project what life was actually like in this fascinating place continues to fill me with inspiration and wonder.
And what are your favorite books for children? If we do not help to instill in our children a love of reading at a fairly young age, they will be deprived of one of life’s most fascinating and rewarding pleasures. (And parenthetically their scores on the SAT and similar tests will truly suffer!)
By the way, don’t forget to join a book discussion club yourself of about five to seven other people. I recommend you have dinner together once a month, and then gather around and discuss a book that has been assigned to and read by everyone for that session. There is virtually no limit to the enjoyment and stimulation that you will experience.
So do a big favor for your children, grandchildren and other children you care about, and expose them to books. The best way to do that is to read to and with them at an early age. When I was on the abused and neglected children’s calendar in Juvenile Court, I purchased numbers of copies of the book “Fox in Sox” by Dr. Seuss, and gave them to the children’s parents, grandparents and foster parents with instructions to read the book to and with them. This is a wonderful, fun - and silly - tongue-twister of a book that lends itself perfectly to group reading. I think it worked, and I strongly recommend this book and this practice to you.
What are other books that are great for children? Again I would be interested in your sharing your input with us. My favorites are Jack London’s “White Fang,” Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth,” both Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn,” Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” (Our wonderful father read the entire series of these books to us as children.), and Wilson Rawls’ “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Many people also recommend C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and Dave Pelzer’s “A Child Called ‘It’,” although I think the latter book is pretty heavy duty depressing for a young child.
Although reading is one of the most fun and bonding things a person can do with young children, I acknowledge that traveling with them is not always fun, at least at the beginning. But once you start seeing the expansion of their development and general interest in life, you will fully know that you have given them a great and lasting gift.
So help to expand the horizons of the children in your life. It is one of the best gifts that a person can give, or that a person can receive.
James P. Gray is a Judge of the Superior Court in California, the author of Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It - A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs (Temple University Press, 2001) and Wearing The Robe - The Art And Responsibilities of Judging In Today's Courts, has a blog at http://judgejamesgray.blogspot.com/. http://www.judgejimgray.com, and can be contacted at www.judgejimgray.com.