Not only do classics leave an indelible impression on young minds, but they also highlight some important life lessons.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
In this digital age that we live in, our children fail to realise the rich treasures that lay hidden between the pages of classics. Apart from the joy of reading that they offer, they impart valuable lessons on life skills. Here are some key life lessons children can learn from some of the greatest classics.
1. The classic: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The life lesson: Be good.
Despite all the evil and wickedness around him, Oliver manages to retain his goodness. The greedy Mrs Mann and the cruel and pompous Mr Bumble at the workhouse, Mrs Sowerberry, the parish undertaker’s wife, who feeds Oliver the left-overs declined by the dog, the evil Fagin and his gang of thieves, the vicious Bill Sikes – amidst all these people Oliver stands out. Despite being in the clutches of Fagin and being forced to commit wrongs, he remains good.
The takeaway for children: This is a valuable life lesson for children. They should bear in mind that good will eventually triumph and, therefore, strive to lead upright lives no matter what the temptation might be.
2. The classic: Treasure island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The life lesson: Be courageous.
The protagonist of this novel, Jim Hawkins, displays courage in circumstances where most others of his age would have been gripped with fear. When the seafarers enter his inn forcibly, when he lies still in the apple barrel listening to Long John Silver and his gang’s plan for mutiny, when he sets the ship adrift and later saves it from the mutineers – in all these instances the young boy proves to be remarkably brave.
The takeaway for children: Children need to learn to face the difficulties in life boldly. They should not back off when they encounter obstacles on life’s path. Being able to overcome their fears will ensure they achieve their goals with ease.
3. The classic: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The life lesson: Be self-sufficient.
Finding himself shipwrecked and all alone on an uninhabited island for almost three decades, Crusoe doesn’t buckle in the face of adversity. Instead, he learns to salvage whatever he can from the ship’s wreck, puts up a dwelling place, rears animals, grows grain and vegetables, makes his own utensils, builds a canoe… the list goes on.
The takeaway for children: Children need to possess this quality of self-sufficiency. They need to be able to rely on themselves rather than on others. While this proved to be a key survival skill for Crusoe, for children it will help lay the foundation for their success in life.
4. The classic: Alice’s adventures in wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The life lesson: Be curious.
It is curiosity that took Alice sliding down the rabbit-hole to wonderland and to all the adventures that followed. A lot of learning takes place for Alice in wonderland.
The takeaway for children: A curious nature will help children learn from their environment and expand their knowledge. In fact, it is the key to opening up the world of learning for them. Also, curiosity involves an enquiring mind and an investigative eye – both of which are key skills, which aid logical reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving.
5. The classic: A tale of two cities by Charles Dickens
The life lesson: Be perceptive of others’ inner strength and beauty.
The self-loathing lawyer Sydney Carton is an alcoholic caught in the depths of depression. He leads a meaningless and wasteful life. However, Lucie Manette is able to look beyond his superficial self and appeals to him to reform his ways. Though Carton says it is impossible and that he is beyond hope, eventually he takes the place of Lucie’s husband, Charles Darnay, at the guillotine. His sacrifice, which ensures Lucie and Charles’ happiness, brings tears to the eyes of all readers.
The takeaway for children: Being judgemental of others based on their external qualities, is something children should be taught to avoid. They should, instead, try to bring out the good in people.
6. The classic: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The life lesson: Be forgiving.
When no one gives the ex-convict Jean Valjean food or shelter, the Bishop welcomes him into his house. And, when Jean Valjean steals from the Bishop’s house and is caught later by the police and brought to him for enquiries, he forgives the ex-convict stating that he had given away the silverware to him as gifts. The Bishop even offers the silver candle-sticks to him and addresses him as, ‘My friend’. This kindness and forgiving nature of the Bishop brings about a transformation in Jean Valjean. He turns over a new leaf, leaves behind his deceitful life and goes on to become the Mayor.
The takeaway for children: This may be the toughest life lesson of all for our children - to forgive someone who has wronged you. However, if they learn to forgive, it will not only give them inner peace but also ensure they spread peace and happiness all around.
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj