A number of teenagers hang out together in my living room. I run upstairs to print something. Over the noise of the printer, I hear the plucking of a mandolin and a couple of guitars. The double bass jams while a keyboard player warms up with a few scales and another pianist practices his skills on the baby grand. The mothers make themselves at home in my kitchen, pulling together a Medieval feast to honor Hamlet, the Dane. I smile. It is a typical LITClub night.
It takes several books, maybe four or five, to build the kind of synergy I hear downstairs; however, you don’t need musicians to produce this kind of magic. A casual, accepting atmosphere and the freedom to be yourself brings out the best in people and that’s what LITClub is all about — people.
The printer stops. I collect my pages and go downstairs. Squeezing through the bustling crowd, I make my way to the kitchen, looking for faces of kids along the way that I haven’t greeted. I want to give them a hug and let them know how glad I am to see them. The kitchen is no quieter. Mothers chatting and laughing affirms to me we are doing something good for our children and each other. The spread of food the mothers have prepared invites me to get the show on the road.
After we pray, the moms serve their plates and cozy up around my kitchen table. When I give the signal, kids set upon the buffet like a swarm of locusts, then scatter all over the house and yard to eat their supper. For a moment, I soak up the sights and listen to the voices whirring away. I feel privileged to share in the lives of these women and their children. I wish I could bottle this moment and keep it forever.
The literature club themed meal and time hanging out together may seem like it’s just socializing, but there’s more to it than that. The key ingredient for dynamic worldview conversations is TRUST. Feeling safe makes it easier for the kids to risk sharing their projects and opinions in front of the group.
There are three elements in a LITClub that build trust.
1. Time just hanging out. Our literature club is not like a co-op class, where the main reason for meeting is to accomplish academics. A practical difference is that we only meet one evening a month. It seems, on the surface, that the main focus for our club is a social activity. There’s a reason for that. Trust is very important for the success of the book conversations and project presentations. Without trust, it is difficult to share your views, especially when they may differ from your peers.
2. Themed meal. Years ago, Jim and I learned that after we had a family over for dinner, we felt closer to them the next time we saw them. There’s something endearing connected to sharing a meal. Food also makes the evening more fun.
3. The One Rule. I only tell the kids this one time, at the first meeting of the year. I let them know I am very serious about it.
“You may never, ever, ever make fun of, sneer, jeer, roll your eyes, or make any kind of action or use words that make another person feel unacceptable. That is the one thing that I will not tolerate.” After sharing this one rule, I go back to being the same old laid-back person they saw earlier, laughing and talking in the kitchen with their mothers.
On Thursday, we will talk about the effect trust has on the actual book conversation in a post called, 4 Things You Might Think Your Child Can’t Learn Until Adulthood.
What do you think is necessary in order to have fun and interesting book conversations?