Reading. For many parents, when they bring it up to their kids, the response is usually dread or indifference. Why?
Reading is hard for them, which leads to lot of pressure from teachers and parents to do it more, which leads to a deep hatred for reading.
Reading is easy for them, so they can get through it quickly and get on to the other things they’d rather be doing.
The reason we get these responses from our kids is for one simple reason. We have taught them how to read, but we have failed to teach them why to read.
Throughout the decades, reading has become the educational mantra of a myriad of political figures, and is recognized as one of the most important educational movements. So, while much attention, energy and money, money, and more money has been committed to developing reading programs, this one concept has been tragically overlooked.
As a result, very few adults have read a book since graduating high-school. Yes, millions have been taught how to read - that’s great! Success! But what does it matter if we teach millions how to read who will not then use that skill in a real and meaningful way as adults?
Yes, we need to be able to read in order to apply for jobs and get around town. But that is just the basic necessity of being able to read.
Being able to read offers those who can an opportunity to learn and think about ideas, concepts, philosophies and theology written by the greatest thinkers that have ever lived. Not to mention the incredible gift of the Word of God, that is living and active! Yet, how many evangelical adults read their Bible? How many more are intimidated because, while they know how to read technically, they do not know how to read in a way that enriches their lives.
We have only partially solved the illiteracy problem. Until we have taught our children, not just how to read, but why, we will not have fully educated them.
So what do we do?
I like the way Sarah Clarkson (a homeschool graduate, mother and author currently studying her Master’s at Oxford) says it in her book Read for the Heart:
Reading is a habit…a huge part of this habit is to establish family read-aloud times. Hearing a parent read books aloud is one of the central forces that will shape a young child into an active reader.
You may be thinking, “Ok, sounds good. Where do I start?”
A simple start would be to download the free age recommended book list at the bottom of this page and pick a book that fits for your family at this stage. If you can afford to buy it, great! Start building your home library a book at a time. If you are on a tight budget, GO TO THE LIBRARY! It seems we have forgotten our local libraries which is tragic because that place is like a sunken treasure chest FULL of literary wealth.
You can also find some really good books on audio both at the library and online. Our family has listened to entire books in the car as we run errands. I always be sure to grab one or two when we are headed out on a road-trip vacation.
Our family is currently listening to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in the afternoons and then I am reading aloud in the evenings from The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Wintertime is my favorite time to do read aloud in the evenings with the fire, and the cozy blankets and hot chocolate. The kids love it, too!
I am also reading aloud one-on-one with each daughter. The 12-year-old and I are reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Borrowers by Mary Norton for the 10-year-old. The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter for the 8-year-old and The Complete Tales Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne for the 5-year-old. I don’t read to all of them individually everyday, just once a week we have special one-on-one time with our tea and books.
Daddy reads aloud from Scripture before bedtime. This year for Advent we are reading through (and memorizing) the first 18 verses of John 1.
This is what works for us. Your family has different dynamics and challenges which may require you to get more creative. But, I bet you could do something.
Two words of caution:
1. Start simple. Save War and Peace for later and pick one really good book that is somewhere in the middle of the age range if you have several children.
2. Don’t assume your big kids (even high-school big kids who roll their eyes) don’t want to listen and don’t assume your little ones are incapable of listening. I am continually surprised at how much my 5-year-old understands the story, because when I’m reading it seems like she’s not even hearing me. She is. And she repeats it back and tells me what’s happening - not 100% of the time, but more than I expect.
The mechanics are necessary, but only for the purpose of being able to read good books that develop in our children the courage to live fully with purpose and integrity as great writing inspires us to do.
I’m in your corner cheering you on! You can do this! Even if you try today and it goes terribly, don’t give up! Your children can be, not just skilled at reading, but lovers of reading! And what a priceless gift to give them!
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be-
I had a Mother who read to me.
“The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan