Sunday, February 1, 2009

Twenty Reasons I Read to My Children

LI had a hard time coming up with an article this month. Every time I tried to think about what to write about, the Lord placed this old one on my heart. I revised it to make it fit the ages and stages my children are at now.

Reading to my children is toward the top of my priority list. I read to them on a nearly daily basis. We have a formal time of reading in our schedule but often the younger children will bring me a book and ask me to read it to them.

Once in awhile when the dishes and laundry are piled high and I am sitting on the couch reading to my children, I feel strong twinges of guilt. However, I only have to spend about 30 seconds thinking about why I spend so much time reading to my them and my guilt lessens greatly!


1. ...Reading Builds Character.
When I read "Farmer Boy" to our children, I noticed our children became even more diligent in their chores. I Almanzo could do a man’s work when he was nine, surely they can do the dishes and take out the trash without complaining. Reading "The Five Little Peppers" helped my children learn to treat each other with greater kindness and respect. Reading biographies of Godly men and women of the past is a wonderful way to help them build character. The Trailblazer books and missionary biographies are great for this.

One note of caution, however, is that many children will take the written word very seriously. Many children will want to copy the characters but many of these heroes and heroines will have serious character flaws that I don't want my children to emulate. For this reason, there are some books that I will never read to my children (even classics) and there are some books that do not have them read until they are older.

2. ...Reading Can Lead to Discussions About How to Handle Life's Situations In A Biblical Manner.
This goes along with building character. As I read to my children, I often stop so that we can discuss what we have just read. I ask questions such as, "Instead of slapping Mary, what should Laura have done when Mary said that blond hair was better than brown?" or "Should Little Pear have wandered so far away from home without permission?"

3. ...Reading Builds Vocabulary.
Often while reading a story my children will ask me, "What does that word mean?“ Often I simply explain the meaning of the word to them, but occasionally we look it up in the dictionary. However, even if they don’t ask the meaning of a particular word, just hearing the word in context helps them to understand the meaning.

4. ...Reading Takes Our Children Places They Could Never Go In Any Other Way.
When you read to your children, they can visit countries that they will probably never visit in person. They can travel through time and “meet” people who have lived before. They can share the adventures of both fictional characters and people who really lived.

A friend of mine explains this so much better than I could, so I am going to quote her. "They can walk with God through the days of creation. They can run with David as he is hunted by King Saul crying out to a compassionate God who hears his pleas. They can experience the tender longing of Hannah, a 'hope-to-be' mother. They can hear the sorrowful words of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and then the triumphant words of, 'It is finished!" They can run with John to the empty tomb and rejoice over the risen Savior who states, Peace be unto you."

5. ...Children Who Are Read To Will Be Better Readers.
Learning to read is much more difficult for some children than for others. I have proof of that in my own family. However, children who are read to will be better readers. If a child who struggles to learn to read is never read to, he will struggle much more. In fact, I would venture to guess that he will probably never learn to read well if no one ever reads to them.

6. ...It Teaches Them The Joy Of Reading.
I felt somewhat hypocritical writing that sentence because I only have one child who reads for pleasure. The rest only read what I require them to read. However, in spite of that, I still stand by this statement. At this point in their life, perhaps the other four don’t enjoy reading on their own but they do know the joy of reading because we read to him.

7. ...It Expands Their Imaginations.
It is very common to see my children acting out what we have read to them. They have made many trips across the plains in covered wagons. They have slept on k'anks from old world China. They have sailed ships across the sea. They have built forts. They have lived in lighthouses. They have climbed high mountains. They have gone after the cows. They have held court. And have done all of this without leaving our house and yard. All of these imaginary games have been sparked books that we read to them.

8. ...It Teaches Geography.
We have a world map on the wall in the basement and a globe. We also have a map of the United States of America on a placemat. The children have traveled from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota to South Dakota with the Ingalls family. They know that Gladys Aylward lived in China. They know where the Mayflower landed. As I said earlier, reading takes them to places they may otherwise never visit.

9. ...It Teaches History.
Reading makes history "come alive.” Personally, I have learned more about history from reading biographies, historical fiction and other similar books to my children than I ever did from a textbook in school. I have nothing against history textbooks. They are important and there is certainly a place for them. We use history textbooks at our house. My point is simply that it is amazing how much history children will learn through literature. Many of the books that I read to them are historically based.

10. ...It Exposes Them To Good Writing.
Children who are constantly exposed to good writing learn to recognize good writing. It makes them better writers. As they learn to write they learn to develop characters and a plot line. To put it simply, it is hard for them to write well if they are not exposed to good writing.

11. ...It Teaches Science.
Not every book will teach science but many will. My children learned how a steam engine works when I read a historical fiction book to them. They learned how strawberries are grown when we read another book.

12. ...It Is An Opportunity To Laugh Together And Cry Together.
Alright, I will confess that I have never actually reduced my children to tears through a book (though I have choked up myself from time to time) but it is really something to see the emotions on their little faces as we suffer along with the characters in the book. And as far as the laughter goes, well, we have dissolved into laughter many times as we read a book. Sometimes we laugh so hard that I can barely continue reading.

13. ...It Teaches Them to Focus

Many parents allow their children to move around the room and play while they read to them. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this and it is a decision each family must make. Personally, I have our children just sit and listen while I read to them. (One of the times that I read to them is during lunch so they are eating while they listen.) We feel this helps them learn to focus and to sit still. It prepares them for other times in life, such as church, when they must learn to be calm and quiet and sit still. They don't have to be little statues. They wiggle about a bit. I do allow them to cuddle a stuffed animal and occasionally even let them draw while we read. Sometimes I even tell them to draw a picture of the story we are reading. However, for the most part, we use this as a time to teach them to be still and focus. One of our sons has a much harder time sitting still for long periods of time then our other children. We gradually taught him participate in our reading time by having him sit for about five minutes and gradually increased the time. It took him longer to sit through a church service than it did our other children but I really think that the quiet reading time at home really helped.

14. ...Buying Good Books Is Money Well Spent.
Financially, my husband and I are very conservative. We buy our clothes at Goodwill and DAV. Our children wear hand-me-downs. We buy generic brands of food. We live in a small house, especially for the size of our family. We have an older vehicle. As a one income family of seven, we have to be frugal and we are content to be so. However, for all the other reasons listed in this article, one area we "splurge" is on good books. Though we also use the library, I enjoy having all these good books available in our home any time we want them. I hope to read them to my grandchildren some day.

15. ...Reading To My Children Exposes Them To A Variety Of Literature
Once again let me quote my friend, "Reading to our children exposes them to a great variety of literature much like introducing our children to the great composers of music. Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are all classical music but each one is unique and carries it's own beauty". I don't think I can add anything that would improve on her words!

16. ...My Mom Read To Me.
I remember many happy hours listening to my Mom read to me when I was a little girl. Each evening before bed she would read a chapter book to me. This was the highlight of my day. It is my strong desire to pass this tradition on to my children. My hope is that my children will read to my grandchildren and my grandchildren will read to my great-grandchildren and so forth through the future generations.

17. ...It Is Fun!
This one does not need a lot of explanation. Reading to my children IS fun! Not everything in life is fun nor should it be. But I can't think of anything else that I do, on a regular basis, that is so fun and so rewarding at the same time as reading to my children.

18. ... It Creates Wonderful Memories.
My children will probably not remember if the laundry was folded immediately or if we had macaroni and cheese for lunch three days in a row. They will, however, remember the hours that my husband and I spent reading to them. It is my hope that, next to family devotions, this will be one of their fondest childhood memories.

19. ...It Is A Way Of Showing My Children That I Love Them.
Most homeschooling families believe in spending quality AND quantity time with our children. By taking time to read to them we are showing our children that we love them. It shows them that we care enough about them to take time from our busy schedule to read to them. It gives opportunity to "bond" with them. There is nothing quite as sweet as having my children cuddle up next to me and to see the rapt attention on their faces as I read to them.

20. ...We Love It.
I have to admit that I borrowed this one from yet another friend. However, this is certainly true with our family as well. We all really look forward to our reading time each day. Recently I could not read to the children for two weeks because of strep throat and we all missed it greatly. The children kept asking, "Is your throat better yet, Mommy?" At first I thought this was loving concern and was pleased with their compassion. However, the morning that I announced at the breakfast table that my throat was much better they began to clap and cheer and say, "Now you can read to us again!". Okay, we need to work a little more on compassion, but their love for reading is certainly heartwarming!

Before I conclude this article, I wanted to add one more thing. One of my editors (By the way, I could never write these articles without them. I am so thankful for their help.) mentioned that her sons do not always seem to enjoy listening to her read. I told her that I have a couple of children like this, too. I mentioned that I wanted to include that in this article but was not sure how to word it and I asked her if she had any suggestions. Her response was so much better than I could have explained it so, with Sarah’s permission, I am quoting her, “Not all kids will enjoy being read to and that can be a little disheartening to us moms. But we need to keep at it because it is like any discipline we want our kids to develop, whether it be learning to eat vegetables, cleaning bedrooms, or learning how to develop daily hygiene practices. It is for their good and it will instill good things in their minds. And even if we do have a child who is not overly fond of reading or being read to, there is always a chance that might change. But if we don't read to them, the chances of that child becoming a reader down the road are pretty slim.”

There are many more reasons to read to our children, but those are a few of them. I realize that not everyone's circumstances permit them to spend as much time reading to their children as I do. However, even a few minutes each day will bring many benefits and create wonderful memories. Reading to them is one of the best gifts we can give to our children. Happy Reading!

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