On Reading to Your Children
A New Preface
When I first wrote this post, I think my oldest child was about twelve years old. She is now 25 years old, having double-majored in English and Philosophy and presently teaching high school juniors and seniors Literature and Rhetoric. My second oldest just graduated from college, while my third child finished his freshman year of college last week and my youngest, a high school freshman, will complete his freshman year later this week. Needless to say, a lot of years and “stuff” have transpired since I first wrote this post. Yet what fun it is to be on this side of things and to be able to now observe and comment on the fruitfulness of reading to my children when they were younger… fruitfulness I could have only dreamed of at the time.
“Leave me not, O gracious Presence, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books. Guide my mind to choose the right books and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to Thyself. When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from Thee. Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.” John Baillie
What Did We Read to Our Kids?
Over the years, my wife, Suzanne, and I have been asked what we were reading to our children. In truth, that happened more when the kids were younger. Eventually, our children began to read books I couldn’t pronounce. At any rate, I thought I would take this time to share a little with you about what our reading time with the kids used to look like when they were younger.
I started reading to Natalie when she was around two years old. (All the years are beginning to run together.) After the requisite children’s books that we all read to our children (Little Engine That Could sort of stuff), we embarked on chapter books when she was around three or four. We started reading the Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The first book of the series, which is entitled, The Boxcar Children, was first published in 1942. I much preferred reading older books to the children because they were not so saturated in contemporary popular slang. And really, our kids are going to be knee-deep in that stuff sooner than we want, so what’s the rush?
Chronicles of Narnia
After reading a good number from that series, we started reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Dylan, who was then around three or four by that time, began to join us for these great stories. Now, to be sure, he did not pick up on every little nuance (nor do most adults for that matter), and sometimes he tuned out, or even fell asleep. However, quite often he tracked along with the story just fine (doing better as he got older). Of course, a quick review at the conclusion of each chapter was essential. It was a way for Dylan, Natalie, and Daddy to discuss what happened in that chapter as well as to talk about the important themes we found there.
For Christmas 2004, Suzanne and the kids gave me a gift of about 11 or 12 Lamplighter children’s books (which I loved as much as the children, by the way). These books were written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. They are gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, character-building, interesting, exciting, and uplifting stories that were a huge hit around our home for both the kids, as well as their parents. There are many more to purchase in this series (they are continually finding old books to republish).
At some point during the middle of reading through the Lamplighter series, we took time out to read John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress (in modern English). I must say, even with the updated English, it was tough terrain. It was hard work to keep the kids tracking with the story. The review after, (and sometimes during), each chapter was absolutely vital for the kids to follow along and understand the book. However, it also was a big hit and Natalie said in her late teens that it was her favorite book we read when she was younger. It took us quite a while to complete, but we persevered, and it was worth the effort.
After The Pilgrim’s Progress, we returned to our Lamplighter series. Let me add that these books appeal to both boys and girls alike (If you visit their website, you will notice their catalog lists books for younger boys, older boys, younger girls, older girls, etc.). We’ve taken the time to go back and forth between them, and regardless of whether the main character is a boy or girl – the kids still love the stories. I ought to add that I loved this series, not only because it was not inundated with contemporary slang, but because the vocabulary was so rich. These books were written in a more literate culture and there’s not so much “dumbing down” as there is trying to lift the standards of the reader. Definitely a plus. And… we like these books not only because of those lofty reasons, but because the stories are really entertaining.
A Lesson and Regret
One of my, “I wonder if that was a good idea” books, was Robin Hood. I thought it would be a good swashbuckling, adventurous story. And, in many ways it was. But it didn’t flow terribly well, and we ended up reading only some of the chapters sporadically.
I miss reading to my children as I used to do when I first wrote this post. They have gotten older. As my younger two came on the scene, we started reading together too. But it really is true that things around the home change and I never ended up reading as much to my younger two as I did to the older two. I have always regretted that, but thankfully, because we homeschool, they have ended up reading many of the same sorts of books for their classes, so I’m grateful for that. But the time bonding together and developing our parent/child relationship was missed out on. I’ve looked for other ways to cultivate my relationship with them to make up for what was lost through less reading together. I do hope one day I’ll be a grandfather so I can start this whole process over again with them.
Why Read to Your Children? Five Reasons
Why read to your children? NBC use to show a public service announcement that recommended reading to your children at least 10 times a week. And what they say is true… it is a great bonding time. Reading together meant all the world to our family. But Suzanne and I also have these reasons as well…
1.) First and foremost, we want to impart a biblical worldview into the hearts, minds, and souls of our children. As parents we have a commandment from God to disciple our children for Christ and this is a fun and effective way to do it. We want to help prepare them to face the world once they leave our care.
2.) We wanted to pass on a love of reading to our children. I didn’t get excited about reading until much later in my life, and I wanted to do everything I could to ignite a fire in my children to love reading as early as possible.
3.) We wanted to help give our children an eye toward discerning the differences in literature – between the bad, the good, and the best.
4.) We wanted to magnify their imaginations, creativity, and ability to think. TV is such a passive activity. Reading requires more work…and produces more fruit.
5.) It’s just plain FUN!!!
Basically, we are charged with providing a covenant home and raising covenant children. Deuteronomy 6 exhorts covenant parents to raise their children in the faith all throughout the day – when the children rise, as they move throughout the day, and as they prepare for bed in the evening. Nurturing your children in the faith doesn’t have to be drudgery. Reading is a wonderful way to show your children how our Christian faith plays out (or should play out) in the real world…even in the context of imagination.
Best of all, all these years later, I can say that I have seen much of the fruit I had always prayed for, coming to fruition now that my kids are adults. And that’s hard to beat.
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