The Family that Reads Together
My best friends as a child were named Laura,
Anne (with an "e"), Lucy and Jo.
I've introduced them to my daughter Rebecca,
and they haven't aged a bit. They live in
our imaginations, born as we read great books
together. Though Rebecca has been reading
herself for years now, she still loves our
reading ritual as we huddle in my bed, compete
for covers with her sister Katie, and settle
in to answer that never-ending question, "What's
going to happen next?"
Experts extol reading aloud to children,
directing most of their effort at parents
of preschoolers. However, Jim Trelease, the
foremost read-aloud specialist, says there
shouldn't be a cut-off age for reading to
your kids. Children of all ages benefit academically
when they're read to, because it allows them
to experience a wider range of books than
they could handle alone and gives them constant
"commercials" for the joys of reading.
You're not stealing reading time from them,
either; studies show that children who are
read to read more on their own than children
who are not.
The intellectual boost from reading out loud
is not even the most exciting benefit. Quite
simply, reading together brings you together.
You're physically close, and kids know they're
precious because you're spending time with
them. Perhaps even more importantly, if you
choose good books, you open doors for communication
and moral teaching. Because the action in
stories takes place in our imaginations, we
participate in the story. We feel the characters'
joy, grief, fear, even courage.
Reading is how we educate the heart, so that,
like the Grinch, we can say "Our hearts
grew two sizes that day."
As these characters that we know intimately
are forced to make decisions, our own moral
compass grows, even if the books aren't explicitly
pragmatic, or if our children can't yet put
the moral into words. In the movie The Two
Towers, a despondent Frodo agonizes over whether
or not their story will be worth telling.
Sam reassures him, saying that whether or
not children understand the moral, the story
will become part of who they are. That's the
beauty of stories, to give people pictures
that will stay with them and change them.
To capture this magic in your own home, try
Make Time to Read
Choose a consistent time to read aloud.
Many families huddle together right after
dinner, or for fifteen minutes before bed.
If children are reluctant, let them extend
their bedtime if they listen to a book. Pretty
soon they'll be eager to hear what happens
Very young children need their own time with
you reading picture books. This doesn't mean,
though, that they can't be a part of family
reading. My 6-year-old doesn't understand
all the books I read to my 9-year-old, but
she likes to play in the same room, and often
surprises me by recounting a story I thought
she didn't hear! Give younger children special
"reading time" toys that come out
only when the book does, so they can play
as they listen. In fact, you can all try this.
We often spend lazy Sunday afternoons with
Rebecca and I knitting, Katie drawing, and
my husband reading to us.
Don't Leave Home without Books
If you're tired of the constant "are
we there yet?" pleas from the back seat
during car trips, take a book along, or borrow
books on tape from the library. You can even
make books part of your daily life by sticking
some in your bag to read while waiting at
the dentist, waiting for a bus, or even while
standing in line at the grocery store.
Act out Stories
For my daughter's fourth birthday party,
I read Where the Wild Things Are and gave
the guests dress-up clothes and instruments
to hold their own parade. Today, my girls
love making "plays," but unfortunately
these often lack something vital called "plots."
Once again, it's books to the rescue! When
they choose a scene from a book, that problem
disappears. Encourage your children to act
out their favorite stories. Invite grandparents
to watch, and remember to tape them for posterity!
After 7-year-old Danika's parents finished
reading Little House in the Big Woods to her,
Danika decided to build a log cabin. Her grandfather
helped her cut logs to make a miniature house,
complete with a stone fireplace, which bore
a remarkable resemblance to the book's illustration.
You can do the same thing with a covered wagon,
the boat from Voyage of the Dawn Treader,
or the makeshift home of the Swiss Family
Robinson. The more hands-on activities you
do, the more children will remember the stories.
Discuss Books Together
A book may present you with important moral
dilemmas to explore with your children. Would
you have had Corrie ten Boom's courage to
hide Jews in World War II? Do you have the
optimism poor Anne had, even though she was
an orphan? Patricia St. John's Treasures of
the Snow or Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
can provide similar opportunities, as can
Barbara Robinson's hilarious The Best Christmas
Books allow children to ask these questions
before they encounter similar things in life.
Even if children can't put the deepest emotions
they feel from a book into words, the characters
they love can change them-and you-from the
inside out! What a wonderful family adventure,
available to you for the price of a library
Sheila Wray Gregoire is
the author of several books, including "To
Love, Honor and Vacuum" and "Honey,
I Don't Have a Headache Tonight!" She
loves speaking to parents and encouraging
them to pursue God's best. Sheila write a
syndicated parenting column, hosts a radio
talk show, and home-schools her two daughters.
Visit Sheila's website: www.SheilaWrayGregoire.com