Walking in A Whole New World

As we wrap up this month's posts on training and discipling our children, I will be touching on several topics that I wasn't sure how I would fit in. Yesterday, I talked about the trap of entitlement. Tomorrow, I will be talking about praying for our kids. And on Thursday, we will step back and look at the big picture. But for today, I'm going to talk about the joy of reading aloud to our children as a means of discipleship. For us, reading is so much more than information. Our kids already do a lot of that. Rather, it is a portal into the imagination, an escape into another world, even if only for a moment. When we step into the doorway of a good book, we are able to experience situations and walk in the skin of another person while still remaining safely in our own worlds.

For our family, we have a standing agreement that after dinner is read-aloud time. I have been designated the reader, so that I can indulge my inner drama queen. (Haha!) During our evenings, we have traveled alongside Frodo through Mordor (Lord of the Rings), experienced the misery of Sara's downfall into a life of poverty (The Little Princess), and battled with the mice of Mossflower as they take on the searats (Redwall). We don't analyze them to death, but in reading them, our children begin to catch the things that we love and value.

Reading aloud has been exceptionally helpful for my older son, who really struggled with reading on his own. The books that were on his reading level were too babyish or just plain uninteresting for my little warrior boy. (Who wants to read about Pat the Rat when there were battles in Narnia?) It was frustrating for him to not be able to read the books that he really wanted to read. And so I think that reading aloud to struggling readers is a wonderful gift that we can give to them. By reading aloud at a higher reading level, I think we were able to inspire him to practice reading more on his own so he can one day read those stories by himself. By the fourth grade, he caught up and has been reading voraciously every since.

Tips on Getting Started

For some of you, this might be a no-brainer. But I also know that this is not true for everyone, especially if you dislike reading yourself. Here are a few tips:

  • Value reading. In our technology-filled society, it's often so much easier to watch the movie than it is to read the book. And yet when we read, we are not only strengthening a vital academic skill, we are also helping our children learn how to think, imagine and explore new worlds that would otherwise not be open to them.
  • Make time to read. Reading together is a wonderful time to connect with your kids. It gives you food for discussion and creates wonderful memories.  
  • Choose high quality literature. Not all books are equal. In our desire to make reading more palatable for our tech-savvy kids, there is a plethora of junk books out there. Some excellent books on finding great children's literature include Sarah Clarkson's Read for the Heart and Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Child's Heart (she also has book lists for teens to discuss worldview).
  • Interact with the stories by asking kids questions. I'm not talking about comprehension questions just about what happened. They can get that in school. What we like to do is to stop at a decision making moment in the story and ask the kids, "What would you do?" After they give their opinion, we find out what the character really did.
  • Let the kids play while you read. I'm always surprised at how much my kids actually hear while they play with Legos or color. 
  • Have fun with it! Read with enthusiasm and excitement; you can even change voices if you wish!
  • Even if your older children can read, don't quit reading aloud. Some of our dearest family friends are found in the pages of our books. As I mentioned earlier, we can always read one level ahead. Teach your kids how to find an author's worldview. When we do this, we help them to think critically and train their minds to evaluate what they read, not mindlessly take it in. Redeemed Reader is a wonderful site that evaluates books. Also check out Christian Children's Book Review. Both evaluate all kinds of children's books, Christian and otherwise.
  • Listen to audiobooks together in the car if you do not have the time or interest to read aloud. Justin Taylor has an excellent post about Focus on the Family's collection of dramatized audio stories. We love the Narnia series!

Ultimately, we have found the best stories to be the ones that mirror the Greater Story that we live in. Good books will whet our children's appetites for heaven or help them grasp a spiritual truth in a way that nothing else can. In this way, quality literature becomes a very effective tool in discipling our children!

Thinking questions:

What is your attitude toward reading?

What can you do to help foster a love for reading in your kids?