When we think about parenting, the word “books” probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But reading to our children is a fundamental aspect of parenting little people, though we rarely talk about it in the context of raising children.
Most of us are already reading to our children. It is something that mothers in particular already do, whether it’s the classic bedtime story or another scenario. Thinking carefully about reading to our kids can help us do it better in a way that will help us and them better steward the gift of intellect that God gives each one of us. John Stodt said that “the secret of holy living lies in the mind.” Books help us steward our children’s minds because it is what we know and understand that drives and directs how we feel and what we do. Reading out loud to our children is a potentially a powerful parenting tool when it is done intentionally and biblically. Here are five reasons to read out loud to our kids.
1. Reading builds relationships and memories. Obviously, if we are reading to our children, we are with them: cuddled on the couch, sprawled on the lawn, buckled in the car. We are together: the children hearing mummy or daddy’s voice, and all of us listening to the same author speak to us collectively. From the time I was newborn to the time I moved out of the house, my mother read out loud to me. For hours every day, my mother, siblings, and I were physically close, thinking the same thoughts. My five siblings and I have the experience of going to Narnia together, meeting John and Maggie Paton together, touring the pyramids together, all with Mum as our guide. When we are together, now all adults, someone can say, “I’ve been having a Charlie Bucket week,” and the rest of us understand. We pass on most of the stories to our children, welcoming them into this aspect of the family; even though the cousins all live far from each other, their parents take them in their minds to the same places that we all hang out. Such ties and memories last a lifetime.
2. Reading to our children helps us understand them. Not many of us read children’s literature when our children aren’t there; it’s when we are reading aloud that we are able to enjoy the stories and people in our kids’ books. Well written children’s literature understands the way that children think, and helps us remember what it is like to be a child: how fun, confusing, cozy, or scary it is for them. Have your read the story about Alfie and Bonting? Four year-old Alfie finds a stone in his back yard, puts it in his pocket, fingering it. By the end of the day, he decides that the stone has become a real friend, and he adopts it. Do you remember how things like stones can be friends? Or do you remember what it is like to be mothered? In The Railway Children, the children have done something very embarrassing and they have to confess it. “Mother was extremely angry. She was seldom angry, and now she was angrier than they had ever known her. This was horrible. But it was much worse when she suddenly began to cry.” After they sort things out, and everyone apologizes and is forgiven, the children have a talk by themselves. One of the girls says, “I should like to look at her if it wasn’t so awful. She looks so beautiful when she’s downright furious.” We quickly forget what it was like to be on the growing up side of things. Reading these sorts of stories to our children helps us parent better as we are better able to comprehend their world, or comprehend the world from their angle.
3. Reading to our children develops intellect. It’s an established fact that children whose parents read to them in the preschool years have clear academic advantages that last far into their formal education and work life. Reading with our children does not only teach them facts. It also stretches their minds, helping them to develop the capacity to reach mentally, to ponder things that are beyond them, to remember stories that moved them, and store facts that might be useful. Reading quality books out loud to our children stewards God’s gift of intellect in them and prepares them to do the same when they leave home.
Reading instills the habit of listening in our children. A child who can sit on a couch for an hour listening to their mother read will have far less trouble sitting through a service. They will also have an easier time listening to what is going on, because they are in the habit of listening to the person with the book.