Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do for them, and with them.
It makes a huge difference in their learning. Philosopher Adam Swift says, “The evidence shows the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.”
But even more important than an educational advantage, reading good books aloud builds close emotional attachments that are rooted in physical closeness, shared memories, beloved characters, and a common vocabulary.
It’s encouraging to see rising support for stay-at-home moms. But if you decide to be among them, amid the long hours of binkies, blankets, and diapers, you’ll inevitably ask yourself at some point, “What are we going to do all day?” In a word: READ. Once you get started you may just find yourself worrying that you’ll run out of time before you run out of books. There is just so much worth reading.
It’s never too soon to start reading aloud — even to babies in the womb — and never too late to continue — even to teenage boys.
Parents often wrongly conclude that once a child can read, it is best to leave them alone with their books and encourage them to get to it. But this is precisely when we must not stop reading to them. Why? Because children can listen several grade levels ahead of what they can read. If we leave them to read only what they can sound out for themselves, they will quickly become bored and conclude that reading is no fun after all. Not even the dullest among us could subsist on Bob Books or Dick and Jane!
To hold their interest, keep reading to them ahead of what they can read to the themselves. And don’t ever stop.
Steve (my husband) used to read to me while I cooked dinner when we were newlyweds. I still love to be read to. He reads to our whole family after dinner. But I also treasure the time we spend reading to each other. Just the two of us.
Power of Story
Stories have the ability to shape our moral imagination. This is why we must choose wisely. A well-timed reading of The Gingerbread Man can challenge a child tempted by worldliness in a way that may go deeper than a simple, “Don’t do that!” warning ever could. (Beware of retellings, and politically correct adaptations, though. For this to be effective, you need the original book where the gingerbread man ends up being lunch for the wily, ever-worldly fox.)
Principles of Reading
Go for Quality. Life’s too short and the library is too full to tolerate uninteresting, uninspiring, or unedifying books. If you start a book and it’s not good, don’t hesitate to set it aside. You’ll be modeling good stewardship of time, as well as media discernment.
Talk about it. If you bring home a library book only to realize halfway through reading it aloud that it was in some way contrary to a biblical worldview, don’t ignore it. Explain from Scripture, and in terms your children can understand, why this isn’t a story to read over and over; why it goes against God’s way; etc. Take advantage of every teachable moment, and trust that God’s sovereignty extends to library book choices.
Plan ahead. Increasingly, the library is full of defiling books for children, and even more, for “young adults.” Sadly these books look good — fun cover art, etc. — but are at best junk food, and at worst, poison. One way to avoid overexposing your children is to order ahead. Most libraries allow you to access their catalogs online, and place holds on certain books. Use a book-of-books, like Honey for a Child’s Heart, to search for and order good, quality books. Then, when you go to the library, you’ll already have a stack of worthy books ready to pick up and take home.
A Word about Dragons
Throughout Scripture, the dragon is consistently a metaphor for Satan (Rev 12:17). It’s important not to confuse children with stories that turn the moral universe upside-down and make the dragon the good-natured hero. Whether dragons, wolves, or thieves, books that call good what we know is evil are books to avoid (Isa 5:20).
Moms and dads, it’s up to you to choose books that will nourish, and not defile, your children’s souls. Books have such power. Don’t be afraid to say no to a book or series that “everybody else is reading.” You are the parent. Remember, you will give an account for what your children read in ways librarians, teachers, and publishers won’t.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harms.” As on the playground, so too in the bookstore. Books are friends. Choose wisely.
Author’s Note: One of the best kept secrets in libraries for locals is the children’s lending library at Southeast Christian Church, Blankenbaker campus.
Some of our Favorite Read-Alouds
Frog and Toad Are Friends, Arnold Lobel
Bedtime for Frances, Russell Hoban
Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A. Milne
Mountain Born, Elizabeth Yates
Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder (Not just for girls! At the heart of this series is Pa’s determination to provide for and protect his family despite hardships)
Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White
Mr. Mysterious and Company, Sid Fleischman
Wilderking Trilogy, Jonathan Rogers
Tumtum and Nutmeg, Emily Bearn
Five Children and It, E. Nesbit
Twice Freed, Patricia St. John
Snow Treasures, Marie McSwigan
Miracles on Maple Hill, Virginia Sorensen
Freckles, Jean Stratton Porter
The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
Candice Watters is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher who co-founded Boundless.org with her husband, Steve (VP for communications at SBTS).