“We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teach us how to love.” – Sarah Mackenzie, The Read Aloud Family
I am of the strong opinion that one can never own too many leggings, eat too many fruit snacks, or read too many books. Now, I suppose the majority of experts probably wouldn’t agree with my first two proclamations, but I’m willing to bet not a single one would disagree with the latter.
If I had to come up with the most important lesson I have learned from all my years of studying education, teaching children, AND parenting combined, it would be this:
An amazing story can change EVERYTHING.
A great book can be the reason someone wants to be a teacher. A great book can be the reason a child becomes a lifelong lover of learning. And a great book can foster warmth and connection between a parent and child (even on the absolute worst days). Aside from praying with our children and instilling our morals, I feel that reading with them is the next most important gift we can give.
Hearing beautiful stories helps to develop character and courage, and when we take our children on these literary journeys, each book leads to uniquely fulfilling experiences. These imaginative adventures leave behind precious, little treasures in the hearts and souls of the readers.
Becoming a Family of Readers
Reading aloud has always been a part of our family culture. I LOVE to read to my children and because we started from the day they were born, my children also love it.
But I know that’s not the case for everyone. Maybe you don’t like to read. Perhaps you do, but your children show very little interest. I won’t bombard you with what the research says, but please, if you don’t believe me, it’s out there for you. Mountains and mountains of it. And it’s never too late to start. I highly recommend both Jim Trelease’s The Read Aloud Handbook and Sarah MacKenzie’s The Read Aloud Family if you’re interested in understanding the data and desire to find ways in which you can create a reading-friendly environment In your own home.
Beginning anything new can feel overwhelming. I mean as parents, don’t we have to do ENOUGH already?! But this reading aloud thing, y’all, it is SO important.
Every afternoon, I curl up with my two oldest kiddos under our favorite blanket on the sofa, and we read together. It’s heaven. Our day is peppered with an assortment of books, especially during meal times or while they handicraft, but this particular reading ritual is sacred.
Baby C is asleep upstairs, and we are free from her constant terror, I mean, interruptions. We are able to spend at least one quiet hour together where we can truly just enjoy one another and the stories that unfold before us. It is, without a doubt, my favorite part of every day. It’s quite picturesque, actually.
But let me get my shouty-all-caps voice ready because I need you to hear this next part loud and clear: READ ALOUDS RARELY LOOK LIKE THIS!
Did you hear me? VERY RARELY. And if you have very small children, it takes a lot of time and even more patience to get to the picturesque. But you CAN get there.
In the beginning, read alouds begin with a squirmy baby who is only interested in gnawing at the corners of the book you’re holding. I mean why even read to this three month old? You will be exhausted, and you and your very slobbery fingers will want to quit.. please don’t.
Reading time will progress to a toddler violently flipping the pages this way and that way, making it impossible for you to actually see the words on the page. “I can’t read it if you turn it upside down, child!” And you will want to quit… please don’t.
And then later, it will look like your preschooler on the floor crashing toy trucks while you attempt to read louder than the siren noises he’s making. You will want to quit… please don’t.
Now, they’re older, and they’re interrupting and complaining and grumbling because they JUST want to watch My Little Ponies instead; and you will most definitely want to quit… please don’t.
Because eventually, you will pick up a book, and it will be THE book. The one that brings the magic and turns your tiny audience into a captivated one. You will be shocked when your child happily curls up in your lap and begs for “just one more page, Mama”.
If you’re reluctant to start this process I implore you to begin with baby steps. Start with one book that both you AND your child enjoy. If your child is young, re-read that beloved book over and over and over. If you have an older child, find a common interest and pick a chapter book that appeals to you both.
Set a small commitment to read for 15 minutes together daily… or if that’s too much, modify your goal to make success attainable for your family. Make reading aloud a priority not only because your children’s academic lives will reap the benefits, but because their hearts will, also.
Your children will learn to love stories, and those stories will spawn new ideas, and those ideas will lead you down twisty avenues of learning together, and I promise…you’ll discover the loveliest of things.
Read to them about imaginary characters who overcame insurmountable odds, and read to them about the real people who did, too.
And please don’t stop reading to them just because they can read independently. Research shows adolescents and teenagers GREATLY benefit from read alouds, too. Some of my fondest memories are my middle school and high school teachers reading to me. And if reading together fosters connection, isn’t that something you desperately crave with your older child?
If your family becomes immersed in a life of literature, the sparks of curiosity will fly. Like there will be so many dang sparks, you’ll need a welder’s helmet. Your children will become interested in the world around them like never before.
And the same way that a person will never look back on their life and wish they’d spent less time with their children… you will also never wish you had read fewer books with them, either. And quite possibly, some of your most perfect memories just may involve your children AND a book.
The One Thousand Book Challenge
On New Year’s, my kiddos and I set a goal for ourselves: one thousand books in one year. When they threw that number out, I was momentarily hesitant. But after some quick mental math, I realized that’s only three books a day. And if that sounds like a daunting task that won’t work for your family, set a reading goal that WILL.
I beg you to join us in a literature-rich lifestyle. There may be some speed bumps in getting started, but I promise you that the growth you will see in your children’s academics, and more importantly, in your relationship with them will be tangible.
Each month, I have been sharing our top ten books on social media. Since I haven’t shared it on the blog, I will share our January, February, and March book lists tomorrow. I hope you’ll join me.
Until next time, sweet friends…. Happy Learning! <3