Reading to Your Children May Be More Important Than You Think

“If we would only consider the subtle strengthening of ties which comes from two people reading the same book together, breathing at once its breath and each giving the other unconsciously his interpretation of it, it would be seen how, in this simple habit of reading aloud, lies a power too fine to analyze, yet stronger than iron in welding souls together. To our thinking, there is no academy on earth equal to that found in so many homes, of a mother reading to her child.” Elisha Schudder, The Riverside Magazine for Young People

Reading is good, everyone knows that. It enriches your thought life, aids your reasoning, enhances your communication, and in general, educates the mind.

But what if that is only the beginning?

A Family Program for Reading Aloud provokes me to think that maybe reading aloud to my children is more beneficial to our relationship than even their education.

Here’s another excerpt from the book:

“American Christian parents began to lose control over their children when they relinquished home reading aloud. As they turned over the education of their children to outside agencies, even to the Sunday School and to the Christian School, they lost a critical part of their intimate relationship with their children. Many wonderful teachers have gained by what parents let go–yet parents alone have opportunities which are never afforded to those outside the realm of home.”

Consider that Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

Home was once the place where hearts could be filled with “good treasure”, and reading played a significant part in that. Good literature was an integral part of the Christian home and the formation of character depended much on parents reading and instilling the love of reading in their children.

If we relinquish our commitment to intentionally form the mind and hearts of our children toward what is good and noble, we give it to someone else–other influences and voices fighting for their allegiance.

It seems almost old fashioned to talk about rekindling the practice of reading aloud as a family, because I fear our digital age is an unintentional enemy of that fundamental habit of gathering together, all our faculties focused on the same story, our attention directed and unified toward a common theme.

Read to your children. If you do nothing else, read to them. Reading to them will grow your hearts together, enlarge their imaginations, plant something wonderful in their memories and gradually refine their characters as they turn into men and women.

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18 Responses to “Reading to Your Children May Be More Important Than You Think”

  1. Carolina says:

    Since it is not always easy to find time to do that, I always read to my children during breakfast and lunch. sometimes also when they draw pictures. But I really have to find more time for that.
    Now I am giving the older kid the task or reading to the younger one. he will not do it on his one, so I have to remind him.
    And, of course, my husband read to our children from the Bible before they go to bed.

  2. Carolina says:

    Some years ago, The Buffalo News published a column I wrote about this. Since it is not so long, I will copy it here:

    The forgotten joy of reading aloud

    In a scene of the 1995 movie version of Sense and Sensibility, Marianne (played by Kate Winslet) encourages Edward (Hugh Grant) to recite with some more spirits and passion. That took place during one of those evening gatherings in which one of the gentlemen would read aloud for the whole party, while the ladies did needle work or played with their fans.
    Later on, Marianne and Willoughby enjoy reciting together the sonnets of Shakespeare. And almost at the end, Colonel Brandon reads the same to Marianne, who was still recovering from her illness.
    Hmmm… I have two boys. May be I should suggest them to courtship their future brides using the Sonnets of Shakespeare.
    Just kidding! What I am trying to do is write a column about the lost pleasure of reading aloud.
    This custom was not relegated to the elegant salons of Victorian England. In the log cabins of the pioneers, Father would read aloud in the evenings, from the Bible or a different book, while Mother and the older daughters kept busy mending socks.
    Nowadays, in the evenings we will rather sit in front of the silly box than read, and we have almost relegated this custom to grab The Cat in the Hat comes back and read it to our toddlers right before they go to bed.
    Or if we do pay attention to books, we do not make a family event out of it. As someone puts it, “Mommy is reading her Redbook, Daddy his Sports Illustrated. Princess has her nose buried in Seventeen, while Junior reads Boy’s Life”. (R. C. Sproul Jr., Family Practice).
    I homeschool my children, ages six and three. From the different approaches in family education I have chosen the classical style, which calls for lots of reading aloud. When I found out what kind of books should be considered, I was puzzled: why should I read an unabridged version of Treasure Island to a five year old? Or Don Quixote right as it came out of the feather of Cervantes?
    The main issue here is not that the children will follow the whole plot or understand each single word (I don’t). The main concern is that they get accustomed to good literature, hoping they will abide in it in future.
    Sometimes I read sitting at the dinning room table, because they are snaking or busy with play dough. Other times I am on the living-room couch, while they move their vehicles around me. And still, other times, we just cuddle together on our king size bed.
    And because they are young children, more often than I wish I have to tell them: “Hey, don’t go so far. Remember that you have to be near me when I read”. Or: “Hey, don’t be so loud. Remember that you have to be quiet when I read”.
    The book that “officially” inaugurated this practice was Little Women. The book that we read all the time is the Bible, because we believe it is God’s Word. And because I come from Spain, books in my mother language are also included.
    One of the sweetest requests I can hear from my children is: “Mama, could you read to me?” Other times they ask: “Can we watch a video tonight?” My answer may be: “No, because you haven’t been read yet”.
    What about once in a while we turn off that T.V., turn off the computer and enjoy some family reading time? I am sure that it would be a rewarding, healthy experience. And may be we would be able to say that a family that reads together sticks together.

  3. Kristen says:

    We do a lot of reading aloud in our home. It’s one of my favorite things to do and about the only time my oldest sits still. There are so many good books out there. Not only does it promote family bonding, but the cognitive and intellectual benefits are amazing. Just looking at it from an academic standpoint, you’re filling the kids’ heads with correct English. They really don’t get that anywhere else. Certainly not in conversation or on tv. My kids have been read to since they were babies and they have never had any trouble with English grammar, just because they know what proper English sounds like.

  4. tamela says:

    I enjoy reading the Hero Tales by Dave and Neta Jackson… 8 pages on one person whom GOD used for His Glory… Lots of information in those few pages… When I miss reading for a day… I really miss reading…

    I did not have that blessing when I was growing up… It is a blessing to read to the young people the Lord Blessed us with…

  5. Deborah says:

    I’ve got time to read this great post because hubby dear is reading aloud to the little ones right now 🙂

  6. Amy Maus says:

    Kelly, have you used the Decoder ( New Phonics Tool) on your sidebar? If so, can you tell me more about it?

    • Deborah says:

      Hi Amy, I wrote English Decoder. You can see why I put the side bar here. I frequent Kelly’s blog 🙂 The little boy on the tailgate of the red truck on the new phonics tools web page is our son. He is still homeschooled. He is reading with his grandfather who took over when I was wearing out and putting the finishing touches on English Decoder because nothing else worked to teach our little guy how to read 🙂 My next older son is working on taking on the webpage. If you go to contact us on new-phonics-tools.com I’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you have.

  7. Claudia says:

    Amen, Kelly! Reading aloud is the best part of our day! And now, with a young man ready for high school in the fall, I won’t stop. It is so restorative in our home, and is usually the catalyst for writing history narrations. So for us, reading aloud (most recently Sergeant York and the Great War) accomplishes both history and on many days, writing as well. I’ve always been the one to wear the old coat and buy the new book!

    • Claudia,

      Feel free to share the specifics of your writing assignments. I, too, try to incorporate writing into what we are reading, and I’m always looking for new, inspiring ideas.

      • Claudia says:

        I’m always reading something to my boys, partly because I love getting to read so much that I missed in my own public education. One of my biggest goals is to be always TALKING about what we are reading. I saw sooooo many kids (as a public school teacher, years ago)HATE reading because they always had to write a report, answer questions, make a diorama. How many of us would just plain quit reading if we had to answer comprehension questions or write a report EVERY time? So, we talk more than we write, especially about good books. Karen Andreola has two excellent chapters in her Charlotte Mason Companion on written narrations. The biggest change I see in moving from traditional writing assignments to narrations (besides making the lessons and assignments shorter)is the idea that the student’s personality enters into the writing because the questions/prompts are more often open-ended or invite a writer to express opinions. And while the importance of a writer’s voice is emphasized even in the National English Language Arts Standards, I often wonder how children develop a writing voice if their only writing is assigned and leaves no room for opinion. While I realize most high school students will need to learn how to write a good essay and research report at the very least, I feel sure that in the teen years they can learn this with minimal pain. However, if kids have spent their years before the teens steeped in book reports and comprehension questions~ ad nauseam(even though I believe they need to learn how to answer them correctly~ which takes no more than one week) they will be even less likely to approach the more serious kinds of writing with energy. So it’s like we shoot ourselves in the foot if we overkill when they are young. Writing prompts that offer some freedom in the response cause children to think more, and often to write more as well. It was a slow progression, but now they both write without groaning. The change in my own boys’ writing was significant when we moved from traditional writing assignments to narrations. I started requiring words OR pictures when we first moved to a Charlotte Mason approach. So, yes, even my 9-11 year old could “just” draw. Then I’d ask for either captions or labeled drawings. Then sentences. It took some time and affirmation from me, and a deliberate effort to focus on their thoughts rather than fret over their grammar/mechanics and spelling, but now they are writing more. I’m teaching them to use what I use (as a former doctoral student)STILL when I write: A good writers’ guide/handbook. That will help them more than ANY writing assignment, imo. And if you read any autobiographical information on writers, writers of all genres almost always say that they learned to write and to write better by….WRITING! When our kids fear that red pen bleeding all over their paper, or worse, NEVER get a response, they won’t write, or they’ll write as little as possible. Professional writers also almost always say they READ more than they write. So, if our kids aren’t reading widely, they won’t see or hear good writing. Sorry for the lengthy ramble!! I am very passionate about not killing the joy! I seriously had first graders as a public school teacher tell me they hated to read and hated to write. That broke my heart! I praise God for homeschooling and other private school options because the Common Core Objectives will further kill the joy, imo. I know if my kids were in public school, I’d be reading to them every chance I got. My boys get to stay up later if they are reading (and they always do) and must bring a book to waiting rooms (we go to a lot of regular appts. with one son who has multiple medical issues and a mental handicap). Also, we find if we aren’t consistent with guidelines for media, our boys don’t CHOOSE other good things, like reading books. Again, sorry for the ramble, Kelly!

  8. D says:

    Thank you for such a lovely post, Kelly. I don’t have children yet but I’m looking forward to that time, God willing, and have actually started collecting children’s books for read-alouds. So far I have The Little Pilgrim’s Progress, Basket of Flowers, Ted’s Button, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Little House On the Prairie Books, among others. I did not read books growing up and have only discovered reading in my twenties, thus my eagerness for reading with my own children.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Keri says:

    What a timely Post! Sometimes when you have lots of children and life gets busy, you sometimes forget to do some of the things you did with the first group, second group or third group of kids.(Anyone else besides me do this)?

    So, at the beginning of the school year, I told my two teen sons that I would be reading to them from a book that I choose. One of them looked at me like what planet was I from. He obviously didn’t remember that I used to do this…UGG…So, we started it.

    I love it and so do they. I think!! …LOL..

    I have several “Special” Christmas books that I have bought over the years and I really wanted to read them out loud so one night I asked my youngest, who is now 15 if he would come over on the couch and let me read them to him. He did!! I loved it and so did he.

    Maybe you could write a post and we could share what books we have read out loud to our kids over the years. The favorite ones!!

  10. Ginger says:

    I love read-aloud time. I haven’t always, but I do now. I’ve recently started reading through the Five in a Row reading list with my 4 yo and 2 yo. I read to them at the table while all the big kids do their copywork. Always, the big kids end up gathering around me because these books are like old friends of theirs. The Story About Ping and Make Way For Ducklings brings back fond memories for them. I just love that!

  11. Summer says:

    Agree completely and have seen so much fruit from this that I will always be a proponent of it!

  12. […] first is this blog post at Generation Cedar in which the author talks about the hidden benefits of reading aloud to […]

  13. Will Rohrs says:

    Maybe, it’s the feel, the smell, the images you get in your mind. Reading a fantastic best seller is like a fascinating new friend. The time flashes by, but the memories last forever!

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