On Reading and Children

How do you “get your child to read”?

I have been asked this often, so I thought it might be worth sharing here.  Like anything else good, a good that one generation is to pass on to the next generation, as Wendell Berry would say, it all turns on affection.  I love to read, but it was not always so.  Like any other human being, I too am easily distracted.  I am scatter-brained.  I am an extravert who grew up always wanting to play, to be out with friends.  I could not understand children who wanted to stay in on a Saturday morning watching cartoons.  Come outside and play!!!  

Though I read for school, and for free pizza from Pizza Hut (I am that old), I do not remember choosing to read until my 11th grade English teacher assigned summer reading.  Of all things, I read Hot Zone, and a few others, and fell in love with reading.  It helped that our class time had interesting times of discussion, and these discussions led to conversations with friends.  It was then that I discovered that Winnie the Pooh was not merely a Disney cartoon, but (gasp) a set of stories that could be read!  

Side note:  Some of my favorite grown up memories revolve around reading the classic Winnie the Pooh books with my own children, numerous times, and all of us quoting them, and laughing…  But I am getting ahead of myself.  

How did I come to enjoy reading?  By someone sharing their passion with me.  And through many years of continuing to share that passion with friends.  And by exercising the discipline of setting aside, or using the in between moments, to read.

How have my children become readers?  By my sharing that passion with them.  

Train up a child!  

In this photo, school is over, there are moments like this quite often in our home.  Though the school books we choose are “living” and delightful, the books chosen here are just that–chosen by them, in their free time.   Do they always choose fiction?  No.  Really?  Really!  It is quite often biography, science, history, craft or ‘how-to’ books.  One of my favorite ‘tricks’ is to simply set a book out on the coffee table–in a moment of curiosity or boredom my children usually pick it up, and in most cases, read it.

Just in case you are suspicious of how we order our days, my children spend hours outside, even on rainy days.  They have chores to do.  They practice their music and regularly attend lessons.  We have playtimes with friends. They have their own self-chosen hobbies.  And screentime?  Roughly 1.5 hours per week, with the occasional movie night.  They are not “merely readers.”  Reading is not all we do.  But it is something we spend time immersed in, are shaped by, and enjoy.  

Children have to see this love modeled, like any other good that we want to pass on. 

Mine see me spend some of my “in-between” moments in a book, rather than playing games on my phone (or fill in the blank with the many other distractions sought out by our generation).  They see me excited about a book I just finished.  They hear me talk to friends about books.  They see me exchange books with friends.  They see that my TBR pile is hopelessly large and brings a smile to my face.  

We also read aloud as a family.  Yes we are a homeschooling family, but we read outside of homeschooling times.  We read really good literature with lunch (only 4 times a week); and as a family in the evenings, after dinner and clean up.  We have re-read many books, and go back and forth among many genres.  We laugh.  We cry (well, ok, I cry and sometimes they join me).  We quote later on.  

Shared stories will bring you together.  Living vicariously these many varied adventures will build you up together as you face adversity or trials or boredom.  Owning these, so that they can be chosen at random by your children at their leisure is important.  I will never forget the day that my son said he did not know what we would do without our home library–it was a day in that fateful year when the government shut everything down and told everyone to stay home.   

For You, The Parent

What is the point of literature?  If you’ve had to dissect and critique literature, you’ve most likely been led to misinterpret, misunderstand, and even “use” literature; and no doubt any trace of love for books has diminished.  And do you really need to read widely?  Science, history, theology, philosophy, economics, politics…is this not a waste of time now that you are all grown up?  No beloved!  Stay curious, engage your brain, it is never too late to learn new things, even about yourself!

I recommend listening to a few others who have said it well.  I would start with C.S. Lewis’ essay on reading old books, written as the very fitting introduction to Athanasius’ On The Incarnation.  Then listen here to this podcast…   which may change your mind a bit about stories, and some genres.  And perhaps add Lewis’ “An Experiment in Criticism” to your TBR pile.

Develop a vision for stewarding your mind–for growth, and for delight.  Every year I create a list of things I want to read, making sure to choose books that will encourage me as a Christian, a wife, a mama, an educator, a theologian, a backyard homesteader, a nature lover, and a good steward of all that I am created to be.  Do I always stick to the list?  No–but it is fun to curate. 

And finally, find a friend or two.  My life has been more rich because of all the conversations around what our minds are pondering–based on what we are reading and contemplating.  I have also been very blessed by the online community at Reshelving Alexandria.  Check them out here:  https://www.reshelvingalexandria.com/about or on Facebook.  

One precaution

As you most likely have already considered, not all books are worth your time, and as Christians we are not free to dabble in them all.  I will never support a government telling me (as do Socialist and Communist governments) what to read or not read. Yet, my conscience and therefore my choices will not be without limits; I will submit my desires to His, as the Spirit leads (putting off the old man with its desires, Titus 2:11-15; Romans 8; Galatians 5:24-25; Ephesians 4:17-24).

When the Ephesians burned all the magic and occult books, it was good–being evidence of the word of the Lord prevailing.  (see Acts 19:18-20)  When you set your mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8) He will grow you in the wisdom you need to be selective about what else you set your mind on.  He will grow you to become a discerning reader.

Do not misunderstand me here–some books we can read as we mature, knowing how to assimilate what is good, and to not believe all that is contrary. Yet, we also will grow to the point that we will be willing to put a book down: there is nothing redemptive in it, nothing worthy of my time, nothing I need to grow in understanding, perhaps it will only confuse and discourage. It is exciting to discuss logical fallacies with my son, and I cannot wait for the day when I can challenge him to find the exorbitant amount of fallacies in David Hume’s Miracles. We will not shy away from the book written to “disprove God’s existence” but will read and realize he has written only propaganda.

photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash