I’ve been reading aloud to our kids since they were babies. First board books (which they mostly tried to eat), and then on to pictures books full of beautiful illustrations. It’s fascinating to think my one year old child would sit on my lap mesmerized by Good Night Moon or Go Dog Go or The Mitten, and then ask for a story to be read over and over and over again, never seeming to tire of hearing it. Children love to hear a loved one’s voice reading the same words time and time again.
One of my all-time favorite picture books is My Mama Had a Dancing Heart. I’ve read this so many times to our girls over the last ten years, I almost have it down by heart. Our youngest actually did have it memorized by the age of three and oh, it was the sweetest to hear little voice say, “My mama had a dancing heart and she shared that heart with me, with a grin and a giggle and hug and a whistle, we’d slap out knees and Momma would say, “ Bless the world. It feels like a tip-tapping, song-singing, finger-snapping kind of day. Let’s celebrate! And so we did….”
It seems to come naturally to us as parents to pick up a picture book and read to a small child. But once a child can read on his own, its easy to continue to encourage him or her to only read independently and never be read to. It is a joyous day when our kids can read independently, but there are multiple emotional, spiritual, and mental benefits they can acquire through being read aloud to.
Reading Aloud Can Help You…
Introduce New Ideas
Hearing stories read aloud aids children in their ability to comprehend ideas and broaden their vocabulary. One of the single most important activities for building the knowledge required to be successful in life is reading aloud.
When we listen to someone reading, if we’re reading anything worthwhile, we’ll hear sentences with great language, flow, and structure. How could we not become writers and speakers, if we listen to Homer or Shakespeare? If you can understand their writings, even a little, you can comprehend anything. A child can be taught the proper structure of a sentence, but we learn how to form great sentences best by hearing and hearing excellent language.
Know the Same people
We’re committed to reading aloud as often as possible to our kids until they leave our home. One of the desires propelling us forward in this vision is for our family to ‘know’ many of the same people through the books we read. Through books, we can travel the world and meet people we would never have met like the hilarious, Pippi Longstocking or the trustworthy Lucy Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia.
“A family, a class, or any group that reads aloud has a sense of communion as they share together ideas and human experiences.” -Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake
Enter the Big Story
As we share an experience through reading aloud together, we also begin to truly enter into the story God has been creating for the past thousands of years. Reading aloud Bible stories, poetry, fantasy, fairy tales, and animal stories helps us to see ourselves as characters in the story God created us to walk out. My friend, Sarah Clarkson, author of Caught up in a Story, has often talked about how books inspire us to see ourselves as a hero or heroine of our story. When I read Anne of Green Gables aloud to my kids, I hope for them to imagine themselves as Anne, one who cultivates beauty wherever she wanders. Anne can look at a serene sunset and be reminded of the goodness in this world. She can wander under willow trees and hear the sweet whispers of the wind. Hearing stories, shapes the imaginations of our children, which is truly a gift to them— a gift to be able to see the mystery and magic of our world now, and a preparation for what is to come.
By entering these stories, my kids also learn what to do (or not do). I hope to lecture them on character much less and allow them to read more and more about heroes they can emulate. I hope they will learn an abundance of character lessons by reading great stories— more than they will by my lectures on what ‘they should do’ in any given situation.
My favorite question to ask when we’re reading a story aloud is, “Do you think he should have done that?” Should Abram have trusted God’s promise or acted in fear? Should Harry have trusted his dream leading him to believe a friend was in trouble?”
As we read aloud great books to our kids, we’re placing before them something worth loving, something worth giving their time to.
Cultivate the Love of Learning
Reading aloud to our children, inspires in them a love of learning that will remain in them throughout the entirety of their lives. What we listen to, we dwell on. Do you still remember a particular scripture you memorized as child that seems to seep in into your mind on occasion? Or the the worship songs that you still hum, but haven’t listened to in fifteen years?
What we learn in childhood is carved in stone. What we learn as adults is carved in ice.” – David Kheridian, poet
The stories and ideas our children meditate on will stay with them all their lives. Even if they don’t understand everything they hear today, comprehension and application will likely come later. Reading aloud creates an opportunity for a child to make connections, giving them food to delight their soul.
Despite my best efforts to read aloud to my kids every day, there are some days when sickness or tiredness weighs me down like the the heavy load of a donkey. It breaks my mama heart, when my four year old says, “Mama, will you read me this book, right now?” And now, her requests are no longer board books. They seems to be long picture books or even chapter books. This sweet request came a few days ago while I was scrubbing a stack of pans with caked on, dried up food. I would have been overjoyed to drop the task of dishes to be distracted by reading. I’d rather read to her than do almost anything else! The chapter book requested, Mr Poppers Penguins, is NOT a short picture book. My little one couldn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t able to drop all my household tasks and sit down and read the entire book at that very moment.
Reading some is better than not reading at all. We all have a unique family puzzle requiring intentionality to figure out what works. Let’s intentionally try to make reading aloud part of our daily life, giving us and our children an opportunity to slow down, pay attention, and allow for the richness of reading to stir our hearts and minds.
If you’d like some research on the benefits of reading aloud, here’s a thoughtful and informative piece.
I’d love to know what you’re reading aloud to your kids. Please leave a comment!