I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. ~ Groucho Marx
Always extolling the benefits of reading, earlier this week we shared together four benefits of reading to children (you can read that article by clicking here). Reading done well can be to the glory of God because the Holy Spirit can use what we read – especially Scripture – to convict hearts, transform minds, and turn lives toward Him. When we experience these grand benefits of reading, not only are we convinced of its significance for our own lives, but for the impact of the lives of those around us as well.
For parents, the first sphere of influence is with our own children. Love of our children compels a love for sharing with them the other things that we love. It means inculcating into them skills and disciplines that incline them towards God and set them towards a productive lifestyle. Reading falls into one of those disciplines that is prioritized among some of the most crucial.
Identifying reading as essential is only the first step. The difficulty for many people is advancing further and taking steps towards creating an environment of reading readiness. Perhaps the following list not only will give some ideas but also spur creativity to generate more ideas. Some potential steps to take with your children include:
- Read to your children: The most obvious way to teach the value of reading is by reading directly to your children.
- Read with your children: Not only should you read to your children but read with them. Specifically, interact with them about what was just read. As they develop their capacity to read, have them take a turn reading to you.
- Let them see you read: Make sure you are modeling reading behavior to your children by allowing them to see you read. Read seriously not merely for the show of it but let them see you make it a priority as well.
- Give books as gifts: Books make great gifts, and each can be tailored to the pleasures of the reader receiving it making it both practical and personal. Additionally, this is an opportunity to get some of your favorite books into the hands of your children (whether it be a favorite from your childhood or adulthood).
- Frequent a library and/or bookstore together: One of my favorite places in the world is a specific bookstore in Buenos Aires. In the last year, I have had the opportunity to take two of my children there. We shared the experience by browsing through four floors of books, looking over the vast array, and allowing them to pick out their own book (and one for each of their siblings). In it they get both the pleasure of picking out books but also learn discernment in how to pick out books.
- Maintain a personal library: Develop your own personal library. It does not have to be large nor does it have to be expensive (used books are greats and keeping your eyes out for special deals is helpful). For your children to appreciate it though, it should be both visible to them and accessible for them. My personal library is in view (for them and others) and within reason, they are always free to paw through them.
- Create a library for your children: While in your home, certainly your children will have access to your books, but what about when they leave home? A great high school graduation gift is a library of their very own. After our children were born, we made a list of some of our favorite must-have books and started buying one per year (a hint: around Christmas is a good time to shop to find some great deals and/or coupons for discounts). Our plan is to gift them this library when they head off to college or work. In our list, we’ve tried to include the best of in several specific areas including, a study Bible, systematic theology, fiction set (i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings).
- Generate a reading challenge: Challenge your children to read challenging books. Every year create a goal that stipulates how many books and even what books (such as what genre or specific titles) they should read. Obviously, you need to make it age appropriate, but also add a book or two that might be just slightly beyond their normal reading level so that they can grow in the process.
- Generate a book list for them: Create a ‘best of’ list that includes the top books that you want your child to read before they leave home. While priority should be given to the Bible, biblical studies, theology, and Christian living, this does not mean you need to exclude other well-placed readings such as history, literature, etc. Perhaps a list of 60 books spread across 8 or 10 genres would give both breadth and depth to your children.
- Present them with the gift of reading: When your child learns to read, do something specific to both honor and provoke this skill by recognizing it. For our children, we made the conscious decision to gift them a Kindle when they learn to read. While wanting to limit their technological intake at a young age (based on recent research, concerns, and our own experiences) and preferring physical books, the Kindle offers families some practical benefits. Living overseas access to physical books is limited, expensive, and heavy while the Kindle offers immediate access. Furthermore, traveling a lot it gives them the flexibility to take many books with them. Finally, there is a cost benefit in that Kindle books can be obtained at large discounts if you are patient enough (we keep wish lists and periodically check them, and when a book we want goes on sale, often for a dollar or two, we pick it up).
These are merely ten recommendations that can help us as we seek to guide our children towards lives of readings. The list is not meant to be all-inclusive nor is it meant to be exclusive, but instead should serve as a guide. The key here is not to read just to read, but to read with purpose: to grow in Christlikeness.