A guiding question that we have asked ourselves a million times throughout the child-rearing years is: What does it Matter in Eternity? The answer to this question has guided us in making choices that shaped our family’s lives not only for the long term but also for each day.
When our children discovered books, my husband and I had to decide what ideas we would allow to shape and influence our children’s minds, while simultaneously instilling a love of reading. We loved seeing our young children read a vast array of genres that sent their imaginations through the roof! Many plans and ideas and flights of fancy were concocted from their reading material. These wondrous notions led us on many spontaneous excursions and discussions and created memories that we cherish to this day.
The delicate task of parenting a young child as a whole person is to take care of their minds in the same way we take care of their little bodies. A parent has the privilege of introducing their children to a host of ideas and genres through books.
Like most homes, piles of books graced our bookshelves and floors. Our children read daily from a very early age, and they read all different kinds of subject matter. We loved to see the children’s eyes light up when they found a favorite. These books became intimate friends, and over time we could recite these favorites practically by heart! Sound familiar?
Today these old friends still linger on the top shelf, and we have added countless more. Some stay with us at our home, while others are released into the homes of friends and neighbors who often ask how we managed to encourage the love of reading in our children. There is no magical answer, of course, but here are a few ideas that may add to what you have already established in your own home to create an environment that promotes the love of reading.
1. Start Reading Early
Start reading to your child even before they are born! Remember the excitement you and your husband felt when you first became pregnant? Establish a relationship with your unborn baby through reading. Science suggests that around the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy, the unborn baby responds to its mother’s voice. Take time to read out loud. Try reading a parenting book out loud with your husband while you await the arrival of your bundle of joy. This creates a common interest and helps you brush up on your parenting skills.
Reading God’s Word together is another great way to introduce your baby to the beauty of reading. For Christian parents, reading about the promises contained in Scripture is comforting, especially as you think through what the future holds for your children. This habit should continue and morph into family devotions as your children grow and become confident readers themselves.
Engage the whole family in reading to the baby. Your husband can read his favorite book or newspaper story out loud while older children can read their homework reading assignments or favorite books out loud to the baby. Even the littlest child can retell stories while looking through a picture book. These little moments gathered around a book can become a fun nighttime routine.
2. Let the Love of Reading be Caught
Let your children catch you in the act of reading! Let the love for reading be caught rather than taught!
Make it a priority to enjoy reading yourself and allow your children to see you practicing this self-care routine. Teach children through example, by gathering together in a room for quiet reading time.
Sometimes we think that family time has to have an incredibly creative activity behind it in order to be meaningful. But some of our best family experiences involve the simple act of being in the same room together, reading our own favorites.
3. Read Together As a Family
Gather the troops in the family room and share a favorite book! Every family is sure to have their favorite stories.
We found as our kids matured, they were eager to jump in and read a chapter out loud. Not all children may be this keen to read out loud, and if this is the case, gentle encouragement is important. Start small. Find a word they can easily identify and are comfortable reading. Have your child follow along and just shout out the word every time it shows up in the text. Once this has become a habit, move on to the first sentence of a paragraph. In time, have a young reader read the first paragraph of a page, followed by the first page of a chapter. Beginning readers are slow readers, so ‘patience is a virtue’ applies here.
Older children might enjoy a family book club. Schedule meetings weekly or monthly, depending on the family schedule. During the book club meetings, each family member shares about the book they are currently reading. You might have some standard questions to ask that will draw out details. The family book club is a fun family activity that teaches no matter the age, and each family member can contribute.
4. Read Around Town
Keep a box of books in the car and leave it there as a permanent fixture.
When moving to the suburbs, I found our family and myself in the car a lot. Of course, listening to music together is enjoyable, and car time is a great time for conversation, but a box of books was quite useful when I needed a bit of quiet time and when the kids just wanted to decompress.
Sharing the same books also created opportunities for conversation between siblings because they shared a common interest. Waiting for a sibling to finish up an activity provided the other children the chance to relax and read. As the children grew older, they added their own books to the box. Yes, it is an extra step to keep track of all the books, but we found it was worth it.
5. Introduce Your children to Living Books
Living books are good books. They are not fluff. They give inspiring ideas and provoke the imagination. The author is passionate about the content and communicates this passion through beautiful language and a rich vocabulary.
The most popular children’s book out there might not be a living book. Living books do not necessarily need pictures to engage the imagination. The story and language is crafted in such a way that the mind can easily create its own images. Find out how to identify a living book here.
For an excellent discussion on engaging with a living book look at this article.
6. Read When You Travel
Check out books from the library, print out information from the internet, or buy books before you travel to spark interests about your destination. Preparing for a trip in this way is a fun habit to cultivate in young children.
Anything interesting will do. Find a book filled with historical facts, or a book about the local fauna and flora, a cookbook on a foreign culture’s cuisine, pick up a biography of someone who resided in the area, or do research on recreational activities like hiking or biking at your destination.
Create a travel backpack with these resources for each child when they are young or allow the older children to pack their own. Information and knowledge can bring excitement, but it can also calm down nervous travelers because it offers them some control.
7. Give Books as Gifts
Give books as gifts to your children and suggest your children gift copies of their favorite books to others. Giving personally signed books on topics that your children are interested in as gifts is a rich tradition that will fill your children’s bookshelves for years to come. Reading it along with them is even better.
Encourage your child to serve their friends in the same way by asking, “What are my friend’s interests?” when picking out a gift for them. Children often share a common bond created by reading a popular book, but they can also create the habit of learning from the unique books their friends find interesting. Friends can read together just like they can “play” together starting at a very young age, and combining both in an afternoon makes for a fun friend get together.
8. Reading for Quiet Time
We instilled in our children the habit of reading for at least 1 hour a day when they were young. Some families reserve the last hour of the day for reading and will often include family devotions at this time. We found that the busyness of life often robbed us of this hour, and we discovered that implementing the one-hour quiet reading time earlier in the day became a soothing habit and led to hours of joyful discovery.
If your family wants even more reading time, go for it! I don’t think one can ever read too much! Instead of plopping kids in front of a screen, consider slowing little ones down for twenty minutes with a fun book. This keeps little minds occupied and gives moms a moment to regroup while perhaps doing some reading of their own.
9. Reading Instructions
Reading need not be quiet all the time, nor does it have to be purely for enjoyment. Reading can also open the door to the world of how-to knowledge. Reading can still be incorporated on days when children would rather help me in the kitchen or the garden. Reading the steps to a recipe teaches not only reading but also sequence and causality. The same goes for reading instructions on planting seeds or other plants. You can even invite children to proofread your writing.
10. Dupe Kids into Reading
Leave picture books open around the home to pique curiosity.
There are some excellent magazines with amazing photography that you can subscribe to. These magazines have large pictures and short bursts of text packed full of information. Many times kids will pick up books or magazines and start reading just because the images catch their attention. They may even sit down and read it. It doesn’t mean they will always finish the entire book, but you’ve created interest. Leave out books on topics that you know your children are interested in.
11. A Word on Narration
Narration is simply the telling back of a story, a retelling of the sequence of events. Children naturally love telling back what they have read. Narration and reading go hand in hand. Both are used to make sense of the text.
Narration allows a child to sort through the content, ask questions, answer questions, and make connections. It is a way to interact with the story and internalize it. It is also a way for a parent to understand what the child understands. Although narration is a skill we all have, it is a skill that needs to be honed. Start small by asking a child to tell back what they remember about a paragraph and work your way up to a chapter. Read more about the benefits of narration here.
Shakespeare said, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Look at your children when they talk about the books they read. Their eyes will offer a glimpse of the joyful discovery ignited by reading an array of genres of books.
Looking back, my husband and I realize that some stories and some books didn’t stand the test of time, but others did and will probably feed the next generation of readers. Regardless, the joy reading brought to the day, the love of learning and exploring life at home and on our travels, was and is a treasure to store.
So does reading matter for eternity? I would argue it does. For us, it strengthened the bond of family, allowed us to introduce our children to thoughts and beliefs we cherish, provided an opportunity to engage the impact of the culture around us, gave us the comfort of seeing our children embrace our beliefs, and brought us countless hours of joy. It is a habit that will transfer to our children’s children and their posterity.