“Do you know what pliable means?” my mom asked as she looked up from the book she was reading. We were in the middle of Pilgrim’s Progress and Pliable and Obstinate were trying to convince Christian to turn back. “If something is Pliable it means it can be easily bent around– like play-dough,” my mom went on. And I can see her getting the play-dough out and twisting it around, although I’m not sure she actually did. She explained how Pliable was easily convinced to follow Christian and then easily persuaded to turn back when they met danger. (Grab your free bookshelf reading log below.)
Growing up, I don’t remember regular read-aloud times, but my Mom shared with us the stories she loved and gave us a glimpse into a fascinating new world. And when I learned to read, I was eager to explore this world of stories. I remember devouring a certain red set of books full of adventures, mystery, and poetry (whose rhythm captivated me). I can still quote sections of Casey at the Bat, The Highway Man, and the Cremation of Sam McGee from reading and re-reading them.
And that brings me to the first motivation to make reading aloud a regular part of your home.
1. Reading aloud is an advertisement to your child to the wonders contained in books.
Reading aloud to your child long before he is capable of reading gives him the idea that reading is pleasurable. It gives him a desire to also learn to read so he can explore this magical world for himself.
If your child’s first exposure to reading is learning his sounds in kindergarten, or “the cat sat” after those sounds are painfully mastered, don’t blame him if he doesn’t want anything to do with reading.
But if instead, your child already knows the wonders contained in books, he will be motivated to solve the “code”. He will be eager to dive into the magical world of reading.
2. Family read-alouds draw a family together.
When we ask our boys what some of their best memories are, they often bring up reading aloud together. In this age, when electronic devices are so prevalent, reading together as a family encourages everyone to “unplug”. It give us time together without the distractions of screens.
I love the fact that you can read aloud almost anywhere making it a great family activity. We’ve read aloud in our living room, in the bedroom all piled on my bed (when the kids were all smaller), in hotel rooms, and in the car. We’ve even read aloud under the stars of our flat-roof house in West Africa when we didn’t have electricity and the house was too hot to stand another minute.
3. Reading aloud causes children to associate comfort, security, and love with books.
Even children who are too young to understand the words are able to associate books with the warmth and safety of a parent’s lap.
My two-year-old has been slow to actually sit still while I read an entire book, but she’s getting there. In the meantime, we’ve been talking about the pictures found in her books, playing “Can you find ____?”, and taking advantage of books with textures or flaps. She loves to bring me stacks of books, so I know that a love of reading is growing in her long before she is able to read. And lately she’s starting to actually sit still while I read the book through. So don’t give up if you have a squirmy child, but tailor your reading time to her attention span.
4. Reading to your children gives them an advantage when it comes to learning to read.
Studies show that children who are read to have a huge advantage when it comes to learning how to read. One of the reasons is that reading aloud expands your child’s vocabulary. When he is reading on his own, the words he meets are familiar. I was reading a book to my daughter today and marveling at the depth of vocabulary contained in a simple picture book (silhouetted, tawny, preoccupied).
I don’t remember if I knew the words pliable and obstinate before I encountered the characters in the pages of Pilgrim’s Progress, but I knew them after that. When I encountered those same words later in other books, they weren’t strangers but familiar friends.
5. Reading aloud lets you equip your child with the resources needed to face difficult situations in the future.
Reading aloud gives your children heroes to look up to. There are, of course, the Biblical heroes found in the pages of scripture. David, who with only a slingshot and his faith in God, faced the giant alone. Daniel, who even when his life was threatened, stood firm in his resolve to do what was right.
Then there are the many biographies of famous men and women. There is Gladys Alward who was so determined to go to China as a missionary that she would let nothing stop her, Jim Elliot (and others with him) who gave his all to bring the gospel to a remote jungle tribe, Harriet Tubman who risked her life, again and again, to help her people to freedom, and many others.
You can also find countless heroes in the pages of fiction. One day (maybe sooner than you think) your child will need the determination and resourcefulness Brian showed in the Hatchet, or the courage to do what’s right even when afraid like Lucien in Treasures of the Snow, or the diligence to finish a difficult task like Ralph in Little Britches. It is important to give our children heroes to look up to, even fictionalized heroes, which can sometimes be more real than real-life. As F. W. Boreham wrote in A Handful of Stars, “A great romance is a portrait of humanity, painted by a master-hand.”
So in this coming year, I hope you make reading aloud one of your family traditions.
To keep track of the books we read aloud I’ve created a printable bookshelf reading log. I find it motivating to have a place to record the books we’ve read. There are two different styles available.