Several weeks ago I took the boys to the dentist to have all of our teeth cleaned. I went up on the dentist chair first, per the boys’ desire. Before the hygienist can get to work, she had to keep the boys occupied with something to do. They had two choices: watch a TV show or read books. Both of them unanimously chose to read. I was rather surprised because I thought they would pick TV because we don’t have a TV at home so this would be a treat to be able to watch something. My hygienist was impressed.
Of course this got me thinking. Are my boys just born nerdy? Or can reading be cultivated? I read in the recent news that reading has been declining, which is no news actually, especially in boys. In order to appeal to boys, authors write about gross and inappropriate topics such as bodily functions and sounds. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised. So, how do we cultivate a generation who loves to read? I have several thoughts.
I firmly believe that a love for reading is firmly modeled by the parents. Children are led by examples. If they see that their parents spend a lot time fishing, playing ball, or watching TV, most likely they will model after their parents’ interests. Likewise, if parents value reading by modeling it, most likely their children will like to read. Both my husband and I are readers and we have books lying about in the house. We also talk about the books we read and pass them along to friends. Our kids see all of this.
Reading out loud as a family has many benefits. We really like listening to stories and we started this practice over two years ago, and with some ups and downs, we’re back up again being more committed to have daily family reading. Both my husband and I realize that having one of us read out loud can get quite tiring very quickly. I find that after a whole day of homeschooling, I really don’t have enough voice to read out loud at night. We are very thankful that we’re able to find a lot of good audio books at our library where we can check them out electronically, download them, and listen on our ipod or computer. This definitely solves the tired voice problem! Once we get sucked in to listening to a great book, the kids clamor for more and ask if we can listen to it in the car when we’re out running an errand. It’s well understood that we will not listen to a book if someone is missing because none of us want to miss out.
I believe in reading good books, not just any books. I once had a conversation with someone telling her that there are good books and bad books. She looked at me funny and said “really”? I want to look back at her and say “really?” for saying “really?” To this person, the act of reading is good so it doesn’t matter what kind of books you read. We strive to read books that teach good character, books that have a deeper meaning, books that are intricately woven together, and books that have a good story line. I am fond of Lamplighter books whose motto is “Building character one story at a time.” We read Teddy’s Button long time ago, and from time to time I still bring this book up whenever we’re faced with a sin issue in one of the children. I remind the children to fight their sin from within, just like Teddy who’s enlisted in the Lord’s army in fighting sin. How valuable it is to be able to bring up a story we read to teach character.
We also think it can be valuable to read books that might not be explicitly (or implicitly) Christian; but whose story lines nevertheless contain many themes that are valuable for the cultivation of imagination and virtue. Tolkien greatly disapproved of those who considered his Lord of the Rings trilogy an allegory. And it certainly contains elements of evil and fantasy that some Christians might consider inappropriate. But it also elevates heroism, sacrifice and nobility in a fashion that is awesome fuel for considering in light of Scripture, the gospel, etc. So, we also strive to read widely — with discernment — so as to give ourselves and our children a broad literary vocabulary from which to understand the world we live in, and speak the gospel into that world.