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Reading aloud to your children is a gift that you can give them all year round. If you set up a habit of reading together just one chapter from a good literature book every day, you’ll be giving your children a precious gift. In fact, you might not realize just how valuable that gift is. Let me share with you what the gift of reading aloud gives to your children.
- You are feeding their minds with living ideas. That’s the only food that their minds grow on: ideas. Ideas that nestle deep and take root, that generate other ideas, that open their eyes to life around them and all its possibilities.
- You are instructing their consciences. As they hear about the choices that the different characters in the book make, and then the consequences of those choices are unfolded in the story line, they learn valuable life lessons and those solid principles are reinforced within their own hearts.
- You are enlarging their imaginations. Imagination is one of those capacities that seems to grow and expand with use. The more you use your imagination, the better it works and the more it can hold. The ability to picture in your mind’s eye what you are hearing is an important skill. Picturing the scenes of a book as they are read aloud gives your children great practice in cultivating that habit of imagining.
- You are expanding their vocabularies. So many new words can be picked up in the context of a story. Sure, the children might not immediately comprehend all of the nuances of a word’s definition the first time they hear it; but over time, as they hear that word used in other books and other situations, other sentences, they fine tune those definitions in their minds and perhaps use them in their own writing. The great thing is that they are hearing those words used by excellent authors, who are masters at their craft of word-smithing.
- You are cultivating their taste for good writing styles. By reading them good books written by the best authors, you are shaping their sense of good writing. And by giving them a variety of those good authors, who have different writing voices and styles, you are showing your children that there is no one correct way to write. They have permission to develop their own writing voices, and the great authors that they become familiar with will help to shape that personal voice.
- You are helping them process life circumstances in a safe setting. Good literature can contain some hard situations: people you have grown to love die; families struggle just to survive; children deal with illness and disability; people experience prejudice and hatred; war descends; hardships increase. Those are life circumstances that we moms would never want our children to go through, but we also understand that we can’t control everything that happens, or will happen, to them. By reading good books in which those difficult circumstances happen—often to a favorite character—we are allowing our children to emotionally experience that situation to a lesser degree. And as they hear about how the other characters in the book respond to those circumstances, they tuck those ideas away in their hearts, where they will be waiting when difficult real life circumstances come their way.
- You are setting up a habit of reading every day, which provides wholesome and profitable activity for leisure time. Reading good books is a great way to spend free time. And every day that you read together, as a matter of course, serves to reinforce that good habit.
- You are demonstrating how to read aloud well. The skill of reading aloud well is an important skill to develop. Every time your children listen to you read aloud to them, they are hearing your example and learning from it. If that idea makes you uncomfortable, take a look at the post I did on Reading Aloud So Your Children Love to Listen.
- There is one more thing that you are giving your children every time you read aloud to them. You’re giving them stronger family ties. You are knitting your family’s hearts together through shared experiences. Living life together creates a strong bond; going through experiences together strengthens those ties. By reading books as a family, all of your children will have the same rich storehouse intellectually as well as emotionally, for you all will have “lived through” the same events and characters in those books. You will have experienced the same enjoyable parts, the same tension-filled parts, the same disgusting parts, the same sad parts. You will have lived that “book life” together, and those shared experiences will create strong connections.
Charlotte Mason valued the gift of reading aloud as a family. Here’s what she said about it:
“There are few stronger family bonds than this habit of devoting an occasional hour to reading aloud, on winter evenings, at any rate. The practice is pleasant at the time, and pleasant in the retrospect, it gives occasion for much bright talk, merry and wise, and quickens family affection by means of intellectual sympathy. Indeed, the wonder is that any family should neglect such a simple means of pure enjoyment, and of moral, as well as intellectual culture” (Formation of Character, p. 220).
Such a valuable gift, this reading aloud together. And all it costs you is some time. I know sometimes our time is the most precious to us, but isn’t it worth it to invest just a half hour a day in order to give your children such a wonderful gift?
There’s no better time to start than now. Today. Use these winter evenings or afternoons, or any time of year, to read a great book together. You can be sure this is a gift they will enjoy and benefit from for the rest of their lives.