A and C snuggle in tight, one under each arm. I open the pages of Because of Winn-Dixie and begin to read. Silence, rapt attention, interrupted now and then by a chorus of giggles when our furry protagonist finds himself the center of a
mishap follows. Today has been declared electronic-free day, which is usually met with whining and pleading, but as soon as I crack open the pages of that book and allow the story to captivate my children, no shiny contraption, not even X-box can lure them from the magic currently igniting their imaginations.
At the close of each chapter, both children chime, “One more, mommy, please!” Though dishes pile in the sink, laundry overflows its basket, and dust sits on the furniture, I, too, am drawn into the tale and give in to my children’s pleas. (My family has this quirky inability to put down a good book until it’s finished.) Though, they are both capable of finishing the story on their own, I wouldn’t miss this time with them, so I continue to read until we reach the final page. For four hours, we lose ourselves in the world of a girl and her furry companion. I close the book and resume my housecleaning, leaving behind a lively discussion of the novel, two voices excitedly reminiscing about the highlights of this charming book.
I join the conversation briefly, asking, “How did Opal use her loneliness to help others?” My children ponder for a moment then offer astute answers. We talk about how we can apply Opal’s kindness to our own daily lives and think of examples of people we know who face loneliness and how we can help to ease their melancholy. In a few minutes, A and C rush off to play, and I’m left to meditate on a morning spent sharing a story with my children.
Reading aloud to my children is one of my greatest joys as a parent. I’m serious. I love stories. I love hearing stories and telling stories. Even as an adult, I never tire of stories. As a child, I would walk through my back yard, past Mr. Ritchie’s house, to my great-aunt Flap’s where I would sit on her porch and listen to her tell stories. I could sit there for hours. Many of my favorite childhood memories involve her lemonade, cookies, and yarns. Every time I recall sitting on that porch, I’m filled with a warmth and comfort that transcends the years; I’m transported to the glorious, carefree world of childhood, and instantly the heaviness and weariness of whatever the adult world is currently pressing onto my shoulders is immediately lightened. Stories, in their own magical way, do just that, and that’s what I want to share with my children each time we sit together and read.
As an educator, I cannot adequately stress the importance of reading aloud to children of all ages. I read aloud to my middle schoolers at least five minutes every day. I read at least once during class to my writing students, seniors included, and they love it. If I ever need to capture the attention of a class, I grab a book and introduce a snippet of a new world to my students. Without fail, that book usually tags along home with at least one student who must finish the story, even the most reluctant of readers. I could go on and on about the educational benefits of reading aloud and did in this post. For this post, I want to focus on the benefits of reading aloud as a parent.
I’m no parenting expert. For the love, I don’t feel qualified to offer any parenting advice, but I know the power of reading aloud from my experience as a child, a mom, and a teacher, and I’ve seen what those few minutes a day can do for my own relationship with my children. Stories connect us. Think about how any conversations you’ve had with peers and even strangers over a book you discover you’ve both read. Every time I pull a book off the shelf and pull my children into my lap or next to my lap for my ten-year-old, we create a memory, a shared experience that can leave us both transformed. It’s a deliberate pause in my day to share something wonderful with my children. Please don’t think I read four hours a day to my children. That’s a lovely exception. Many days it’s one chapter or five minutes, but regardless of the amount of time, it’s time my children and I cherish. I will fail them in a million ways, but I pray when they think of me one day, they’ll focus on these quiet moments.
Reading aloud also opens the door to meaningful conversations, especially with older children who are trying to navigate the awkwardness of middle school or the drama of high school. Most books provide a meaningful theme for conversation. My daughter and I read through the entire Harry Potter series toether and what followed were important discussions on friendship, loyalty, peer pressure, and love. Literary characters provide great examples of what to do and what not to do. Those sometimes awkward conversations we’d like to have with our pre-tens and teens, those discussions that are often met with eye-rolling and sighing, can be held under the guise of discussing a great book together. If the idea of reading a book aloud to your teenager is uncomfortable, read the same book your child and discuss it together. Sometimes pulling conversation out of my normally reserved daughter is difficult, but a fail-proof method to start dialogue is to ask her about the book she’s reading. She will talk for hours.
Storytelling has been the means of preserving the memories of cultures for years, providing entertainment but also creating a shared thread that weaves together people across the ages. Even Jesus used stories to challenge, to explain concepts, and to engage His followers. Stories provide an entree into the hearts and minds of our children as they connect to favorite characters or are appalled by antagonists. Reading aloud to our children is a critical way to connect with them long past the years of preschool and elementary school. In those times where our children claim to crave independence but desperately still need our guidance and attention, a book provides the key to connecting and to enjoying our kids, not to mention the fostering of a lifelong love of reading.
My children and I have a list of about fifty books we’d like to read together, and while each novel provides an unknown adventure for us to share, it also offers a memory to be created, a bond to be forged, a life to be changed. I challenge you to create a list with your kids and carve out the time to read together. Those five minutes a day could forever enhance your relationship with your child.