Why We Read to Our Children

alisa-anton-144490.jpg

By Holly Packiam

It’s autumn here in Colorado, my favorite time of the year. The changing of the leaves from green to yellow creates great anticipation in my heart for what is to come. The brisk, cool air invites me to stop, look, and listen. I start to imagine sitting with my kids on the couch; cuddling together with warm fuzzy blankets, lots of books, and a wood-burning fire in plain sight. 

“Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably.” 
C.S. Lewis

This vision is one I aim to walk out as we settle into the autumn season. Some of our activities are soon winding down and I look ahead envisioning more space to connect with each other and reflect on what the Lord is saying and doing in our lives as we read together.

Although I can feel nostalgic during this time of year, as the weather gets cooler and we’re indoors more, there are more opportunities for me to intentionally choose to read to my kids. So it got me thinking about why we as parents love reading to our children…

We read to our children to give them the gift of a great story. Beautifully written stories have a powerful way of speaking to my kids that can give them a vision for seeing themselves making choices they want to make and a vision for how to avoid pitfalls. Story has a subversive way of allowing our children to think about choices and life trajectory without being overly direct. If our children can see how characters in a story perceive life, deal with difficulty or evil, make decisions and so on, maybe they can see how they too could be a pivotal part of God’s great story here and now. I’m remembering the story of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. This story in one that is easy to drop into in an instant while reading. We can easily imagine walking by Edmund’s side as he contemplates whether or not to follow the White Witch or to trust his siblings’ instinct to join forces with the Old Narnians who follow the great Aslan. One of my favorite scenes is when the witch is laying claim to Edmund after his treason. His future was uncertain…to everyone but Aslan.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan," said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he'd been through and after the talk he'd had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn't seem to matter what the Witch said.” 

“Fairytales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
G.K. Chesterton

We read to our children to give them a vision of their callings as Christ’s kingdom-bearers here and now. How can they play a part in defeating evil and bringing His life into the lives of those they encounter? When I drive my kids to church, a class, and activities, we pray…

“Lord, give us eyes to see what you are doing, ears to hear your voice, and a heart willing to obey you.”

I encourage each of them to ask themselves, How can I ‘see’ someone else today? Is there anyone new I can befriend? Does anyone need help? How can I be supportive and encouraging to someone who is learning the ropes of a new class for the first time?  Reading stories about kids who serve and help and extend mercy, and love others well, encourages our kids to do the same. 

We read to our children to help them see that God uses common, ordinary people to take risks and fulfill His plan in the world. My two oldest daughters have been reading historical fiction the past couple years along with reading a couple fiction novels by Andrew Clements. One in particular is about a child who writes a book and hopes to get it published. After reading this book and contemplating the bravery and boldness of the protagonist, they both decided their goal was to write a novel over the summer. To my joy (and surprise), they did just that. The girls spent countless hours wrestling through plot ideas for their stories, researching historical facts, and discerning the larger themes they hoped a reader would reflect on.

We read to our children to create opportunities for them to become more empathetic and compassionate as they learn about the plight of others, especially those who have lived drastically different lives. Reading enables us to step into someone’s else's shoes and see their perspective. Our society seems to be torn apart by people who don’t know how to step into someone else’s shoes, to see things from a different point of view. Stories help us do that. They lift us form our surroundings and make us see the world— even the familiar parts of the world— through someone else’s eyes. We are often taken aback— sometimes in wonder, sometimes in horror— at the way someone’s experience of our same country could be vastly different from ours. This past summer, my girls and one of their cousins read Small Steps by Peg Kehret. They stepped into the shoes of a thirteen year old girl who suffered from polio. This story helped them to have compassion for a child who was paralyzed. 

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12-14 (MSG)

We read to our children because we have been given this window of time with them to pour wonderful and inspiring stories into their hearts. We all hear that the days are long, but the years are short. As my children have grown and I almost have a teenager in the house, I realize this to be true. I know my children will not always be at home, and the Lord has given them to my husband and me for this time to show them the ways of the Lord. Through story, we can discuss ideas together about how we sense the Lord is calling us to live. In stories like Harry Potter and The Hobbit, we can talk about how power can be used to bring life and freedom or to take control and ultimately destroy ourselves and others. 

Moreover, the best of stories prepare our children to meet Jesus beyond the page….which reminds me of another of my favorite scenes from the Chronicles of Narnia…

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

These of course are just a few of the reasons….what would you add to the list?