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Family

Why You Should Read Aloud to Children

March 27, 2019 by

Mother and child reading together at the Bruderhof, an intentional Christian community

As a child, I was convinced my mother purposely thought up chores for me to do just when I was at the most exciting point in my book. It certainly got the job done fast. I’d do anything to get back to the “real” world of my story. Even now my children tease me that once I’ve picked up one of their books I’m oblivious to anything else. It’s unavoidable. Good authors aim to get their readers to live their characters and some simply achieve their goal.

I was lucky growing up. Not only was I an avid reader, my parents also read aloud to us kids at the end of every family mealtime and before bedtime. And as we listened, it fed our imaginations and also our worldviews. Since my childhood was happy and secure, I couldn’t imagine anything different until my dad read us The House of Sixty Fathers, whose protagonist lives in a war-torn country. I remember sneaking to the living room bookshelf to find the place where he had stuck the bookmark because I had to know whether Tien Pao ever found his parents again. The rough mountain trail he traveled on, the panic he felt when bullets hit the cliff face behind him, are still etched indelibly into my mind. Of course, the books you read to children have to be age appropriate, but I loved that book and through it every refugee child now has a face and a name to me. Meindert DeJong’s books aren’t typically that historical, but with this particular one I learned something about Chinese history and the author’s own experiences as a pilot in WWII that I never learned in school.

If you’re raising a family you have to use opportunities as they come up to let your children know what matters to you. For children to grow up to be compassionate and understanding adults they need to learn to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. The younger they learn that, the better, and good children’s literature is one of the best teaching tools available. You’ll also discover that reading aloud to your children can become one of the favorite corners of family life.

After my own positive childhood experiences with books, it was only natural that my husband and I should continue reading aloud as our own children came along. I’ve lost count of how many times we read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (with nine children, we read some series more than once). And we couldn’t skip the Orpheline books by Natalie S. Carlson. Then there were Rumer Godden’s Little Plum, The Diddakoi, or Mr. McFadden’s Halloween, and later, Ralph Moody’s Little Britches and Man of the Family and Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben.

Today technology competes for the attention of children. It’s so much easier to leave your child to his or her tablet or smart phone. And why not? Our lives can be hectic, leaving limited space for quality time with our kids. But I’m not alone in questioning the long-term value of leaving a child to her own devices. According to the American Heart Association, it’s far more healthy for children to spend less time at the screen. And sites like the International Literacy Association and Screen-free Parenting offer practical advice for parents who are wondering how they can bring books back in their children’s lives, and why it’s important that they do.

If you’re raising a family you have to use opportunities as they come up to let your children know what matters to you.

And so I can’t help recommending at least some of my most beloved storytellers to the next generation. It’s hard to zero in on only a few, but if I had to name favorite authors for children, Astrid Lindgren would certainly be among them, as would Natalie Savage Carlson and Claire Huchet Bishop. To reach children you have to be a child at heart and these authors are obviously just that. Yet at the same time they still catch the interest of the adults, causing them to chuckle and listen in spite of themselves, as anyone who has read The Letter on the Tree or Twenty and Ten will agree.

If your family is just beginning your reading-aloud adventure, you might find that that your kids have trouble focusing long enough to hear a story. I’ve discovered that some children can concentrate better when they have something to do with their hands. Try giving your kids a doodle pad and they can draw while they listen. My husband’s preferred method was to give our school-age kids a lump of play dough; they enjoyed modeling heads of characters from the story he was reading.

Yet despite all good intentions, life does not always turn out the way it should. Many children will not experience the luxury of a parent with time and energy to read aloud to them. And yet everyone wants the best for children, so if it is in your power, at least expose children to good books whenever you can.

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About the author

Veronica Brinkmann and her husband Tobias

Veronica Brinkmann

Veronica Brinkmann has lived in Germany, England, and the United States. At present, she and her husband Tobias live at...

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