A young girl is curled up in an old, over-stuffed armchair, totally absorbed in the pages of a book. A television sits nearby, silent and black with jealousy. In a corner, a computer gathers dust in concert with an abandoned gaming system. No one would guess that this girl lost in the world of Regency England crafted by literary great, Jane Austen, couldn’t read at all until fifth grade and fights against the headaches and blurred vision brought on by severe dyslexia. No one would believe that this beautiful twelve year old preteen who has devoured Little Women, Jane Eyre, and is nearly finished with the entire Anne of Green Gables series was still unable to recognize all the letters of the alphabet in the third grade.
So, with all the barriers to reading this young girl faced and all the preconceived notions of the demise of the book and the rise of the electronic age, why does this child choose a book, an ink and paper relic to some, over the hypnotic allure of technology?
Children who love to read…READ! It’s just a simple fact of human nature that we are more inclined to do the things that interest and excite us rather than the things we are forced or obligated to do. So how do we engage our children’s hearts in the wonder of reading instead of just training their minds in its mechanics?
Think of learning to ride a bicycle.
Your dad props you up on a shiny red bicycle, gives you a few pointers and an encouraging smile, then runs alongside you with his hand securely on the back of the bike seat, steadying and supporting you as you fly down the sidewalk with the wind in your hair and a thrilled and slightly terrified grin on your face.
Your dad sits you down with a diagram of a bicycle and drills you on its parts, making you list them over and over and recite them back to him in alphabetical order.
Which teaching style would result in a bicycle rider rather than just a memorization of bicycle parts? Which scenario would encourage a love of bicycle riding?
When it comes to reading, do you want your children to become readers or just learn the mechanics of reading? Do you want them to love to read or just know how? If a love of reading is your goal for your children, here are some ideas to get you started:
1.) Let them see you reading! Children learn more by watching what we do than by listening to what we say. Seeing your books laying around the house, trying to get your attention while you’re absorbed in an intense scene, giggling when you ‘sneak’ away to the bathroom with a favorite tome, all of these things will have a huge impact on their perception of reading as a desirable activity.
2.) Read to them from infancy on, and let them in on it! Don’t make reading a one-sided exercise with you doing all the talking. Make reading interactive by letting your little one turn pages (yes, even if they want to go backwards!) and point at the pictures and talk about the binding and maybe even chew on the book a bit (bookworms actually do eat books, after all!)
3.) Play, play, play! Seriously, stop being so serious! Children learn best through play, so grab some sidewalk chalk and head outside to the best classroom ever invented. Make up your own games or check out Pinterest and just have a blast! If your children associate learning to read with mommy playing abc hopscotch with them or daddy hiding abc eggs in the bushes, you’ve turned what could be a battle into a playground!
4.) If a child doesn’t love to read, they’re reading the wrong books! Surround them with books of every kind. Fill your home with paperback thrillers and dime-store novels and comic books (yes, comic books!) and nonfiction books on horses and whales and art and music. Creating an atmosphere ripe with knowledge and adventure at your children’s fingertips will go a long way towards making reading an active part of their lives. (And don’t forget the power of the fort! Creating a cozy nook that invites settling in for a reading adventure is really…well, inviting!)
5.) Oh, the places you’ll go! (A la Dr. Seuss!) Make monthly library ‘dates’ to return books and explore new and exciting genres at no cost to you. While you’re there, check out the library’s calendar of events for author visits and book readings and craft activities and mom’s groups. You’ll be amazed at how much the too often forgotten library system has to offer in most areas!
6.) Indie bookstores are the bomb-diggity, no joke! Most cities have one or more independent bookstores struggling to make it through the downturned economy and the advance of the electronic age. These small stores are little niches of wonder just waiting to be discovered, and by supporting them you will not only help keep a local business afloat, but you will also introduce your children to the warmth and beauty of walls lined with books, shopkeepers who can converse about every title like an old friend, and possibly even some local authors that you never even knew existed!
7.) A lifestyle of reading puts the vast knowledge of the ages into the hands of our children. Exchanging the life-long riches of a love of reading for the temporary value of facts gleaned from required reading lists is a paltry deal, indeed. Encourage reading, yes, but let their hearts, their interests, their imaginations choose their reading material. Whatever momentary facts they need for the next test or quiz can be found just as easily on Google. A passion for reading can only be found in the heart of the child.
8.) Parenting matters! Parenting choices strongly impact a child’s level of trust and security. A love of learning grows when it isn’t stifled by fear or stress. Parents fostering a healthy attachment are also fostering a love of learning in their children which translates directly into a love of reading!
I love that my older children have already met and fallen in love with my old friends such as Sense & Sensibility, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Of Mice and Men, The Red Badge of Courage, War and Peace, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and so many, many more. And I love that my younger children still have new friends waiting to be discovered between the covers of wonderful, beautiful, ageless books. Happy reading!
There is such a rush these days to get children sleeping through the night, weaned off the breast, eating solid foods, potty trained, reading independently, and on and on, that we seem to have lost the ability to simply enjoy life as it happens and let our children do the same. A Return to Childhood
Successful reading means far more than possessing the ability to read. Engaging the hearts of students moves reading success beyond a life skill and turns it into a life style. And graphic novels are too powerful of a tool in our arsenal to be disregarded because of pride or prejudice. Raising Super Readers~The MARVELous Power of Comic Books!
In the world of a child wonders are as simple as sticks and sheets, leaves and books, boxes and giggles, and the promise in a rainy day. The Seven Wonders of the World of Childhood
Think homeschooled children are unsocialized, over-controlled, locked-away-from-the-world misfits? Think again! My Renaissance Girl
Parenting choices strongly impact the level and type of attachment a child develops and, by extension, the development of a love of learning. A love of learning grows when it isn’t stifled by fear or stress or regimented by over-structuring or a focus on achievement or competition. Parents fostering a healthy attachment are thus also fostering a life-long love of learning in their children. Love, Play, Learn!
On a Winnie the Pooh style ‘long explore’ my little Pooh Bear discovered the world in The Many Adventures of My Little Pooh Bear
If you give a toddler a book
He’ll climb into your lap
While he’s in your lap
He might lay his head on your chest
When he lays his head on your chest
He’ll hear your heartbeat
When he hears your heartbeat
He’ll probably ask if you can hear… If You Give A Toddler A Book…
My SPD/SLD/ADD (Sensory Processing Disorder, Specific Learning Disability-Dyslexia, Visual and Auditory Processing Disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, etc) sweetie, aka Renaissance Girl, has raised the bar on my homeschooling skills more times than I can count. Her beautiful mind sees the world through a unique lens similar to those of historical icons such as Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein…Beautiful Minds
[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages; Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
St.Nicholas was just a man, but he was a man with a mission. Born in the third century, he grew up to be an intensely kind-hearted man who was especially devoted to children’s issues and helping the poor. He was a Greek Bishop who defied the established Church in order to go out among the ‘unwashed masses’ and live his life as the ‘heart and hands of Jesus.’ While many miracles and legends about him evolved through the centuries, his penchant for leaving secret gifts is the one that captured the hearts and imaginations of people world-wide, leading to the present-day legend of Santa Claus.
I, like many new parents, struggled with the idea of perpetuating a ‘false belief’ and thus undermining my children’s trust. But then I turned to the Bible and saw how Jesus, who spoke absolute truth always, often spoke that truth in stories. He knew something about people’s hearts that I needed to learn as a young parent. He knew that the human mind is logic, analysis, reason, and that the human heart is imagination, creativity, love. He knew that sometimes you have to bypass people’s minds and speak straight to their hearts, those well-springs of wonder, for true understanding to occur and that often the deepest truths are the ones that are too big for the human mind to receive and can only be grasped by the heart.
When it comes to the breathtaking gift of the Christ-Child, the Eternal Creator born of a woman, God Himself wrapped in swaddling clothes, the I AM in a manger, what better way to share such an absurd and immense truth than Jesus’ way…with a story? How else would my little ones be able to grasp the concept of such a gift? How would they embrace the wonder? How could I possibly break down the impossible into a pedantic lecture? Would the improbable make more sense in a dissertation?
And so I chose the way of the parable. I embraced Christmas in all its glory, decorated and baked and showered my little ones with gifts, all while sharing the story of the birth of a Baby. Woven through every event, every tradition, every memorable moment of our family’s Christmas, is the celebration of the wondrous gift of a Savior. We watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and all the other fun Christmas shows together. We read bedtime stories about Christmas elves and magical toys and talking animals. And when my children ask me if Santa really exists, I tell them yes, because it’s true. Every parent who carries on St. Nicholas’ tradition of leaving secret gifts, of being the heart and hands of Jesus, of sharing the wonder, excitement, and glory of the most extraordinary Gift ever given to mankind, every one of us is Santa Claus.
My children never outgrow their belief in Santa. When they’re ready we simply share the beautiful story of St. Nick and invite them to join us in the fun of becoming Santa for their younger siblings and for children in need in our community. They still get presents, of course, but they also get to experience a new facet of the wonder of Christmas through the excitement of secret-keeping and present-wrapping and plan-making and joy-giving. Becoming Santa is an exciting and wonder-filled experience for our children, a step toward adulthood that makes them feel like they’ve been entrusted with a wonderful secret and gives them an opportunity to experience the incredible joy of generosity.
Note: I don’t ever use Santa Claus as a threat (i.e. “I’m calling Santa right now if you don’t…” or “Santa’s watching, and you won’t get any presents for Christmas if…”) first because a parable’s purpose is to teach, not to manipulate or control, and second because what I am teaching is the wonder and miracle of receiving a free gift, one that can’t be earned because it is freely given. Manipulating my children into ‘performing’ might work temporarily, but am I really trying to raise works-driven Christians, or am I trying to teach my little people about the wonderful gift of grace?
Here are some of the ways we focus on Jesus for Christmas:
Children learn best and most happily through play, so letting my little people ‘play Santa’ (i.e. wrapping up their toys and ‘surprising’ each other, making ornaments and delivering them to a nursing home, shopping at the dollar store for Operation Christmas Child, etc.) is a very important part of our Christmas traditions. And the best part is…they’re playing Santa for Jesus!
Leading up to Christmas, we marvel about how Jesus loves us so much He wants us to get presents on His birthday (truly awe-inspiring to children and a lesson in sacrificial giving!) because all He wants for His birthday are smiles and happy hearts.
Then we brainstorm ways to give Jesus as many ‘birthday presents’ as possible (a lesson in generosity). We work together to share Christmas cheer with everyone we meet, but focus our best efforts on the grumpiest people because they don’t smile as often and so their smiles make really special gifts for Jesus (a lesson in unconditional love).
We have a 12 Days of Christmas tradition where everyone gets a small present (chocolate, a special pencil, etc), and we read Christmas picturebooks every evening, building excitement for the Christmas morning celebration of the BEST GIFT EVER!
On Christmas Eve, we go to a special church service and then, after celebrating Christmas with family, we go home and make a fire in the fireplace (in Florida weather!) and make s’mores and hot chocolate and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke.
Then, on Christmas morning, we have a ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ party before opening presents, complete with a birthday cake and candles and singing ‘Happy birthday to Jesus!’
Here are some other resources on making the meaning of Christmas central to your celebrations this year (I’ll be adding more as I find them):
24 Tips for a Safe, Stress-Free & Jolly Holiday… A Very Toddler Christmas
What traditions does your family have to keep Christ in Christmas? Share them in the comment section!