Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Lost Art of Reading

Taken from my guest post @
I love to read a good book. I love to skim multiple books at a time. In fact, there has not been a time when I didn’t have numerous books in a scattered pile next to my bed, with bookmarks sticking out and highlighters clipped to the covers. I read everything from theological journal articles to blog posts from moms to the latest statistics from news outlets.

Many people will generically say, “I really don’t enjoy reading, it’s just not my thing.” While it is certainly true that there can be many factors (of which we won’t have time or space to address here) affecting whether or not a person naturally likes to read, it remains a learned practice to one degree or another. Personality, giftedness, and learning disabilities certainly play a role in the development of a child’s reading abilities and habits. However, what we want to address here is the why and how the discipline of reading serve as a critical part of your child’s character development.

Most parents want their children to be good readers. This article is not mean to serve as an academic expose on the various technical approaches. But, it will provide some practical points about the reasons children miss out on the discipline of reading, why they ought to cultivate good reading habits, and how we can help them. Let me first propose why reading is no longer a natural development in the lives of young children.

Fast-paced society
Everything moves fast today. If the microwave takes longer than sixty seconds to reheat something, we are annoyed. So sitting down to read a book for thirty minutes feels like torture!

Driven by technology
Gaming systems, Instagram and Facebook accounts, TV, iPhones for 3rd graders…there is no end to the distractions facing children today. Forget reading, that’s boring!

Extracurricular activities
Children are carted from one sporting event to the next, taking gymnastics and music lessons, going to craft camps, after-school tutoring. Of course many of these activities provide helpful and needed stimulation. But let’s face it – fifty years ago (really even twenty years ago!) children did not have near the options they do now. It’s like going to the grocery store, seeing over a dozen cereal options when you just need one for sustenance. Reading? Isn’t that just something we do in school?

Disconnected families
Because of the hectic schedules in our families, the resulting lack of conversation and gathering around the table, leaves little time for connecting, much less reading. By the time we all get home, we are exhausted and irritable – it’s time to veg out.

Now let’s consider the affects of neglecting the discipline of reading in a child’s life.

Not a thinker
He will rely primarily on what he is told for knowledge, instead of being able to apply a biblical worldview through the discipline of reading, leading to determinations about how he will live. He will hear a sermon, a lecture at school, or a conference session, and have few insights about how to interpret the information being thrust at him. More than that, he will have little motivation to go home and dig deeper to test the accuracy of what he heard.

Poor writing ability
Good readers make good writers. As a former teacher, I can accurately say that I am greatly concerned about the many students heading to college who cannot formulate a well-structured sentence and have no idea how to do research without Wikipedia.

Easily swayed by popular opinion or peer pressure
Lacking solid examples of character found in the great stories of early missionaries, war heroes, and the like, young people today lack the understanding of what it means to stand for something.
Whew! In light of all this “bad news,” how do we help our children cultivate a love for reading?

Make it a family event
My mother took time each night to read with my sister and I. Now, I have watched my sister do the same with her two children, and reading has quickly become one of their favorite activities. They cannot imagine going through an entire day without reading at some point. On a practical note, I think it’s important to introduce children to books other than only a Bible storybook, even at a young age. This teaches them about the varied types of books and allows you to help them apply biblical principles within other stories as an additional teaching method.

This is a challenging discipline, because most mothers end their evenings exhausted from a day filled with cleaning, disciplining, preparing dinner, running errands – the goal is typically to get the children to bed so that you can still have a few minutes prepping lunches for tomorrow and decompressing with a bath or quiet time. But, I promise you – your children will look back on it as a fond memory and a meaningful time spent together – I certainly do!

Demonstrate the value of it
Being able to properly analyze the content of what we read allows us to identify something as simple as the difference between a review and a critique. As you read scripture, or other books with your children, have them write a brief summary of the material, followed by a paragraph critiquing it. If they aren’t old enough to write well yet, ask them leading questions and have a brief conversation.

I remember reading a story to my niece on her front porch last year, and I would stop periodically throughout the story, asking things like, “Did that little girl in the story make a good decision?” followed by “Why?” or “Why not?” As we talked she was able to identify biblical truths that applied to the circumstances in the story. Even better, a day or two later when my niece was heading toward a misbehavior situation, I reminded her of the girl in the story and she was able to recall how that might apply to her current dilemma. Use your family reading choices to help train your children in biblical living.

Regard it as a biblical discipline
The proverbs are replete with instruction for wisdom. And that wisdom is gained by reading, studying and meditating on the word of God. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, parents are advised to pass on this wisdom to their offspring:

 “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

One of the best ways we learn is by reading and repeating. So if you desire for your children to know and love scripture, and be able to apply it to all of life, they must grow up in an atmosphere where reading is practiced regularly. Read with them, read to them, and ask them to retell the story to you.

Reading may not always be fun, and the more we neglect it as a regular discipline, the less fun it will be. But it can be eternally rewarding, leading a child to a redemptive understanding of God. Children ought to view reading as a normal part of their daily lives. There are many more considerations and resources we could pursue, but for now, go home and start reading with your kiddos!

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