Books! Our family can’t get enough of them. We have bookcases in almost every room of our house. Books are stacked on coffee tables, sitting in baskets waiting to go back to the library, they are under beds, piled on nightstands, and in some cases scattered on the floor. We read them, write in them, argue over them, and love them. I think it is safe to say the whole family are bookaholics. Books are on every gift list the kids make up. They are carried in the car for the random free moment, and they are left at various and sundry friends and relatives houses. We have multiple copies of many of our favorites ranging from paperbacks to beautifully bound and matching editions…a few favorites have even been purchased in Latin. Tim, who was an English major in college, has brought home new authors and titles to add to our list of must haves. Joseph has decided to write his own book…Levi once informed us that he could live on an island and not be bored because there are a lot of good books out there he hasn’t gotten to yet.
Not everyone is going to have quite the love affair/obsession with books that we have, but getting your kids addicted to books sure makes education easier. For Steve and I, a love of reading and education was a value we shared and care about deeply, so of course, we wished to pass that on to our boys. We have gone out of our way to make reading enjoyable for them. As babies and toddlers a regular part of their day was cuddled on our bed or a couch with a pile of picture books. I had them in the car and the diaper bag. Often we just looked and laughed at the pictures, and discussed the stories. A two year old probably doesn’t care much about what the print says, but he does care about sitting cuddled with mom and having her undivided attention while they ‘discuss’ the pictures. A four year old has long involved opinions and ideas to share and discussing a book provides them with a great outlet for their need for conversation. Teenagers are coming to terms with who they are and what their values are and books provide another way to explore the world around them.
To get the most out of the time you spend reading with your child, to move your child toward a lifetime habit of learning you need to do more than read to them, you also need to listen. Guard against letting this time become nothing more than a chore to be checked off of your list.
Instead when you sit down to read with your child plan on having a block of time and put everything else aside for that half hour. Forget the dishes, the unmade beds and really be with your child. Don’t hurry, you don’t have to finish that chapter tonight. Take time to laugh, to share, to wonder about a character, to really listen. Don’t hurry them, or cut them off, but listen.
In moments like these you can get glimpses inside of your child’s heart. These times of conversation are not just precious to you, they mean a lot to your child. In the hustle and bustle of life sometimes it is easy to see to our children’s physical needs, but we get moving so fast we stop seeing them as real people with a real need to connect with us and have meaningful relationship. We stop really listening. Your child has an active mind that is working on figuring out how the world works, how relationships work, how to get their way and make people like them. They are watching you and their friends and coming to conclusions about life. Listening and finding ways of keeping those lines of communication open is key to helping your child grow up.
Stories are about other people so it is safe for your child to explore how the world and relationships work. Books are an invitation to walk in another’s shoes for a bit and see life from a new perspective. It is impossible to overstate what an advantage this can be to the parent who is paying attention.
While books provide a safe distance to examine negative behaviors, stories also provide wonderful hero’s and role models. Lecturing on the importance of integrity, selflessness, and compassion may have it’s place, but being swept into a thrilling story is a far more powerful way to demonstrate to our children the need for these qualities. Each of us naturally wants to identify with the ‘good guy’, to think we would have the strength of character to make the hard decisions and sacrifices that save the day…books are a powerful tool in the hand of the wise parent.
So, read, read, read. Read books yourself, scatter them about your house, and read them with your children. Discuss your favorite moments, argue over characters motives, and learn from characters mistakes. As you’ve probably surmised, I can’t say enough about books…so I will end with one of my favorite quotes.
“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds, alive on the shelves.” Gilbert Highet