28 October 2005

Family Reading

When our family decided to take the plunge, pull our oldest daughter out of kindergarten and become homeschooling pioneers in our own rite, we only knew two homeschooling families. These two families were very different in their homeschooling lifestyles - and yet on one thing they were in passionate agreement: a well-rounded education involves reading, reading and more reading - but most importantly sharing good books as a family. Having grown up in a family that never read together at all, this was quite a foreign concept. I am sure that my parents read story books to me when I was quite small, and then passed the torch when I was able to read for myself at the tender age of 4. If I had never met these two women, who shared their contagious joy of family reading, I would have missed out on one of the best experiences I could have ever shared with my children.

When we plunged into the homeschooling world, there were two other families that were jumping in with us, and so we started a little "support group". Mostly we got together and asked lots and lots and lots of questions to these veteran moms. Often the questions about registering with the school board and how to test, when to test, what curriculum to use, how to pull it all off on a shoestring, etc. left me feeling confused and frustrated. It seemed like another life task to be overwhelmed by - until my friend said very simply to me, "You'll never do wrong by your kids if you spend time reading with them. Just read." This simple sentiment was not lost on me, and I quickly discovered the joy of reading aloud to my family. One way to implement this activity was that our small group began to have book discussions. I will never forget the first book they decided to introduce us to was Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson. Then we got together for a fun afternoon of snacks and book discussion. The kids were all very small at the time. Now before I incite a fury, and onslaught of hate mail - I don't like reading books about animals. And yet, there was such a benefit, a connectedness, a treasured time spent together of snuggling up with my kids and sharing these stories. Our second book The Little House on the Prairie was right up my alley - and we devoured that one very quickly. One of the best book discussions we ever had was on The Giver by Lois Lowry about a Utopian society and the pitfalls perfection can create. Awesome.

What I want to convey in this post is that reading is in and of itself a definite pleasure. I wish I made more time for it personally. There is a quiet joy in meeting new friends, sharing their lives, and understanding more about yourself in the process of the slowly unfolding stories a good book shares. But better than that, when in our frenzied, hurried, busy lives, we take time to just sit quietly, snuggled up on the sofa or with pillows piled all around us on mommy and daddy's bed, and share stories together, you create family memories that last a lifetime. To be able to talk about books you've shared together is one of the best connections you can make with your children. Over the years our family has read missionary biographies - one of our favorite was Torches of Joy, and we like the "Heroes then and Now" Series by Geoff and Janet Benge. We have read stories that brought us closer to World War I like House of Sixty Fathers. We have listened to many books on tape, such as the one we heard in its entirety played on our long trip to the Outer Banks in NC - we had two teenage friends in the car with us, and all five children were spellbound - nobody talked, nobody slept - everybody listened the whole way, called "Z" is for Zachariah - a story about the end of the world. Another great book that stands out is Homesick by Jean Fritz, a famous author who shares her stories of growing up as a young girl in China. Her descriptive writing about the culture, the people, long voyages in boats, and riding in a rickshaw will make you feel as if you are really there.

What I want to know is, do you read with your family? Do you share good books together? Do you desire to develop reading comprehension, listening skills, communication ability, attention span, etc. in your children? Reading aloud to them is an awesome way to work on each of these skills. But aside from all that, do it for the intense pleasure it will bring to you and your children. Pick a good book and start today! No child is too young, nor too old. I have an 8 year old who has been listening to chapter books along with his sisters since he was a baby and I still read to my teenagers. We are currently reading a missionary biography about George Muller during our family devotional time, and daddy is even enjoying that one. Let me pass on the best, simplest piece of advice my friend ever gave me about homeschooling with you- Just Read!

If you are interested in doing this with your family, please feel free to email me for ideas, or encouragement. You will also find the best resources in a series of books called Honey for a Child's Heart, Honey for a Teens Heart, and Honey for a Woman's Heart by Gladys Hunt. The names of her books were inspired by this verse: Pleasant words are a honeycomb; Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24 It is my hope that you will share good books with your family and sweeten your life!

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