Today it’s turn on the TV, or provide an age-appropriate screen for very young kids so they can entertain themselves while Mommy and Daddy are doing something else. To be clear, I’m glad that option is available. Such is the world we live in, and I’m grateful for multiple ways to connect and communicate. But back when I was a young father, in addition to giving my boys a ride on my back, making animal noises and having them guess what animal it was, playing hide and seek, going outside to play ball, and countless other improvised activities, reading was a regular activity in our home, especially at night before bedtime.
In this article, I would like to share the perspective of a father, grandfather, and pastor-teacher. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have some experience, and hopefully have learned some lessons over these seven decades of living.
Green Eggs and Ham
Dr. Seuss has fallen into disfavor with social elites in recent times, and while there are a few instances of less than ideal racial sensitivity in a few of the books, for the most part, they are just pure fun. “Hop on Pop,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Horton Hatches the Egg,” are great examples of the joy Dr. Seuss could inspire. A favorite in our home was “Green Eggs and Ham.” The storyline is about the grouch who constantly repeats “I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am,” while Sam-I-Am is trying his hardest to get our protagonist to eat them. Finally, Sam-I-Am says, “you do not like them so you say, Try them, try them and you may. Try them and you may, I say.”
As I read this to my boys, I would put feeling into my voice as the unnamed protagonist responded, “Sam, if you will let me be, I will try them, you will see.” Then, as he took his first tentative bite, a pause, a long pause, and (lots of emotion) “Sam, I like green eggs and ham, I do, I like them Sam-I-Am!” Then he proceeds to name all the places he will eat them, and under what circumstances, and concludes enthusiastically, “I do so like green eggs and ham, Thank you, thank you, Sam-I-Am!”
It’s admittedly anecdotal, but I firmly believe that reading to my boys was beneficial. It drew us closer. It gave us more quality time together, focused and uninterrupted. They had dad entirely to themselves. An internet article by Healthline suggests several positive benefits from reading:
- Listening skills: skills kids need in order to learn to read.
- Cognitive and language development: “babies who are read to and talked to score higher in language skills and cognitive development…”
- Expanded vocabulary
- Attention span
These are just some of the benefits. I’m not saying that reading is the only thing a parent can do that will benefit their children, but it is definitely one of the best ways, I think.
Oh, the memories!
Many of Rambling Ever On’s readers are young enough to be my kids or grandkids, and I know that many of you are very conscientious and cutting edge when it comes to ministering to your children. That is great! Keep up the good work. Or, maybe you don’t have it all figured out and you need some advice or help in this area. Here are some suggestions to help you build these precious memories. The Bible, of course, and children’s Bible storybooks. Children’s classics and other good stories. Great non-fiction. Games, picnics and hikes, date nights; all these things can greatly contribute to a child’s development. Here are at least some of the most desirable goals:
- Engage them. Draw them in not only to new worlds but to shared times with Mommy and Daddy. The best example I can point to with my kids would be the time I read The Chronicles of Narnia to them. In fact, I did that twice over a period of years, if I recall. I don’t know which is more enjoyable: reading to your kids when they are small, or when they are young teens. I’ve done both!
- Entertain them. Have fun! There is no limit to creativity: Showing emotion, increasing and decreasing volume, creating different voices, and more. The reading parent really needs to enjoy what he or she is doing, and the kids will usually join in.
- Educate them. Keep in mind that informal learning is effective and long-lasting. Much of what happens in these moments “by the way,” “on the way,” in the routine of life is educational, and as the old saying goes, “some things are better caught than taught.” (Deuteronomy 6 depicts this in a key Scriptural passage.) While reading A Tale of Two Cities I could point out the sacrificial love of Sydney Carton for the sake of those he cared about when they were in grave danger, and compare it to what Jesus did for us. While reading Christy I could share how Christy learned about life, love, and God as a teacher to the mountain people in the Great Smoky Mountains in the novel that bears her name.
- Enlighten. Your presence, your love, and your sharing break into their world. Impact! A joyous moment will have long-term consequences. Yes, there are benefits to reading, as I stated earlier, but sharing time and proximity with your children is invaluable, and reading is one of the best ways to do that with them.
In other words, for all these desirable parent-child encounters to take place, we must be interested, intentional, and involved! Really interested; this isn’t something you can fake for long. Definitely intentional. It may start out as just a pastime, or a way to keep them occupied for a while, but as you improve, your own creative juices will start flowing, and you’ll find yourself getting better at this critical kind of communication with your own dear children. Involved: you have to make time on a regular basis. We couldn’t read every day, but we generally read several days a week, and when I traveled for the Mission, I couldn’t wait to get back from a trip to pick up a story with my sons. Truly one of the greatest times of my life.