One activity that I find so important in nurturing a love of reading in my children is reading aloud to them. I admit, we are not as constant in this area as I wish we were. We vacillate between voraciously consuming books together to the opposite extreme of not reading aloud for several weeks. Whenever we do it though we are reminded of how much we love it and how much the children enjoy it, as well as how strongly it effects their play and the breadth of their imaginations.
I will never forget the time when we had been reading an abridged version of the classic, Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. One evening while I was cooking dinner I overheard my then 5 year old and 3 year old playing. They were arguing over which one of them was going to be Alan Breck and which would be Davie Balfour. They’ve done this with just about every piece of classic children’s literature we’ve read to them (or they’ve read themselves) from The House at Pooh Corner to Gulliver’s Travels to The Chronicles of Narnia. This kind of wonderful integration of literature into playtime impresses these stories into not only their minds but their memories of childhood itself, which as we know, are more resilient memories than any forced reading and quizzing could ever be. Don’t get me wrong, they still play Star Wars and legos and all manner of other kinds of play, but there is always something inspiring about hearing them integrate the stories they’ve heard and let themselves imagine themselves a part of, into their play.
We have been in an off mode lately though with regards to reading aloud. Yesterday I felt the fire of neglect smoldering under me and I decided that we needed a new classic to read to the kids. We settled on the very exciting Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. We went to the book store and made our purchase. The Pastor began reading the first chapter right away and as you can see, the boys were immediately rapt.
I think there is a mistaken concept out there that children must understand every theme and every ramification of every theme before they can enjoy listening to or reading classic literature. I do not believe this. I think that the earlier we start them on these stories the more their fascination will grow, even as their understanding and ability to reason ripens with age.
I’m not saying to pull out Crime and Punishment or Native Son and set everyone down for a nice family evening by the fire, but be bold… pick up a piece of classic literature and watch your child’s imagination grow.