The Importance of Reading

As Samuel is beginning to understand the world around him more and more, I have become increasingly aware of what he is consuming. One of the key areas that has been sticking out to me lately is books and stories.

I have been thinking about these things on a long-term scale, not simply questioning what we read to Samuel now, but the broader purpose of teaching literacy to my children. This is an especially interesting topic when the fact that I plan on homeschooling is taken into consideration.

What about the classics? Is something a good book just because it’s a classic? What is the purpose of reading? Do I want to begin with books that lead to the ultimate goal, or settle for anything that will get my children’s noses in books?

When I was little, I LOVED to read. I would consume anything and everything. From my perspective, the longer the book, the better. When I read books, I was in my own world. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I was in the world of the story. I could be mischievous Tom Sawyer without ever getting into trouble, I could have a fairy tale romance, I could be a pioneer girl out on the open prairie, I could work with any animal you could possibly imagine. My world was wide open.

The sad part was I had to return to reality and only dream about these fanciful and, (let’s be real) often unrealistic experiences. Meanwhile, I was missing out on the world around me. I wasn’t getting out and experiencing the things in nature that I read about. I was oblivious to discovering the real world and real people around me.

I wonder if that’s what reading is really all about. Is reading really a way to help me understand the world around me? People, nature, cultures? Is it a way to more deeply discover the richness this life has to offer? Is it a way to better understand God, His people, how I can join Him in His work? Is reading a way to learn and discover what adventures await for real, not just my imagination?

If the answer to those questions is yes, how does that affect the books I chose to read, the books I encourage my children to read and the way I approach reading in homeschool?

What do you think? I mean that honestly. As I wrestle with these ideas I would love to have a discussion. Maybe you’ve thought of things I haven’t, or have a completely different philosophy all together.

Let’s discuss.

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19 thoughts on “The Importance of Reading

  1. Well, I think you should take this one stage at a time. It can seem overwhelming when you’re thinking about what to do in homeschool but really Samuel’s not there yet. Right now it’s about learning objects and words and letters. There’s nothing wrong with that. Micah’s books are not all “bible books.” At night before bed we make sure to read bible stories but during the day before naps or when he feels like looking at books we have various books that we screen first that are appropriate. Right now he just really wants to name objects and learn words and such but we are still very careful that what the books say and the ideas behind it are things we want him to take in. At this age they are building their foundation and learning how to relate to the world around them. As he moves on to a new stage it may be easier to understand how to approach the subject because he’s older, understands more, and already has a good foundation of beliefs. All in all I really agree with what Mary said.

    My philosophy is that reading is like eating (leave it to me to think about food). When you are used to eating junk then eating a salad is just not appealing. I hear so many moms ask and wonder “how did you get micah to eat so well?” Well that’s what he’s used to. The same goes for reading. If you start Samuel off with “good food” he will be used to it. It will be natural for him because it’s what he’s used to reading and it will be interesting to him too. There is no reason to feel he needs to read classics. Most of the classics I think are junk and not really appropriate anyways, not to say they’re horrible but they aren’t necessary and there are way better things to read. Just because someone labels it a classic or all the schools tell you to read them doesn’t mean they are really necessary. You are the mom so you get to decide what is necessary when homeschooling Samuel. Really, these classics are just people’s opinions and perspectives on the world around them and the relationships they’ve had. Isn’t it better to share with Samuel the opinions and perspectives from yourself and other godly people/authors?

    To tell you the truth, I am not sure what Tim and I will decide about Micah’s reading yet. I know I mostly want him to read spiritual/educational/uplifting things but I can not say for sure that they will all be “bible stories” or “mission stories.” But I do know that as we come to that point and are prayerfully considering what is best that God will direct us in the right paths. But, for now ask God to lead you to what is best for Samuel now. And I know that any Bible stories will be SUPER exciting for him because, well the Bible is exciting and he’s not heard all the stories, so why not start there 🙂

  2. I think you’ve gotten alot of valuable info from everyone here but I’ll put in my two cents as well;0) I read tons and tons when I was growing up. My mom was an elementary school teacher at a Christian school and we had a library of books there and I’m sure I read every book in the library and before I was old enough to read, my mom read to me every day. I remember we had a series of biographies and I loved reading all those. I never felt as though I was being limited but I was never given a book to read just because it was a classic either so I’m not sure that was an issue. I know the guidance I had growing up had alot to do with what I was interested in then and now. I read alot but I was very social as well so I think the balance just came naturally for me.

    • That is good to hear. Have you ever found that you didn’t understand the world around you when things reference classics you haven’t read? I only ask because that’s the biggest argument I hear as to why the classics are so important.

      • No, if there was an instance of that, I certainly don’t remember so either way, I was unaffected;0)
        I just read Kim’s reply above and I really like what she said about it, that sums it up really well.

  3. One addition to my comments earlier…I do think it is important to obviously to choose age appropriate materials for kids to read so it is interesting to them at all stages and ages. But all should be pointing in the upward direction 🙂

  4. Personally I think it goes along with “everything in moderation”. Personally I think parents should encourage reading at all costs… any reading ! Read what is exciting… read what is interesting… if a child is interested then they will enjoy reading. I think you (well not you, but anyone) need to encourage the passion for reading and the child’s passion will evolve from there. Personally I know that reading does take up your time but I think it is something that is so valuable to take up that time. Multiple studies show time and time again that when parents are reading to their children and encouraging reading, those children are not only more intelligent, but are also more inquisitive about the world around them. Reading allows children to learn new concepts and ideas and then to ask questions from there.

    You know I am not religious but I am sure that when Samuel starts to ask those questions, you can just bring god and the bible into those discussions as it works into them.

    And I know you said that as a child you weren’t necessarily in the outside world experiencing the things you are reading about. Well the good thing about you wanting to homeschool is that you are able to more easily control the things your child is doing… encourage them to read (in moderation) and then encourage your child to explore the things they are learning about.

    • I agree, reading to and with children is the best way to foster a love of reading. I just know that the topics also show children a picture of what else is important. I do think you are right on too, no matter what we read, there is an element missing without discussion. :). Thanks for your input. I’m picking up some great things from everyone. 🙂

  5. Well, I’ll share with you the conclusions I’ve come to from what I’ve studied into it.
    #1 I definitely think reading is a VERY important thing to get our children interested in – it’s really a skill that has become less and less desirable to children with the age of so much media and electronic entertainment.
    #2 I do think that huge importance rests on the reading material we choose to allow and encourage our children (and ourselves for that matter) to read.
    I know from PERSONAL experience that the more adventurous and thrilling the tale is the harder it is to put it down, then to go from that to studying the Bible or something spiritual…it’s boring! The Spirit of Prophecy in various places speaks out VERY strongly in regards to the types of reading materials we use. Like I see has been mentioned before, the more you become wrapped up in these fanciful worlds, the harder it is to come back to reality, the harder it is to become interested in spiritual things. It in essence NUMBS your mind, and I don’t want to sound too dramatic here, but I really do believe that the devil will use ANY means he possibly can to deaden our sense to receiving spiritual things.
    I think as parents it is critical for us to realize the power we have in forming our children’s characters for eternity and it light of that, and in light of how very little time is left on this earth – what is really important for our kids to be reading.
    I feel we should use every opportunity and avenue possible to be teaching our kids about Christ and His love and all the many character building lessons found in the Bible, our duty as His witnesses, and to be “meditating therein day and night.”
    So my thoughts would be to provide reading materials to my children that would be either Biblical in nature (not christian novels by the way!), or things about animals and nature. If you’ve read Adventist Home or Child Guidance, it says that nature and the Bible are the best places to learn about God and develop characters fit for heaven.
    The ultimate goal in reading should not be pure entertainment which will have no eternal value, but instead should be things that will be fitting our children to become better people in society and fit for eternity!
    As far as for homeschooling I know there are some very good Christian curriculum out there. And having gone to Christians schools growing up, I know you don’t have to read the “classics” to learn all you need to in English, writing, etc. I would definitely say that no, just because books are considered classic definitely doesn’t mean they are fit for us to spend our time reading.
    So that’s is my exhaustive opinion for whatever it’s worth 🙂

    • I resonate with so much of what you are saying. What actually got me thinking about all of this was reading “Education” and looking at various homeschool curriculums. I was shocked at how similar the Christian and secular curriculums really were. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s good to see I’m not alone in my thinking.

  6. Hey Laura!
    I have read every thing I could get my hands on ever since I was a little tyke. Some things I have struggled with are One: allowing reading becoming an idol, taking up time I didn’t have, and Two: I didn’t read much fiction, but became so accustomed to “light” reading material (Little House on the Prairie, for example) that I found it nearly impossible to understand or enjoy deeper things (especially, but not only, the Bible).Even really wonderful books can make us unable to grasp the more important things, the things of God. I read simply for entertainment, and not to learn. I would often read the exciting part of a book, skipping or skimming paragraphs that required thought. I really didn’t learn anything from what I read.Therefore, I think it is very important to discuss what can be learned from a story, to limit reading time, and to alternate light reading material with deeper things.

    God Bless!

    • You make some very good points! I think you are right on about discussing the lessons we can learn from reading. I also think you’re right that when we learn to read only light and exciting things that our desire to encourage reading as a way to build intellect, and knowledge can backfire, causing us to only be interested in things that are not deep, thought provoking or profound.

  7. I’ve read soo much in my childhood, sooo much

    Sometimes the same books over and over again.

    People should read, it lets you live in other worlds for a while, it’s a different experience.

  8. This is definitely an important question and one that’s hard to answer. I had a similar experience to yours as a child: I read tons of books and loved reading! I truly believe that reading so much as a child has helped my vocabulary, spelling, and writing skills in a way that simply teaching those skills never could have. From that standpoint I first answer your question that the most important goal is to get our children reading (anything!). However, from a Christian standpoint there are definitely limits to what our children should be reading, and even “harmless” fiction (as you point out) draws our attention away from what’s real and pulls us into an imaginary world. I’m thinking there has to be a balance. Maybe it’s not a terrible thing to live in a fantasy world some of the time (I know I really enjoyed that as a kid) as long as our children understand that the real world can be even more exciting and rewarding. Their reading should also include the Bible and other biblical/spiritual reading that enhances their spiritual lives, as well as other non-fiction texts. I hope that a large variety of reading will keep Eleanor engaged and interested in reading. It is such an important skill! I’m struggling to answer this question, too, as I also intend to homeschool Eleanor. Personally, I think reading most books enlarges one’s understanding of the world, whether that’s through looking into another culture (different in time, place, or circumstances) or even just exploring someone else’s paradigm of the world. Even fictional stories offer these lessons. I don’t really have a definite answer for you, but just know you’re not alone in trying to decide how to approach reading!

    • I agree that reading does help vocabulary, spelling and writing skills tremendously, but just about any reading would help with those things, so would limiting genre or scope of content hinder that? Surely there is something in real life that would interest a child enough to get them reading about it. Or is that just me being too idealistic?

      I totally get a lot of what you are saying and struggle with some of the same ideas. There is no question that there are some things we need to stay away from. I know Paul gives us a standard to follow in Phillippians 4:8, but sometimes I really struggle with knowing how to apply that. Ultimately I want to do and teach my kids to do what honors God, but sometimes it’s hard to know where the line is drawn between living in the world and living of the world. I want my children to be equipped with what they need to truly have a desire to know and understand God’s world, and more importantly, His children, that they may love them.

      I think the hardest for me is looking at the “classics” from a literary perspective. I’m really struggling with what to do there. It’s not that I want to shelter my kids, it’s that what I do sets in their minds the purpose for reading, the purpose for writing – for literature in general. What do I want to teach them to strive for in life. It’s not about sheltering them or not, it’s about something deeper.

      BTW – I had no idea you intended to homeschool. That’s really cool! When we get to that point if we are both living in the same area, we will have to do some classes, projects, etc. together. 🙂

  9. I think media and book choices are phenomenally important. I spend a lot of time choosing books for our boys, and discuss it quite a bit on my blog. You are welcome to visit if you’d like. 🙂 Our heart is a wellspring, and we are called to guard our hearts. I believe we guard our kids’ hearts until they can guard their own. Books matter because ideas matter. http://thinkingkids.wordpress.com

    • The more I pray and think about it, the more I am realizing how important these choices are. I do believe that as kids grow, it’s important to give them more freedom (as their maturity allows), to make these choices for themselves with the tools they have been given.

      I subscribed to your blog on my phone and I am eager to read your posts as you add them. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I read a lot as a kid. Mostly fantasy stories. Dragons, wizards, etc… And I think there is a certain degree of truth to your concern. I did, to a certain extent, withdraw from the “real” world in favor of the imaginary. Still, reading does develop your mind; it gives you the ability to see logical connections, and helps understand people and emotions. But only to a limited degree. There is no substitute for real life experience. I would say: strive to strike a balance for your kids. Maybe set aside only an hour or two per day for reading?

    There is also another concern; be sure you know what they are reading. You are a christian. Much of the culture is becoming increasingly hostile to your religion. Sexual morals are many times very lax in modern literature and there is no rating system like they have for the movies.

    • I certainly think limiting reading time is important if it becomes too consuming. Like all things, there needs to ba a balance in life. I guess I just wonder, with their being a balance, how to determine the content to fill that time.

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