Why do we teach our children to read? So that they can read Scripture! Secondarily, they are then able to participate more fully in Sunday morning worship in general. And, of course, reading opens multiple doors to further education, to better understanding of theology and ideas/philosophy, and offers immense enjoyment.
Are you teaching your children to read? Diligently? This is a time-consuming task, I’ll be the first to admit–I’m working with three new readers simultaneously.
“But I’m not homeschooling my children,” you might say. “Their teachers are teaching them.” (I’m not full-time homeschooling, either.)
I’ve got news for you: it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your children learn how to read–and to encourage them to read the Word. Even if they’re in school all day, there are still multiple opportunities at home in which you can reinforce what they’re learning in school and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate and use their new skills.
I want to encourage anyone reading this to take heart! Teaching reading is not hard. Anyone can do it with a little patience. The ideas below are ways my family has worked on reading in “real time” and with real outside commitments (school, church, etc.). I have twin boys who will be 5 in a couple of weeks–one is reading fairly proficiently (can read a Henry and Mudge type book), the other is just beginning (he can read Green Eggs and Ham). I have a 6.5-year old daughter, and she is reading quite proficiently (can read an early chapter book). I’m not telling this to you to brag–merely to point out that I have a young crew, and that the ideas below work well with these ages.
Here’s how we encourage and reinforce reading (these can be done with any age/level)
- Lists for tasks/chores: when kids start reading, they love to read a to do list. For early readers, I draw (very primitive) accompanying pictures of my directions. I read the list out loud once, and then… walk away. I fully expect them to check the list for reminders of what to do.
- Expect them to follow along in the church bulletin (including all responsive readings–I run my finger along the line we’re reading; they won’t be able to read that fast, but they will see what we are doing, know that they are expected to participate, and will start recognizing words).
- Expect them follow along in the hymnal/singing (again, I run my finger under the line we’re singing; it’s amazing how quickly they start to sing! And what joy THAT is to start learning great hymns of the faith and how to “read” a hymnal from an early age.) If you are part of a church which projects its song/hymn lyrics up on a screen, ask for a printout (or link to print one yourself) before worship–it’s very hard for new readers to follow words that far away up on a screen….There may also be large print editions of bulletins/song lyrics for the older members of your congregation; these work well for new readers, too.
- Expect them to follow along when the pastor reads Scripture (or when we read at home).
- Get them their own “real” Bible! As soon as our children are reading somewhat proficiently, we bump them up from the story Bible to a real Bible. We still read from the story Bibles, too, but for their own personal Bible, we want to show them that they CAN read at least some of it (and should)! There are some great children’s Bibles out there with helpful maps/charts/indices/lists in them that a child as young as 5 or 6 can begin to read and make use of, but for which they won’t get “too old” anytime soon. Perhaps this would be a good Easter “present” this year if you think your child is ready.
- Each child reads a story out loud every day to my husband or me–this will take a full 30-45 minutes for all three of them to read me something. It’s slow going in the early phases, but they start to speed up quickly.
- Alternate pages in reading: this works very well since it’s hard work to read in the early stages. For early chapter books, my daughter reads one page and then I read the next. For longer beginning readers (Dr. Seuss books can be quite long), the boys alternate between pages.
- We still read to them! Longer and longer books in chapter-size chunks, and/or we listen to audio books in the car. Someone commented that my daughter reads with good expression; I think it’s because she’s heard stories being read all her life–and sometimes by excellent narrators in the car!
- Affirm “real world” reading–“Yes! That sign says ‘Stop.'” Ask, “what are the ingredients in that juice box?” (a great way to counter the “it’s got fruit in it, Mom!”). Let them help you cook. Ask for everyone to keep an eye out for a certain street sign. This helps them see that reading is needed all the time!!
- Keep a good supply of books on hand that they can read–or read parts of. Your local library most likely has an entire section devoted to early readers. It’s okay (and even beneficial) for them to read the same books over and over. Bring home a stack every week and take them with you if you’re going to have to wait somewhere (hair dresser, oil change, doctor’s office,…). Let them read during a quiet rest time in the afternoon.