Priceless and lifelong benefits come from teaching your children to love reading. Why not start with the word of God?
When I was a public-school teacher, one of our goals was to motivate students to read. The district I worked in was not overly concerned with particulars of what the students were reading—just that they were reading something! It could be fiction or non-fiction, new or old, on their grade level or not. The simple act of reading was the stated goal.
Much research backs up this emphasis on reading. Studies have demonstrated that reading strengthens the brain, builds vocabulary, and, in many cases, provides information about a topic (“Benefits of Reading Books: How It Can Positively Affect Your Life,” Healthline.com, accessed May 9, 2022). All of these were goals we had for our students. And despite all of the added responsibilities society has put on teachers in recent decades, reading is still considered one of the basic goals of education, along with writing and arithmetic.
Beyond the academic benefits, studies also indicate that reading improves empathy, reduces stress and depression, and aids in healthy sleep (Healthline.com). “In addition, consider an occasional digital detox for the whole family. Create a screen-free night once a week or commit to unplugging one weekend a month. It could be good for everyone’s physical and emotional health, as well as your family’s relationships” (Amy Morin, “The Harmful Effects of Too Much Screen Time for Kids,” VeryWellFamily.com, September 17, 2020).
The schools I worked for encouraged students to read whenever possible, and made sure they had some time to do so. However, schools cannot always rely on parental involvement. While teachers could advocate for reading during school hours, would parents support those efforts? Thankfully, the answer in my situation was that most parents gave some kind of support by having their children read, in some cases including reading as part of their children’s homework agenda.
However, to give the fullest level of support to their children, parents must be willing and able to be active readers themselves—ideally, reading with their children. It is certainly a step in the right direction to have one’s children reading, but it is a much stronger lesson if the parents are reading too. For many parents, this can seem like a luxury. If mom and dad are both working multiple jobs, they may simply want to use a screen to engage themselves and their children when they get home. Other times, children themselves can have so many activities—swim lessons, baseball, piano, etc.—that having a routine time to read together feels elusive.
Nevertheless, the benefits of reading remain! And parents and children both reap those benefits. While busy schedules and a lack of routine can be real issues, reading is beneficial whenever we can do it. Young children love to have parents (and other adults) read to them, regardless of whether it is a routine or not. If we put a screen in front of their faces, they will engage with the screen, but parents can engage with their children by reading books together.
Older children also benefit from time reading with their parents. Books frequently introduce complicated topics, and it is helpful for parents to be present when the children are reading. They can answer questions in real time, seeing the connections their children make and the concerns they have.
Frequent readers of Tomorrow’s World will recognize that there is an even greater opportunity in reading with our children: We can read the Bible together.
Beyond the academic, social, and emotional benefits, reading the Bible can open the door to spiritual blessings as well! Deuteronomy 6:6–7 tells parents to teach their children God’s word. We read that “these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” One way parents can fulfill this command is to read Scripture to their children.
Younger children are often drawn to the stories of the Bible, and there are numerous children’s storybooks that focus on the lives of the men and women of God. These can be helpful tools to introduce the Bible to young children, as they start learning names like Abraham, Moses, David, Esther, and Paul, among others. However, these storybooks often leave a lot out, and the loose nature of their adaptation can pose a risk of exposing children to unbiblical ideas and imagery.
As parents, we should not be afraid to read appropriate passages of the actual Bible to even our young children! Simply aiming to read a chapter or two with our children each night can introduce them to the entire Bible over time. Of course, they will not understand everything we read to them, but they’re still getting an introduction to the true word of God. They also start to recall stories, even if imperfectly—their undeveloped minds might not remember who survived a night in the lion’s den, but they know someone did!
The Bible often introduces complicated topics and people. As new readers, kids will ask numerous questions about details of the Bible that older readers may have come to take for granted. Sometimes the questions are simple: Where is Megiddo? Who is Boaz? What is a concubine? Those questions might take some time to answer, but they generally have straightforward explanations. We can also provide another good example to our children when we look up information that we do not know or have forgotten.
Furthermore, our children also may cut to deeper issues anytime they start a question with the word “why.” Why did God do this? Why did He allow that? Why will this happen in prophecy? Such questions can lead to deeper understanding of the Scriptures—more so than just word definitions or geographical facts. The deeper questions let parents describe to their children how God works, why He does things, and how we should respond when we do not understand why events took (or take) place the way they did (or do).
Isaiah 55:8–9 reminds parents that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours that we do not understand them all the time. Nevertheless, He has given us the Bible to help us gain understanding—and we can share that understanding with our children.
Researchers have shown that reading brings numerous benefits to both children and adults who take advantage of the opportunity to read. Parents who want their children to have good vocabularies, feel less anxiety, and sleep more soundly would do well to put a book, instead of a screen, in front of their children. Thankfully, God has given parents a book that provides even more advantages than these: When we read the Bible with our children, we also teach them to feel at home in the Scriptures and to build their budding relationship with their heavenly Father.