In a former life — about the time that I met the girl who would become my wife — I took a college class called “Christian Education of Children.” There are several foundational things which I remember from that class — things which molded and shaped my work, my teaching, my interactions with other people, and of course my parenting.
One of the books which we read for the class was Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt. As I was thinking about writing this post, curiosity overcame me and I checked Amazon to see if this classic little book was still in print. I guess I should not have been surprised to find that it is not only still available, but is in its fourth revision!
The book presents a philosophy about the importance of reading to a child, and presents a suggested list of books for each stage of a child’s growth.
Some of the best times that I remember as a dad cluster around that hour before bed-time. When the kids were very young — even before they could talk — we would sit on the bed together and read a book. Bedtime reading was a highlight of our day!
The earliest books were wordless. The pictures were large and bright, and we talked to the kids about shapes and colors and animals and people. We talked about the farm and the airplane and the car and the fire truck. Simple concepts, but the habit was formed and we had years to go.
Soon we graduated to Dr. Seuss and his fantasy universe of Cats and Things and Green Eggs and Ham. I do believe that my wife can STILL recite the entire book about hair (“Hair, hair it’s everywhere. Some have a little. Some have a lot. Long hair, short hair, polka dots …”). I confess to being bothered at times with the chore of it all. There was some good TV on around 7:30. But it was a small sacrifice in the larger scheme of things, and bedtime reading did get more interesting and stimulating as the kids grew older and the subject matter more diverse.
There were myriads of other children’s books and my wife was a weekly visitor to our public library. How exciting it was to notice when the kids were following along while we read and began to associate those black marks on the pages with the words we were speaking.
Eventually our bedtime stories moved on to more complicated fare. We tried to stay ahead of the children’s development, looking for children’s books above their own abilities. Jeremy and I worked our way through a couple of the big National Geographic coffee table books. As I recall, one was all about America and another was all about boats and the sea. These had lots of words, but also had many colorful photographs, and we generally would do a chapter each night. I believe these stimulated his interest and enthusiasm for road trips, a shared passion which we still enjoy.
Other favorites included The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein. These classics both stimulated a love for fantasy and presented many object lessons on faith and life.
If you do not consider yourself a strong reader, then get past your embarrassment and start anyway. Reading bedtime stories from children’s books aloud to your child will improve your reading skills and abilities and broaden your own horizons. Your son or daughter will not judge you and you can count on it that you read better than they do. By the time they are two, you will find it an easy and enjoyable family time, and it will pay great dividends in your self-confidence, and in their academic careers. If your children love reading, it is hard to imagine that they won’t do their best in school!