The Importance of Reading to Children

From January to March, I tutored a handful of middle school boys in an after school program aimed to teach reading strategies. I learned two things:
  1. I'm not a natural teacher, and
  2. If there is a lack of motivation, all the strategies will be futile.
Now, most of these boys were pretty sharp. Towards the end of the program, I would bring word games like Scrabble and Quiddler, and they enjoyed the challenge of finding good words. But these 6th graders (and one 7th grader) struggled with reading out loud, and their ability to comprehend what they read.

The Read-Aloud Handbook

Earlier this year, I finished reading a book that a friend bought me, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease). The main premise of the book is that reading aloud to children (starting at infancy, and continuing through the teenage years) is crucial to their learning and success. The book is full of examples, research, and resources that I found helpful, and that I think you will, too.

While I enjoyed the book, two things bothered me as I read it:
  1. The author reiterates his main principle ("Read to your children.") over and over and over and . . . . Every chapter is a variation on this same theme. But to his credit, I appreciate him sticking to the main point, and his thorough research supported his premise.
  2. His thesis came across as a "formula with a promise" -- that if you do A (read to your children every day), then you will get B (happy, smart children). I fear that parents might read this book and put their hope in a process, instead of the Person of Jesus Christ. Also, what does it mean if you do this and your child does not love reading or do well in school? Is that a cause to lose hope or get discouraged?
Nonetheless, Trelease's research and examples should encourage us to read to our children, and to encourage other parents to do the same. Instructing other parents of these principles is especially important if you are engaging a culture where education is not generally valued and encouraged.

Personal Lessons Learned

Some of the main principles that I gleaned from this book include:
  1. Adults need to set an example.
  2. Quantity over quality.
  3. Screen time is a detriment.
  4. Teach children to focus.


Example Set by Adults

During our summer camp, we had a 30-minute "book club" every day. One change we made this year was requiring that all adults leaders must also read, not use that time to get ready for the next activity (as I wrote about here). And when we had teenager leaders and out of town guests, they had to grab a book and read as well.

Children need to see that we learn by reading. If a teacher (or parent) doesn't have a love for reading, it will be nearly impossible to pass that on to the child.

Quantity over Quality

I was surprised that the author had a general promotion of comic books and other "mindless" literature. I would have imagined that he would heavily favor non-fiction books, and a select few series books.

But there are some advantages of encouraging the quantity (versus quality) of reading, especially for children in elementary school. First, we adults read for pleasure, so why shouldn't our children do the same? Comic books, children's magazines, and similar literature encourages a child to take pleasure in reading. Connecting pleasure and reading is especially important for young boys. Over 200 years ago, author Samuel Johnson penned,

"I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning. . . . I would let him at first read any English book which happens to engage his attention. . . . He'll get better books afterwards."

Second, comic books provide an advantage in that they require the child to decipher the sequence of events. This skill is important in reading comprehension, social studies, problem-solving, science, etc. (Note: Trelease does not encourage a steady diet of comic books, but for this genre to be used as a primer for deeper reading.)

We killed two birds (not literally) during our summer camp by buying two copies of The Action Bible. This Bible-storybook in graphic novel format is attractive to boys, and was read every day. Plus, while we couldn't teach the Bible in our camp, we could make these books available for children to read during our Book Club, so they could learn about the Bible.

Third, reading a variety of literature increases the breadth of knowledge and experience. As this knowledge bank gets larger, he or she will be able to make connections as he continues to read and learn.

More to Come

I discuss the next two points (screen time and focusing), on my Mission: Allendale blog, since I've seen those issues as front and center in the community that we are living in.

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Sender Is Beautiful

The quality is not great, but you still have to smile at this one.

We think it's funny how much our kids have picked up on pop culture in the last couple of years.

Or maybe this song should be credited to (or blamed on?) our summer intern, Anna Marshall.

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What Brings You Joy in Parenting?

A few weeks ago, we heard a sermon on 3 John. Although verse 4 mentions the word "children," this passage is not written in the context of parenting.

Still, the pastor reminded us about our mindset and attitude in parenting. Here is the verse:

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."

What do your kids do that bring you the greatest joy? Is it . . .
  • their athletic accomplishments?
  • when they earn academic accolades or scholarships?
  • when they leave you alone to get some peace and quiet?

All of these things are not inherently bad or wrong. But these should not be what brings us the greatest joy, or even a disproportionately large amount of joy.

What should bring us the greatest amount of joy in our parenting? When our children are walking in the truth.

What does "walking in the truth" look like?
  • A love for God and God's word.
  • Having a heart that honors and trusts in authority.
  • Loving others more than himself.
  • Humility and integrity.
  • etc.
Check out this video from the Verge Network about discipling the next generation...

Let us pray ...
  • For our children, that they would walk in the truth. 
  • For ourselves, that we not seek joy and satisfaction in the wrong sources.
  • That our children would exceed our dreams, and follow God's.

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**image courtesy of worobad via flickr

When Is It OK to Manipulate Our Kids?

My children like kids' meals (though we usually skimp and piece a meal together). Can you blame them? It has a toy! As if they don't have enough...

But I was intrigued by a recent study that indicated that children can be influenced to make healthier food choices, by marketing it with fictional superheroes.

So, here's my question: Is it right or wrong to manipulate our kids like this? Shouldn't we be giving them more direction, instead of subtle manipulation?

On the other hand, maybe this is a good way to counter all the marketing that our children see, that show that all kinds of unhealthy stuff is "cool." (Ever notice that your preschooler can recognize the symbols for Coke, McDonald's, Chick-fil-A, and Target, even before he can read?)

Or maybe the answer is age-dependent -- that at younger ages children need more direction, while older ones need more influence.

(And even if we do "manipulate," we still need to couple that with teaching self-control. A preschooler who can delay gratification tends to have a lower body mass index (BMI) as an adult.)

What are your thoughts?

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**image from the Cornell article linked above

Righteousness and Sin

Are your kids good?

I mean, I know that they're not perfect, and you wouldn't say that (and hopefully they wouldn't either). After all, we all know that all have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).

But let's be honest. You've compared. I sure have. And I know my kids have.

It's easy to think, "I'm glad my kids aren't acting like that." It's easy for my kids (taking hints from comments they've heard from us) to say, "So-and-so acts so crazy!"

It's easy to get self-righteous.

And we do the same with other adults, passing verdicts like we are Judge Wapner. Whether they've had a minor struggle, or they've been caught in a deep and far-reaching sin, we wonder, "How could they do that?"

But when we look at others and their sin, we need to remember that we are much more like them than we are like Jesus.

Our kids are much more like the tantrum-throwing brats sitting three tables over at Chili's, than they are like Jesus. Our kids are much more like the foul-mouthed, angry kids at camp, than Jesus.

And we're closer to that person at church who doesn't serve, tithe, or join a community group, than we are to Jesus. We're closer to Wall Street crooks, or deadbeat dads, or neglectful moms, than our Lord.
"Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Romans 12:3
The only righteousness that matters is that which we receive through faith in Jesus. It's not about how good we are, but how perfect Jesus is.

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**image courtesy of mckenna71 via

Interviewing My Kids

Helping you know Hannah (who turns 11 next month), Elijah (age 8), and Sender (age 5).

Favorite Holiday Memory:
  • Hannah:  Christmas when we see everyone in our family
  • Elijah:  Last Christmas, because we saw all our grandparents
  • Sender: Winter

Dream Vacation Spot:
  • Hannah:  Hawaii Disney Resort
  • Elijah:  Rome
  • Sender:  Atlantis

Favorite Animal:
  • Hannah:  Crab
  • Elijah:  Penguin
  • Sender:  Saber-toothed tiger

Best Memory of a Family Event:
  • Hannah:  Disney World when I was 8
  • Elijah:  Going to the beach with all Mommy's family
  • Sender:  Disney World

Best Summer Memory (this year):
  • Hannah:  Anna Marshall being here [look for a follow up post next week]
  • Elijah:  Meeting lots of new people, especially at summer camp
  • Sender:  cook-out and party in Savannah (with a water trampoline, kayaking, etc)

Most Cherished Possession:
  • Hannah:  American Girls [remember this?]
  • Elijah:  Money in my wallet
  • Sender: My spy book

Hopes for the Future:
  • Hannah:  Hovercrafts
  • Elijah:  To marry and have kids
  • Sender:  Have a shrink-ray

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Wins, Losses, Sports, and the Gospel

"Probably the worst thing that could have happened to you was going 15-0 during your senior year."

I'll never forget when he told me that. I was talking to a guy when I was going through a period of depression. After debriefing him on some of my background, he picked my brain apart a little, in a gentle way, of course. And then he spoke words that I had never thought of, but needed to hear.

Yes, we went undefeated my senior year of high school football. And since we capped the previous season with 11 straight wins, we won the last 26 games in a row of my high school career. Two region and state championships. Individual honors. Yada, yada, yada.

How was this "the worst thing"? Is it bad to be successful? No, not in itself. But from that point on, he helped me see, all that I do is compared to that perfection.

I'm an internally competitive person, not really externally competitive. I want to win not to beat you, but to prove to myself that I'm better. And when (or if?) you beat me, I don't think, "Wow. He beat me." I think, "I can't believe I let him beat me." It's all about me. Just another way that my pride manifests itself.

Does you child play sports? I know you want to help him or her display Christ-like character. You can read this post from Family Matters on the Top 10 Ways to Be a Great Teammate. This article gives great tips for your child. But we can't stop there.

When we have a list that includes "work hard," "show love," and "pray for others," I wonder where the Gospel fits in. Sure, godly character and behaviors are important, but they must not be our primary focus.

We need to remember our identity. What we do matters, but only as it flows out from who we are. Because whether we win or lose, we must remember that God never intended our value or self-worth to rest upon our performances.

Our value, and our satisfaction, must always be founded in that fact that we have been created in God's image, and that He purposed to redeem us (with all our flaws) by sending His Son to die for us. It's not about my victory (or loss) on the field of play, but about Jesus' victory over sin and death.

I'll take that over my "perfect season" any day.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:2
"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."  II Corinthians 3:18

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Spanking Causes Mental Illness? No.

"Do you beat your kids?"

We get this question regularly, and always from other children. I'm not sure why it ever comes up, but we do take time to answer.

"No, we don't beat our children. But we have spanked them. And we believe that it is never to be done in anger, and only for certain things they do wrong, like when they outright disobey our instructions."

That usually satisfies the curiosity, but sometimes -- to our dismay -- we get follow up questions like, "How often do you beat them?" Groan.

As I've said before, it can be dangerous to either spank or not spank children. But many in the culture and media say otherwise, that spanking is ineffective at best, and can even cause mental illness.

For the most part, those who do spank think it's a good idea, and those who don't spank think it's a bad idea. Therefore, the debate is typically a process of butting (no pun intended) hard heads. Which is why this op-ed by Melina Moyer is a refreshingly balanced perspective.

She realized that despite the attention-grabbing headline, spanking does not cause mental illness. What did the research conclude? "That adults who have mental problems are more likely to say they were pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped, or hit by their parents than healthy adults are." Nothing to do with spanking at all, and no cause-effect relationship was inferred.

Additional research by so-called "conclusive" articles show that studies often lump spanking into the same category as slapping and kicking. And studies that show negative effects of spanking fail to factor in situations where parents have poor parenting skills in general.

In all, Moyer concludes that spanking may be effective in certain situations, while it can also be a "gateway" to further abusive behavior. And I totally agree with this. Spanking (and any form of treatment) done in anger and outside the context of loving conversation is very dangerous.

This conclusion is hardly such a definitive problem as many in the culture make it out to be.

**image courtesy of Rotorhead

Boyhood Sports Heroes

Before the "championship game" of my son's T-ball season, the recreation director asked me some questions about him, so they can have information for the announcers. When she asked who Sender's favorite athlete is, I said, "His Dad, of course."

I'm not sure what a 5 year old would say, but when I was a little older than him, I had a couple of favorite football players. Since I'm at football camp this week with the Allendale-Fairfax High School team, I figured it's an opportune time to show some videos of my sports heroes.

Barry Sanders. Impossible to tackle, and incredibly humble man.

Bo Jackson. All-around athlete, fast and strong. Freak injury shortened his football career.


Who were you childhood sports hero or heroes?