Read to Them Still While They’re With You: Dispatches from a Dad of Girls

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy. :) Credit: Angie McDonald

This was the night before my PhD interview (2009). Angie told them to act like daddy. 🙂 Credit: Angie McDonald

My wife and I made it a regular practice to read to our girls when they were young. The time spent reading to them before bed time formed sweet memories. Sure, there were nights when we would rather go to bed, and other nights where the last thing we wanted to was to read to them [parents, you know what I’m talking about 😉 ]. But, all in all, I look back on those times with much fondness.

As the girls have grown older and more independent, our practice of reading to them has become more of a rarity. Speaking for myself, I did not see the “need” to read to my girls; my thought has been that they are now old enough to read on their own. They need the practice of learning to work through books, build their comprehension skills, and venture out to discover what kind of literature they enjoy. So, for the last several years, I honestly can’t think of many times when I’ve read to my daughters.

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The Last Sin Eater, by Francine Rivers. Credit: Amazon.com

The past several days have brought a dramatic change to the way I think about reading to my children. My oldest daughter, Maddi, has to read Francine Rivers’ The Last Sin Eater before the new school year begins. She had been trying to read it on her own (she has developed into an avid reader, willingly reading a book while her sisters are watching TV); because I see her reading so much, I just assumed that she was enjoying the book. The other night, however, I realized that the opposite was true – she said that she didn’t want to read the book…at all.

My wife and I began to pepper her with questions, such as “Why don’t you like it?” and “Don’t you know it’s required for school?” Of course, I brought up the obligatory reminder: “We bought that book for you to read! You have to read it!” But nothing we said would deter Maddi from her decision – she was not going to read the book. Then, in a rare moment of lucidness in the face of conflict, a new question came to mind. I asked Maddi if I could read the book with her. I told her that I was interested in the book and that it would be fun to go through it together. Well, my suggestion worked. Maddi would finish the book, only if Angie and I would go through it with her.

That night I began reading to Maddi – the first time in quite a while. And what a joy it was! I’ll be honest – my throat was dry and my voice getting hoarse (middle school books have longer chapters than the kid books!). There was even a point when I felt that Chapter 1 was taking way too long (again, middle school books have longer chapters than kid books). But, as I read through Chapter 1, I stopped periodically to answer her questions or to offer an explanation of a concept. Already, in one night of reading, we were able to discuss the problem of sin and our need of a redeemer. The next night I read Chapter 2 to her – there were not as many questions this time, but again, we were able to discuss some underlying themes of the story (how we can’t remove the sin of stain, for instance). Little did I know going into this “compromise” that our reading time would be an opportunity to discuss Scripture and biblical themes. Further, I did not realize that it would rekindle the joyful practice of reading to my children.

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Our Libby asleep with her favorite blankie and a good book. Credit: Angie McDonald

Where have I been all of this time?! As I type this, I don’t see how I thought that reading to children was only for the toddler years. Rather, it can be something that lasts as they grow older. I’m not trying to say here that if you’re not reading to your older kids, then shame on you. Not at all! Rather, what I am saying is that I have missed out on something that I find my children are still open to. We are always looking for teachable moments – what better way than when reading to our children?

For more on reading to older children, check out this helpful article: The Importance of Reading Aloud to Big Kids  by Melissa Taylor.

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