It's Story Time
A hush falls across the room as I begin to speak. The sweet faces of three little children turn towards my voice in rapt attention as the rhythmic patterns of a beautifully written, spiritually and imaginatively stirring children’s tale begin to fill the room. Warm memories are made as we snuggle together in bed and are invited to rest by cozy lamp lighting and the soft presence of love and acceptance.
It’s story time.
Well, it’s more like the story time of my dreams!
Real time story time looks more like this-
Everyone knows it’s story time. Everyone also knows that story time leads up to either nap time or bed time. It’s the great divide of excitement and dread. Is story time worth bedtime?
So, from the vantage point of bed time, my home has transformed into a game of leap frog. My toddler and my 1 year old are grasping for as much of their waking time as they can get, jumping across toys, across furniture, and yes, across each other! My baby army crawls towards the nearest valuable or potentially hazardous object in sight (I’ve lost many a book page to his excessively slobbery mouth…). And Daddy is usually multitasking the after dinner clean up duty and helping me. After they have finally resigned themselves to the fate of bedtime and have been washed, brushed, changed and hugged, I tell them to pick one book each. I get the baby in his crib and walk across an apartment decorated with the days clothes, toys, and sometimes food to discover every children’s book we own toppled across the bed.
Now we have to choose a few and put the rest away. Some nights it’s not so bad! Other nights, it’s like pulling teeth. A lot of teeth. Maybe every tooth. Depending on how long the whole bed time wrangling process took- we may end up picking five or six books. Or we may end up picking just one book that I pick out myself.
When we have our books, we snuggle up in bed and begin reading. For the first 2 pages it’s just perfect. By the third page, my 1 year old begins to fidget. He’ll try to turn pages for me before I’m finished reading, or he’ll slide off the bed to get a book to look through all on his own. He’s engaged, though, and he’s enjoying the time.
But it’s my daughter that reminds me that this time spent together reading is well worth any chaos by which is was proceeded. She snuggles right up with me, points out letters and occasional words that she’s begun to memorize. She narrates the artwork and asks questions about the characters. She’s learning empathy for others and her imagination is being loaded with raw material to work with in her dreams and while she plays. She is engaged and the time is meaningful. Very much so. And my heart just about explodes with love, pride, and a mix of indescribable emotions towards this little girl and the God who placed her in our family.
It Takes a Little Love for that Story Time Magic
As much as I wish I could say it was easy to get to this point of engagement, I’m sure you could guess (especially after some of the things you’ve read about my family life thus far!) that it required a little effort. Not to say it’s hard, but it surely necessitates intentionality.
The Opposition to Story Time
Before we really made story time a priority in our family, we were allowing our kids to watch a lot of television. We didn’t mean for that to be the case. In fact, we began our parenting journey thinking that television would be a minimal aspect of our lives- maybe like an hour a week (which is still a good goal). But as we moved further along in our parenting and were trying to balance work, online college and more pregnancies and children (yes- we did figure out how that works!), fast moving, colorful entertainment became a convenient way to distract our kiddos so we could accomplish other tasks. And while we watched “good” shows (like VeggieTales or Penguins or even Baby Genius), they were not really ideal for facilitating a love of reading or a mind that could focus, imagine, and reason all on its own.
In fact, we found that while our daughter was learning from the shows she was watching, she was also developing a few behavioral problems. We saw a mind that was being overstimulated by television and consequently unable to focus on stationary artwork or follow a simple storyline, and, even worse, a heart that was being undervalued by her parents.
So we needed to cut back on the television and supplement with time spent together playing, imagining and of course, reading!
**Just a clarification- we still watch TV and really enjoy awesome resources like RightNow Media and the VeggieTales collections (hello- who does not love singing dancing vegetables with a positive, bible based message??? Seriously 😉 Ha-larious ) I’m just stressing that there is a place where too much of good thing may have heavier consequences than you would think.**
While we still utilize movies more than we’d like, when we made the decision just after our middle son was born to redistribute our time, our daughters focus began to improve. But to be truthful, the real change came when we decided to reevaluate our priorities and roles. We had to recalibrate our focus. In our family, that looked like transitioning to a lifestyle that would allow us to be home together in the evenings, would allow for spiritual growth individually and collectively as a couple and as a family, and would allow for more structure and routine within the home. We’re still working on maintaining the structure and routine, but now that I no longer work a job that keeps me out at bedtime- story time is a regular occurrence that has had a massive impact on our kids. Just by intentionally spending less than (though often greater than) 10 minutes an evening reading out loud with our kids and by praying for their development, their ability to focus, to make it through a simple children's book, and to use their imaginations had dramatically improved in as a little as two weeks.
Reading together is like drinking a cold peach tea. It’s sweet, it has benefits to your overall wellbeing, and it’s something you just keep on drinking no matter how old you become. (I would have said it’s like drinking a delicious iced coffee with mocha and cream…but I would never give that to my children…hahaha. Oh the ramifications…)
Friends, I am a huge believer in reading to and with your kids, no matter what their age. There is something about written and spoken language that not only stimulates and grows the mind, but enhances and deepens relationships.
Consider for a moment your relationship with God. How do you get to understand the Creator more deeply and know him more intimately? By reading and acting upon what he wrote for us in the Bible and through prayer. Written and spoken Word. And did not God himself use language to create the World? And to reveal more and more of himself to his people? Is it not the Word of God that is sharper than any two edged sword? Now, obviously the Bible is living and active and supernatural, unique from any other book. But the idea that language and the comprehension of language (spoken or written) is important is apparent by the use of it by our Creator.
Now, what would happen if you spent 10 min a day, or even just every other day, reading to your kids? Sarah Mackenzie, in her interview with Focus on the Family about her book, the Read Aloud Family, said that,
“There’s actually some really interesting research that shows that you can put your kids in really high-end private schools or pay for tutoring, [But] …reading aloud with your kids every day will make a bigger impact than either of those things.”
But what are the impacts? Why is it so worth it to make the choice to carve out time for reading aloud with your kids?
Here’s the thing- kids are not only intellectually stimulated by reading and hearing others read. They are emotionally affected as well.
Sarah Mackenzie also talks about the emotional impact of reading to your kids. She notes that reading with your kids invites them to learn to empathize, to wear the shoes of other people.
My daughter now takes the time in the middle of the story to stop me and point out that a character is sad, or hurt, or even happy. And while she plays during the day, she works out the scenarios in her stories while she’s imagining with her brothers or her toys. It’s incredible. She is sometimes more aware of the needs and feelings of others than even my husband and I. (though I think prayer plays an even bigger role than storytelling- story time is definitely one avenue for learning empathy.)
But, for me and my family, the most important impact of reading together is that kids begin to understand that they are valued. The time spent reading together becomes precious moments to get to know your kids and to pour into their little hearts and minds. You’ll discover that your kids love to learn. That they enjoy laughing with you and talking about the pictures with you. That they understand more than you think. And, over time, your bond will deepen.
Clap (or more Appropriately Read) if you Believe
Reading together creates an atmosphere for sweet bonding and naturally allows you to teach and learn with your kids. As the stories you read together become more intricate, your child (and even sometimes you!) will learn to empathize with others as you read of the suffering and elation of others, as you grow closer to the characters you read about and see how their minds work through problems, pain, and joy. Your children will learn to reason and see objectively as they follow storylines and as they question and discuss the morality behind the actions and choices of a character. They’ll learn. Their minds will grow. And they will gain an appetite for learning, reading, and for growth.
Friends, one of my warmest childhood memories is one of my mom reading the Harry Potter books to my brothers and me when we were definitely old enough to read them for ourselves. I’m not going to lie, before she would read aloud the books to us, I would take a day and a night to read the book by myself, I was so excited. But even though I had read the story, I still wanted to listen to her read it to me and spend that time with my family. Even if we called Hermione, “Harmony” until the movies released and we learned how to properly pronounce her name…sorry die-hard Harry Potter fans…;)
Now that I’m a momma, Harry Potter may not be my first choice to read to my youngsters. But I have to say, I’m so excited for the day when they’re old enough to sit and listen to the Chronicles of Narnia and when they’re old enough still to listen to the heartbreaking and yet still spiritually stirring account of Corrie Ten Boom in the Hiding Place. In order to reach that point though, I’m working to set up a habit of reading together now while they’re young. (Although if you’re reading this and you have older kids- be encouraged that I don’t remember my mom reading to us until she decided to read aloud Harry Potter when we were older- and we really enjoyed it. So just start where you are and make it fun!)
I know that there are some who don’t like to read, who maybe aren’t strong readers, or who are intimidated by the idea of trying to make story time interesting. Please, don’t let that stop you. If you’re not quite ready, check out some of the resources I’ll include at the end of this article to listen together as a family. The time will still be so great for discussion and a way of entertainment that facilitates discussion and often calls for action.
For those that are thinking, “Yeah, I think I got this,”…that quote should be read with a mobster accent…I’ll include a link for this great book service called Bookroo at the end of this post as well as the two books that we almost always read before bed in our home. BookRoo is a company that loves reading and loves children. They send age appropriate books, wrapped in fun colorful gift paper with your child’s name on it right to your doorstep. Talk about making reading time fun! We thought it was so great! And our kids love the books we’ve received from them. They eagerly ripped right into the wrapping paper, so excited to receive a gift, pulled out their books with great anticipation and after some quick “thank you mommy and daddy!!” remarks, immediately began “reading” their new stories.
I cannot stress enough the benefits of reading out loud with your family. In fact, in our home, we find it so beneficial that my husband and I actually read the Bible and a couple other books aloud to each other every night before bed. Friends, it is great. But if you don’t believe me and would be interested in learning more, check out this link to hear the author of “read aloud family,” Sarah McKenzie. And as promised- here are our current two favorite books for bedtime and the link to Bookroo. Come back next week to read up on our family’s bedtime routine and get a full list of some of the books we like for our home library.
Until next time and growing daily in Christ,
Our Top 2 Favorite Bedtime Stories!!
Pirates lullaby is such a sweet, pirate-themed story about a father and son getting ready for bed. My kids and I like to give Papa pirate a silly and poorly done Scottish accent as he talks his son to bed. My daughters favorite part is finding the missing Captian Teddy and my son enjoys laughing "ho, ho," for Papa Pirate. A definitely great bedtime read for the kiddos!
Goodnight ark is probably our number 1 favorite bedtime read. It's fun, especially if you act out the events. The pitter patter of the rain (I like to pitter patter their heads while I read that), the rocking boat (arms around each other, rocking side to side), the tipping boat (and we all start falling over to one side), the broken bed (and we slam the book!)! Oh gosh, my kids get into it. And then right at the end, when Noah sings his nighttime tune, we quiet down and whisper the ending. Check it out!