Some of my fondest memories took place in the basement of a small house in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. I can distinctly remember the sound of five kids coloring with crayons while my mom read The Chronicles of Narnia to us for the umpteenth time.
My childhood is mostly lost to my poor memory, but if there’s one thing I remember, it’s reading together as a family. It was a pattern in our home. Well into my teen years, my dad would regularly read missionary biographies to us after dinner.
Reading had a substantial impact on all my siblings. One began a years-long series of world travels in his 30s due to our regular reading of Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels. Another sibling pursued graduate education in literature because she loved reading so much.
For me, reading created an insatiable curiosity about nearly everything. It’s made me love learning and the pursuit of it! Reading regularly exposes your children to distant lands and cultures, breeds a healthy imagination and curiosity, and expands their horizons for God.
While not everyone is a reader, the gift of reading is a special thing to pass along to your children. And as a dad, you have a special role in providing this gift.
Here are five important reasons dads need to read to their children.
1. Dads need to read more.
While not everyone is a reader, most people wish they were. How do you become a reader? You read. That’s it. Read until you’re a reader. And why not spend time with your kids while you’re doing it?!
The older you get, the more likely you’ll be set in your own experiences, opinions, and preferences. But reading can slow your hardening if you read diversely.
While media and movies can help here, they don’t offer the reflective time available in reading, and so lack the impact of a book. Reading forces you to view things from another perspective and reading with your kids helps you see their perspective as well.
2. Dads need more imagination.
Most dads struggle to play with their kids imaginatively because most dads struggle to be imaginative. Reading fiction is especially helpful in subtly growing your ability to be imaginative and playful.
While not true of every child, generally speaking, young children are full of imagination. Most of their days revolve around pretend realities. This play is crucial to social development, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking.1
Our children need both permission and buy-in from dad that this kind of play is good and healthy. And dads could use it, too! Who knows, you may even find increased social development, problem-solving, and critical thinking is helpful for your work!
3. Dads need to spiritually impact their kids.
I don’t know a Christian dad who feels he is doing everything he can to impact his children spiritually. The problem is, most of us don’t know where to start.
Reading books with good theology is both one of the easiest and most effective ways to be a spiritual influence on your children. You can start today! Find a good missionary biography, read the Bible, or read a children’s Bible story book.
Spiritual impact, however, doesn’t require a missionary biography! When you read nearly any book, you’ll find people react poorly or live godlessly (i.e., without God in the picture). These are perfect times to stop and help your children process life in real-time from the safety of a book!
4. Dads need to be emotional.
A good fiction, history, or biography pulls you into another world. It brings you into the story emotionally and generates empathy for the characters.
When you read these types of books, it not only develops you emotionally, but also lets your children see and hear you express things emotionally.
I recently read Charlotte’s Web to my kids and having to vocalize Wilber’s cries for Charlotte (who had just died) forced me to be emotional in front of my kids—even if I didn’t much care about a spider dying (it’s a whole thing 🙄).
5. Dads need to spend quality time.
You’re home after a long day of work and you want to invest in your kids. What activity can you engage in that takes longer than five minutes and that is within your energy capacities at this point in the day? Reading!
And to top it off, most men feel close to people that they spend time next to—even if you don’t talk much.2 So sit next to your son or daughter and read for twenty minutes. At the end of that time, I promise you that you’ll feel much closer to your child and your child will feel like you really care about them. The gift of presence is a real thing.
Where to start?
So how do you start reading to your children—especially if you’re not a reader? Here are a few tips:
1. Start small.
Depending on the age of your kids, starting “small” could mean reading a kids’ book once a week or a chapter of a novel once a week. Consistency is more important than quantity.
2. Find a time or trigger.
Habits rarely form accidentally. Pick a time and place to read and build it into your week. Add it to your calendar. Tying it to some routine trigger has been helpful for me—like after breakfast or right before bedtime.
3. Mix up the content.
Read everything—theology, fiction, history, biography, and more! If you’re not sure where to start, I’d start with The Chronicles of Narnia, but I am biased.
4. Make it collaborative.
Let your children help you choose what you read. Offer 2–3 options and let them choose between the books or simply entrust yourself to the will of your six year-old. Your call!
Most importantly, start now!
Think golfing. The last time I golfed with someone for 4 hours and my wife asked me how my friend was doing, I told her, “Good, I think.” She was flabbergasted how I didn’t know more after 4 hours in a golf cart together, but I felt super close to my friend after that day! Guys, we’re odd. ↩︎
Growing Fathers Team
Chris serves as a part-time associate pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Liberty, Utah. He and his wife, Megan, have three young children—Ella, Nora, and Jude.View all posts by Chris