When my oldest turned six, I began to read her stories I read in my childhood. I clearly remember the effect that these stories had on me as a child. I can still picture the librarian, Mrs. Frye, sitting my fourth grade class down and reading to us. She read to us Jack Tales, Indian in the Cupboard, and the Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, along with others. Some kids slept, others fidgeted, but as an eight-year-old sat entranced as she painted the Pacific Island with O’Dell’s words. She was our guide and took us on a journey to that deserted island and we witnessed the story together; the effect was borderline magical.
This is what I hoped to recreate with my own children. I wanted to expand their minds and experience through the writings of others. I wanted them to journey to that island in the Pacific and to that little log cabin in Wisconsin, to Narnia, to Tamil Nadu and so many more places. So we began to read together at bedtime. First we have our time in the Scriptures and then we try and enjoy a good story together. We read all sorts of stories, some true, some fictional, but we try to select ones that tell are excellent. My oldest is now twelve and as I look back there are so many things that I wish I could undo and redo as a parent. Yet, if I could do it again, reading is something that I wouldn’t change. Why is that? Let me give you a few reasons why I think reading stories to your children is so important.
Stories can help bring peace to bedtime.
If your children are anything like mine, they would prefer a trip to the doctor over going to bed. This can turn bedtime into a game of whack-a-mole where we get one child in bed only to then have two more pop out of bed again. However if reading stories is on the schedule, once bedtime is announced they practically run to bed. It is one of their favorite times of day: they nestle under their covers and beg for one more chapter.
Yes, there are frequent interruptions of “what does ____ mean?” and “Daddy, I think that they are going to…?” Yet, it is you, their father, who gets to answer these questions and be their guide. Time well invested. As a bonus, your wife will also thank you for an hour or so of calm in order to finish up some work or put her feet up for a well deserved rest.
Stories strengthen your bond with your children.
The read aloud story is a community experience. Your children’s memories of the story are coloured by your reading. They will remember your character voices, accents, emphases and emotions. They may not remember the characters or the plot line but they will remember that it was you who shared it with them. There have been a few instances when we have listened to an audiobook after I have read to them in the evenings. It has been so gratifying to hear my children’s protestations against the narrator as, “They aren’t doing the voices right! Dad, we like yours better.” At this, I give a smug smile to my wife. It certainly isn’t that I am more talented than the audiobook narrator, but it is that we have experienced something together as a family and they prefer that initial experience over any subsequent ones.
Stories help you point out the truths of Scripture and see humanity more clearly.
Every moment is a teaching moment, right?. The lives of the characters experienced through a story are no exception. When we read of John Wesley’s conversion, we stopped and discussed. We read and talked about the cruelty that Amy Carmichael encountered as she went to India. We discussed the selfish reactions, the betrayal of friends and family and the gospel themes in the Wingfeather Saga.
We have felt the anguish in the death of newborns in the stories of William Carey and the frustrations of the beginnings of his ministry in India. We have marveled at God’s provision for George Muller and his faith in prayer. We have seen the joys of marriage and also the shattered remains of divorce. These stories serve as a reinforcement and demonstration of the truth we are so desperately trying to have permeate into our children’s minds and hearts. They expose human hearts and desires in a way that clarifies our humanity, both in our fallenness and redemption. These examples, both fictitious and not, allow me to point out our Biblical worldview in action and say to my children again, “See, the Scriptures are true.”
Stories stoke our children’s imaginations of what was, is, and what will be.
In every story we journey into another place and/or another time. This calls for our children to think alongside the author’s words and color between the lines of what the characters are seeing and feeling. As we read The Explorer we followed a group of children as they trekked through the Amazon. We asked questions of what it must feel like to see a goliath tarantula or swim with piranhas. When we read Little Britches, we explored the difficulties the pioneer ranchers endured as they built farms in Colorado in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Teaching our children to ask questions is an important skill as we learn the Scriptures. It is mandatory as we ask them to think deeply about a scriptural character’s needs, desires and feelings. How must it have felt for Abraham and Sarah to leave their family and journey to an unknown country? Or for Moses as he fled from recriminations in Egypt? How would it look to follow Jesus’ command to be a servant in our home? What would repentance look like? Most of all, what will it feel like to one day stand before our Saviour?
How wonderful it will be for Him to return! How marvelous to be part of His eternal kingdom, to walk along and explore the New Heavens and Earth? All these questions require our children to think outside of and reinterpret themselves. As we imagine the scriptural themes, it is not so different to imagining what it must be like to ride on the back of Aslan.
Prepare them to love the Gospel story
Andrew Peterson said in his address at the Creation & Re-Creation: 2013 Fall Conference, “If you want someone to know the truth, tell them. If you want someone to love the truth, tell them a story.” I found that quote convicting because I have been guilty of sharing the gospel as a series of facts and consequences. The ABC’s of evangelism or the strict Romans Road can flatten all the detail of the mountainous gospel story. It belittles the divine and human personhood of Jesus.
The gospel, and the Scriptures in totality are the most amazing story. As a father, I want my children to see the drama of Adam and Eve, the conflict presented in the fall, the rising and falling action of awaiting the promised Messiah, the climax of Jesus’ coming and the cross, the empty tomb and now the coming resolution of all things. I want them to see themselves as characters within this grand tale. The story of Scripture is linked to our stories as Tolkien said in his essay On Fairy Stories: “The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true.”
I hope you keep reading to your children; for their sake and yours. As Lewis mentions, ”No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.” Give them a love for stories, give them a love for the Story.