This is my column in today’s Greenville News. Read to your kids!
I love bedtime. As a husband and father, it’s just a time of absolute wonder. Life winds down in the evenings. The sun sets, the children slow down and become quiet. Even teens are less active; their texting fingers weary from constant communication.
The cats settle into the window-boxes, flower-free for the winter. Weary dogs stretch out on the lawn, or in their large house under the porch as bold rabbits run across the yard in the twilight. Or maybe, its a kind of truce, ‘live and let live.’ Quiet descends on our hilltop house as the sun slips past the Blue Ridge.
But my favorite part of bedtime has always been the time I read to my children. We’ve read board books and fairy tales, nursery rhymes and other poems. We’ve shared Bible readings, myths and novels. I’ve read the Book of Virtues, tongue twisters by Dr. Seuss, poems by Shel Silverstein and Edgar Guest and everything in between.
I found that bedtime reading was my time with the children. Jan had spent the day with them and sometimes wanted a little well-earned mama time. The books, the stories, were my special domain. I would say ‘time to read!’ And as soon as I sat on the floor, a child was on my lap and the others crowded around, ready to hear another installment, a new book or an encore of a well-loved tale.
It served many functions. First, when we read to someone we love, there is a kind of wonderful intimacy. Words are sacred and the passage of ideas, in the form of beautifully wrought words, is a kind of sacrament.
Reading to the children was also a time of learning. Whatever the age, reading was a chance to comment on stories and characters, to shape their ideas of right and wrong. To hold forth, gently, subtly, on morality and virtue. It was also a way to teach them pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax. A time for me to read, and for them to read to me in due course.
It was a time for them to learn what genre’s of literature they loved, and to hear classic stories and poems from our culture and a few others as authors from exotic lands, with strange stories, visited us. In essence, bedtime reading is a time in which the hearts and minds of children can be shaped and made both beautiful and useful. A time to become civilized in pajamas. And a perfect segue to a night of dreams.
At Christmas I noticed many ads for books that would read to children. Since then, I recently saw a commercial in which the mother of a toddler reveled in her peaceful cup of coffee, as her child watched his favorite video on her phone, over and over. These technological developments are fascinating, but a little sad. Whose schedule is so restrictive that they can’t read to their children, at least a little? Unless afflicted by physical limitations or the inability to actually read (which is still a problem, though relatively uncommon in America ), every parent can make time to read, in the morning or evening or afternoon. We spend enormous amounts of time on worthless websites, toxic television shows and communicating nonsense on social media sites. Surely, everyone can pick up a book, plop a child on his or her lap, and tell a tale
My children now spend far more time reading on their own. I can’t keep up with their reading, in fact, as they turn the tables and bring books to me that I should read, just as I still do to them. Novels and science, short stories and theology, we read and recommend, and point out favorite quotes.
I still read to the kids some evenings. They are beyond laps, but their minds and hearts are still growing. I still have nutrition to give their souls. There are things for me to interpret for them, as their ideas mature. Sometimes what I read leads to discussions, or friendly arguments. But they still benefit. Just as I benefit from their fresh visions. It’s Socratic now; reading is more dialogue and less lecture.
I watch the news. I contemplate the terrors, tragedies, dysfunction and disarray that stalk the world today. But I can’t help thinking that far more than any law or program, the lives of generations could be permanently elevated for the cost of a few books, and a few minutes every night, spent reading.