It never ceases to amaze me, some of the things people find to argue about. In the church where I serve, for instance, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper every week. As such I have been asked, though not by any of our parishioners, to provide a defense of weekly communion. Which sounds rather like giving a defense of butterflies. Why would I want to make an argument in defense of dining with my Lord and Savior every week? The question isn’t “Why would a person want to do this?” but “Why wouldn’t a person want to do this?”
Here I am again. This time my editors have asked that I provide a defense of the practice of reading to our children, that I array a set of arguments in its favor. Here’s the first one, and it is sufficient in itself to be the last one—it’s a great deal of fun. Having your children gathered around, calm and at peace is a great blessing, to which we add a story well told. Why wouldn’t we find time to enjoy this pleasure? What other inducement would you need? It won’t freshen your breath, and it won’t take off those unwanted pounds, but it is a delightful way to invest some time.
That said, I will provide, for the purposefully obtuse, a few more good reasons for reading to your children. First, it sets a good example for the children. We want our children to grow to be lifelong learners, to take delight in the beauty of language and the glory of gaining wisdom. We want them to develop a love of reading and of fine books. The most potent weapon in that regard is to delight in the beauty of language and in the gaining of wisdom. If you want your children to be readers, read to them. If, on the other hand, your idea of quality time with the children is sitting in front of the glowing idol in the living room, then your children will grow to believe that quality time is sitting in front of the glowing idol in the living room. You will not only destroy your own brain, and your children’s brains, but you will set the stage for ensuring your progeny for generations to come will be as dumb as a bag of nails and, worse, as foolish as idolaters.
Next, reading to your children creates with them and for them a shared culture. In my home, when I don my deepest Scottish brogue and cry out, “Scotland sold for English gold!” with all due moral outrage, my children know of what I speak. Having been through Douglas Jones’s books for children together, we now better speak the same language. Our illustrations, our allusions, they come from shared stories. If, on the other hand, I’ve got my nose buried in a National Review magazine while my son is reading Boys Life, my daughters are reading Highlights and my wife is reading the Veritas Press catalog, then even when we are all in the same room we are worlds apart.
Then there is the actual benefit of what they learn in what we read. My children have learned much about the hard lot of the covenanters through our reading ScottishSeas, and the struggles of the French Protestants from reading together HuguenotGarden. They learned much about classical music when we read the Mr. Pipes books together. Johnny Tremain, in turn, taught them a great deal about America’s first war for independence. Better still, these were read in a context where conversation can take place. My children are able to ask me questions, as I, in turn, can ask them questions. Not only is it more fun than simply assigning the books to be read, but it is more effective. We are, after all, to speak with our children of these things when they lie down and when they rise up (Deuteronomy 6:7).
We started with the best argument, that reading to our children was a delight. Let us end with an equally obvious argument. When we read aloud to our children, it isn’t only they who learn. God encourages us to speak of these things with our children when they lie down and when they rise up not only because it is the most effective way for our children to learn, but because it is the most effective way for us to remember. This never hits home more than when our family takes the time to read together through The Chronicles of Narnia. We are traditionalists and so read them in the original order. And so when, in the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I get to read of Aslan’s resurrection, and the joy he feels, I am reminded of the glory of His resurrection, and the joy that was set before Him, His bride, the church. When we reach the end of the story, The Last Battle, and the children and animals march ever further in and further up, not only do they learn how that story ends, but how our story ends. We relearn the very riches of wisdom that we are so prone to forget.
Should you read to your children? Of course you should. They will love it, and so will you. Pick some of your favorites, and pick some of theirs. Read books they haven’t yet tackled, and old favorites that they, and you, have virtually memorized. Read them the Bible, and read them books that err. Read them great works from the canon, and great works from Canon Press. Read them poetry and prose, fact and fiction. Read them children’s books, and books for grownups. Any and all these are good, as long as you do the right thing, the delightful thing, and read to and with your children. You, your children, your grandchildren, and as many as are afar off will all be glad that you did.
R.C. Sproul, Jr. is the director of Highlands Study Center and a noted author and speaker. He can’t remember how many times he has read The Chronicles of Narnia.