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"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

The Value of “Living Books”
and Reading Aloud

A national committee called the Commission on Reading (funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education) recently did a two-year study of thousand of research projects related to reading. Their report had two primary findings. The first is that the single most important activity to build success in reading is to read aloud to your children. (Duh!) The second is to continue reading aloud to them throughout the grades. (Yep, that means through high school, not just until they can read themselves.)

Developing a habit of reading for pleasure is not always easy. A good way to do this is to establish a tradition of reading aloud to your children, whether it's The Holy Bible, picture books, or The Lord of the Rings. My husband always looks forward to coming home and reading to the kids, because it helps him to relax after a hard day at work. Reading aloud is a great way to regularly spend some quality family time together, too.

Children of all ages prefer the aliveness of real literature - “living books” - as opposed to the dull repetition of standard textbooks. When we make reading a chore for a child or give them boring books to read, we are taking away the pleasure aspect that makes them want to read. Children will get much more out of a lively discussion of a story or book than they would by just memorizing facts. Especially when teaching history, the more real the past seems to children, the more interesting it is. Instead of teaching history as dry, dusty names and dates to remember, try reading biographies, or better yet, autobiographies.

Even if you use a pre-packaged curriculum, you can supplement it with living books. For example, we use Switched-On Schoolhouse, and recently while studying ancient Greece, we read the D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths on the side. For a third-grade beginning study of American History, we read and discussed all of the books in the American Adventure series. They bring historical events to life with storylines and characters that children can relate to.

Some people feel it doesn’t matter what kids read, as long as they’re reading something. But wouldn’t it be so much better to read great literature that sets a good example? Reading great literature will inspire children to be good writers. When new vocabulary is acquired from books they have read, children can incorporate it into their own writings. Well-written literature demonstrates proper grammar and word usage. Reading, spelling, and writing all naturally work together.

If the home environment is abundant with language, children will absorb it; if grown-ups take time to read stories, children will learn how to speak and listen. Listening is a difficult skill to develop, but it is extremely important. This is another purpose for which reading aloud can be helpful. Take turns talking about what each person thought about the book, the characters and their motivations, how the story could be better, and so on. It takes a little more planning and time to conduct a reading program in this way, but it’s well worth the effort.

There are two books that I highly recommend to anyone who wants their child to learn to read. These are The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease and Reading Magic by Mem Fox. Trelease provides useful tips on why you should read to a child, how you should read to a child and what sort of reading materials are appropriate for reading aloud to a child. He includes a really nice, annotated list of great read aloud books. Fox explains that babies are born learners, discusses the importance of books in the home, extols the benefits of reading to preschoolers and even newborns, and stresses the value of a read-aloud ritual. She also includes a chapter on how to read aloud, which novice readers will find useful.


When Mother reads aloud, the past
Seems real as every day;
I hear the tramp of armies vast,
I see the spears and lances cast,
I join the thrilling fray;
Brave knights and ladies fair and proud
I meet when Mother reads aloud.

When Mother reads aloud, far lands
Seem very near and true;
I cross the deserts’ gleaming sands,
Or hunt the jungle’s prowling bands,
Or sail the ocean blue.
Far heights, whose peaks
the cold mists shroud,
I scale, when Mother reads aloud.

When Mother reads aloud, I long
For noble deeds to do—
To help the right, redress the wrong;
It seems so easy to be strong,
So simple to be true.
Oh, thick and fast the visions crowd
My eyes, when Mother reads aloud.

~Author Unknown


I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
Blackbirds stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a mother who read me lays,
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.

I had a mother who read me things,
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings—
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a mother who read to me.

~Strickland W. Gillilan

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