Train a Child to Read: Entry 2

Recently I offered free books to parents who could explain the most creative ways they have used to train their children to read and to appreciate books. I’ve chosen three finalists.

The second finalist is Deb, who has 20 years of experience homeschooling her 6 children ages 7.5–25. Here’s her entry:

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 Gillilan

This poem expresses the cornerstone of teaching my children both to read and to love reading. I was blessed to have a mother who read to me, and I have passed that blessing on to my children. I have found in 20 years of homeschooling that many times it is the basics, adapted for each child’s needs and interests that produce the best results.

1. Read Aloud to Your Children—both consistently and often

Reading aloud to my children started with simple board books when they were only weeks old. We would look at the pictures and I would talk about them, often only for a few minutes at a time. But my children came to associate reading with snuggling with mom and listening to my voice. As they grew older through the pre-school years we read many, many picture books. We had regular reading time before naps and before bedtime.  And woe unto Dad & Mom if we had to skip that time for some reason!

We did fun things with their favorite read-alouds.  They looked forward to when I would “make mistakes” in reading and they could correct me!  Sometimes we would change the story line around  to include their favorite toys and make Barney Bear’s Pizza Shop become Erin Joy’s Ice Cream Parlor. Never mind that the pictures didn’t exactly match—they loved it! They begged to have their dad (a construction contractor) read The House Book because as he read he would point out all the defects in the pictures (like a closet located in an impossible spot). They would all be in gales of laughter by the time he was done. Many, many memories in our family center around reading aloud.

As it became time for schooling to start, the reading aloud continued. I have used a literature approach to history for most of our homeschooling years.  We’ve traveled in Egypt with Mara, Daughter of the Nile and met King Hezekiah in God King.

Adventures on the high seas were exciting as we carried on with Mr. Bowditch and traveled with Columbus. We’ve put The Wheel on the School and had adventures with the Swiss Family Robinson. All my children would laughingly tell you today that Mom always cries at the end of biographies when the person dies. Even my older children still enjoy listening to a good book.

Reading aloud books with my children has nurtured in them a love of reading and a love of learning that has continued into adulthood.

2. Take them to the library regularly

Weekly trips to the library are another foundational aspect of learning to read and love reading. Kids want to read or be read to more when they get to choose the books. My local librarians often joked with me that my children believed that books were cheaper by the pound. We came home with stacks and stacks of books.  Sometimes we would get an older-level book about a topic that interested one of them, and we would snuggle on the couch so the child could look at the pictures while I either read or paraphrased from the book to bring the information to the appropriate level. One library book on how roads are repaired (a photo essay for children) was so memorable to one of my older sons that he found a copy online to buy for his little brother for his birthday a few years ago.

Our kids have looked at the librarians as their friends and a great resource for learning. Recently, my 11-year-old son went to the librarian on his own one day and had her help him look online for some books on trebuchets, which he then asked her to inter-library loan. When my kids start doing things like that, I know that they have learned what a wonderful resource the library is.

3. Let them read at the level where they are comfortable

This was probably the most valuable advice on teaching reading that I came across as a home educator (credit goes to Ruth Beechick). Two of my sons struggled in learning to read. For both of them, reading did not completely “click” until about 5th grade. With my older son, I made the mistake of pushing him to read simple chapter books when I thought he should be ready. After reading Dr. Beechick’s advice I changed my approach. I let him choose the books he was comfortable reading. Often it was Dr. Seuss, Frog and Toad or other picture books or easy readers. He was allowed to read those as long as he needed to read them to become comfortable. It gave him the opportunity to practice reading and built fluency. When he was ready, he started reading chapter books by his own choice. Now a senior in college, the books he is apt to choose are by Bonhoeffer, Lewis and similar Christian thinkers. My youngest son went from picture books to The Hobbit in about 15 months once he was ready.

I hear a lot about creativity today, but in 20 years of home educating experience, I have found that the need to be “creative” often intimidates home educators. It is the simple things like reading to your children regularly and often, day after day, that do the most nurturing. You demonstrate both your love for your children and your love of reading as you do this. And through the years, the delight of reading is caught more than taught.

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday. Thanks for the entry, Deb.

Train a Child to Read: Entry 1

Recently I offered free books to parents who could explain the most creative ways they have used to train their children to read and to appreciate books. I’ve chosen three finalists: Brett, Deb, and Lisa.

The first entry in the “Train up a child in the way he should read” contest comes from Brett:

I used a mix of reverse psychology, play acting, and simple quizzing while reading to our children before bedtime.

I would start with the book out on my lap and tell them to never learn to read because there is too much silly fun stuff and too much cuddly cozy stuff in books and that I was going to stop reading anything anymore that’s it—goodnight. After the giggles and goading to get me to read just a few minutes (a game for the kids and me), I would start into one of a handful of books or Bible stories that they knew backward and forwards, over acting all the parts. I would change names of characters, the sex of characters, the qualities of characters, or change the story completely (i.e. Jesus road into Bethlehem on a penguin with his brother Mary on Thanksgiving day). After some giggle/snorts they would correct me and nearly recite the rest of the story.

After a while, I would make so many gaffs in the story, they would crawl right up beside me to the point it was hard to read so they could look on to make sure I was reading it right. By kindergarten, all of our children could read those books even though they couldn’t read; those sentences in those books made sense but they couldn’t pick up Green Eggs and Ham and start reading. Even though they are beyond the bedtime story age, they savor the story of Esther and also the Runaway Bunny (which is written for a two year olds).

I am a horrible reader, a worse actor, and have a poor imagination, but it worked. Although not all my children love to read like I do, they all love to write and create stories and read faster and better than I do. I know this will not work for everyone, but we happened upon a bedtime system that worked for our little sinners. But if you have daughters and sons together, Esther right out of the Bible is always a home run.

Winners will be contacted via email on Wednesday. Thanks for the entry, Brett.

Train up a child in the way he should read (a contest)

One of you will win all four of these excellent books—an ESV Children’s Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible, and Big Truths for Young Hearts. And a runner-up will win one book (your choice).

How to enter:

It’s easy. Christian parents, please write a brief description of 3 creative ways you trained your child to read. This can include ways that you cultivated a love of literature in their life and/or ways that you creatively instructed them in literacy. For simplicity’s sake let’s confine this to young children between the ages of 4–10.

The entry with the most thoughtful and creative ideas—as voted on by my panel of mothers with little kids—will win the collection of books.

These may be practices you used many years ago. It doesn’t matter if your children are now young or grown.

Also, my attention span is short so please be brief. Send me your thoughtful and creative ideas in an email or in a Word document (no longer than 1,000 words). Send it to me via email at:

crede.ut.intelligas AT mac DOT com

I’ll post the best entries on the blog and authors will be identified by first name and last initial. Winners will be contacted via email.

Entries must be received before Monday, April 12.

Those entries will be accepted from all 6 continents; however, only those with mailing addresses in the continental U.S. are eligible to win the books.

Thanks for entering.

And thanks for teaching your children the value of reading!


You are not your gift

I don’t invest much time reading magazines, certainly not as much time as I should. But I have read Marvin Olasky’s interview with singer, songwriter, and author Michael Card. I’ve read the interview at least three times because there is one segment of the interview that haunts me, warns me, and motivates me as a father.

At one point in the interview Card is asked about his song, “Underneath the Door.” I was not familiar with the song so I went online and found this video:

In the interview Olasky asks Card about this song:

Marvin Olasky: You mentioned somewhere that as a small boy you saw very little of your father. He came home from practice, closed himself in his study, and you would push drawings and other things under his door to try to get his attention. Did it work?

Michael Card: No, it didn’t, actually. I wrote a song called ‘Underneath the Door.’ I grew up eating supper at 8 o’clock because my mom would wait for my dad. In those days when the father would come home the kids would come to the door and greet him. My kids don’t do that with me; they just sort of look up from their video games and say, ‘Oh, you’re home.’

MO: You were the designated dad-bringer.

MC: My family would always send me to go get my dad, and I had to get his attention somehow, because he was locked away in his study. But he was a phenomenal person, my father. The older I get the more I appreciate him. He was a good man.

MO: That sounds frustrating.

MC: It was frustrating. One of my major themes is that you are not your gift, and my father thought he was his gift. He thought that medicine was all he was, so when he was forced to retire he died a few months later. He could not imagine living without being a doctor.

Card’s song and this interview haunt me as a father. They cause me to rethink my own parenting. I don’t have an office door, but are there ways in which my children are locked out of my life? Am I accessible to them? Do I assume that my gifts and calling are more important than the time I spend with my children? In the time I spend with my kids, am I focused on them, am I listening, am I entering their world or do I require them to enter into my world? Do my children get my attention easily? Do they get my full attention? Can I unhitch my mind from all my other duties when I am with them? Do I think of myself as a child of God ultimately or do I think of my value in terms of my gifts and calling and output? All important questions that this interview raises in my own mind.

The Glory of Christ and Parenting

From my friend William P. Farley’s latest book, Gospel-Powered Parenting: How the Gospel Shapes and Transforms Parenting (P&R, 2009):

“Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a Scotch Presbyterian, wrote a famous essay entitled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. In it Chalmers proposes that the best way to overcome the world is not with morality or self-discipline. Christians overcome the world by seeing the beauty and excellence of Christ. They overcome the world by seeing something more attractive than the world: Christ, ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2:3). A man who owns an Acura is not interested in a Geo Metro. In the same way, Christian parents try to make Christ and his kingdom glorious. Their children conquer the lusts of this world with a higher passion: the moral beauty of Christ.

By contrast, defensive parents have little confidence in the attractiveness of the gospel. They think the world is more powerful. Fundamentally, they are not confident in the gospel’s power to transform their children from the inside out. They do not believe Jesus’ words, ‘Take heart; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). They have little confidence in the world-conquering power of new birth.

My wife and I have seen the fruit of this approach in our own experience. My five children all attended public high schools, and then the eldest four matriculated to a state university. Despite the raunchy non-Christian—even anti-Christian—environment (and it was foul), they thrived spiritually. Why? Through the miracle of new birth, God changed their hearts. To them the Holy Spirit had begun to unveil the superlative value of Jesus Christ. The conviction that all their happiness was tied up in their relationship with Christ had begun to bud and grow. The world’s allurements could not compete.” [pp. 24—25]

Parenting by Prayer

Christian parents have many reasons to thank to God for all the practical resources now available on parenting. We easily forget that biblically informed and cross-centered books, articles, and conferences have not been around forever.

But as I know from personal experience, this wealth of material at our fingertips can also subtly lead us to believe successful parenting is merely the accumulation of sound bite suggestions, reading the right material, and accurately putting all this into practice. Discernment and practice are critical, but even more essential to successful parenting is the active grace and power of our sovereign God. Like few other responsibilities, parenting reveals our human weaknesses and provides us with many opportunities for prayer.

In his new book A Praying Life, Paul Miller shares a number of personal stories in his growth in personal prayer including this one, which—if I’m honest—confronts my personal pattern of parenting. Miller writes,

When our kids were two, five, eight, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen, I wrote this in my prayer journal:

March 19, 1991. Amazing how when I don’t pray in the morning evil just floods into our home. I absolutely must pray! Oh, God, give me the grace to pray.

It took me seventeen years to realize I couldn’t parent on my own. It was not a great spiritual insight, just a realistic observation. If I didn’t pray deliberately and reflectively for members of my family by name every morning, they’d kill one another. I was incapable of getting inside their hearts. I was desperate. But even more, I couldn’t change my self-confident heart. My prayer journal reflects both my inability to change my kids and my inability to change my self-confidence. That’s why I need grace even to pray…

It didn’t take me long to realize that I did my best parenting by prayer, I began to speak less to the kids and more to God. It was actually quite relaxing.

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life (NavPress 2009) pp. 59-60.

Helpful words.