Fiddling While Rome Learns
Sarah Mackenzie, The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids (Zondervan, 2018).
Reading is essential. We all know this to be true, but we do not always take the time to read to our children. It is easy to put aside reading for pleasure during our busy schedules to tackle things that we feel are more important or necessary. However, we are missing a most important opportunity with our children when we eliminate reading time, especially read aloud time.
The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie does an excellent job explaining the benefits of reading aloud to your family. I found this book to be inspiring and enlightening. Mackenzie simply encourages reading together with no other intent than to spend quality time together. Just read and eventually you will see the benefits of such a simple activity.
The Read Aloud Family is divided into three parts. In Part 1, Mackenzie illustrates the value of reading aloud. She explains how books help us to see the world beyond ourselves. By reading together a little each day, Mackenzie explains that you are creating a connection within your family that will run deep. Parents should read together with their children without setting expectations or making it a learning activity. Choose good quality books and read them aloud for pleasure. The topics of the books will open up family conversation and even the experiences you have together with books will create fun, family memories.
Stories are powerful, and they can impact the reader in a variety of ways. She recommends choosing books that inspire heroic virtue. Your children will live vicariously through characters as you read. Stories stoke the imagination and reach the heart of the reader, creating empathy and compassion through characters and plot.
In Part 2 of the book, Mackenzie focuses on how we can make connections with our kids through books. We usually do a great job reading aloud to our children when they are young, but as they get older and read on their own, we tend to abandon read aloud time with them. It is at this time that reading expectations at school become the main focus for children who strive for success in the school environment. Reading then becomes a duty. Mackenzie states that “parents who think the primary importance of reading is to be successful in school are less likely to have kids who enjoy reading than parents who see reading primarily as a venue for entertainment.” (p.93) Home is where your children have a chance to fall in love with books and read for pleasure.
This is not to say that reading at school is a bad thing. From my experience in both elementary and middle school, children enjoy reading and discussing books in the classroom. Teachers work to foster a love of reading. Parents, however, cannot rely on the school to create a love for reading. The most successful way to do this is to create an atmosphere in the home where reading is done simply for the pure joy of it.
With this is mind, we need to be intentional about making the act of reading aloud a part of our family culture. We need to make reading less of a duty and more of a delight. Put some snacks on the table, open up a book and read. Let conversation or questions naturally arise from the reading; do not read with the intent of quizzing your child on the book afterwards.
Mackenzie explains that reading aloud does not have to be long. Take whatever time you have and read. Books do not have to be heavy with content; they can be simple and fun. If a book choice for your family is unsuccessful, then simply choose a different book to read. You can even use audiobooks when traveling or commuting. Let your children work on something while you read. They do not have to be sitting still. It can be easy to turn reading into a habit in your home.
It is never too late to read aloud to your child. Even if your children are teens, read aloud together. The content of books at this age is as such that adults and older children can enjoy and talk about together. The time spent together with teens is also priceless and this simple act can foster a close relationship between you and your children.
Mackenzie also includes advice on how to choose a good book by using certain criteria and a series of questions. She explains ways you can talk to your kids about books by using both intentional and organic conversations, and she lists examples and explanations of ten good questions to ask about books.
Part 3 of The Read Aloud Family outlines the different age groups and what to expect when reading aloud to each group. It also includes a book list for each age group to give parents a resource as they begin or continue their read aloud journey.
As a parent and an educator, I have always understood the importance of reading. However, I have also always felt like I could do more by way of reading to my kids or my class. What I also found encouraging about this book is that Mackenzie explains that there are times we do not do as much as we want, but that every bit we have done already has been beneficial. I encourage every parent to read this book for inspiration and encouragement as you begin or continue your read aloud journey.
The simple act of reading aloud at home results in numerous benefits to your family. Begin reading aloud now. You will never regret the time you spent reading with your children.
**You can also listen to Sarah Mackenzie on her Read Aloud Revival podcast to get more ideas about reading in your home.
Mrs. Bohot, Kindergarten
When I volunteered to write an article on this important topic, we were not in COVID quarantine. “The Importance of a Pleasant Atmosphere in the Home” has since taken on a whole new meaning.
With most of us being at home 24/7, taking care of and “homeschooling” our children, this topic is certainly relative to our home environments today. Can we really create a pleasant home environment amid the chaos and new routines?
As we are well-aware, a child’s home environment has a profound impact on learning and behavior in school (see “The Impact of Home Environment” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/the-impact-of-home-environment/).
Well, school is now at home, so trying to create that pleasant environment may be tougher than we think. We all want the best for our children, and that most definitely includes good behavior. Before this much-despised quarantine and back in the “good old’ days” when your children were at school, you probably asked the question, “How was your day?” or “Were you good in class?” Now you are asking yourselves those same questions! How was your day?
If you did not already have a calm, pleasant environment at home, you may be struggling to find routines that work: balancing schoolwork, parental work-from-home duties, and quality family time. This task has probably seemed overwhelming to many!
This pandemic quarantine is unprecedented, and we have been coping as best we can to make our long “at-home” days work. Gone are the days of 8-plus hours at school, rushing to plan dinner, and making time for homework and downtime (if any is left). As a result of the mandated “stay-at-home”, many of you have become closer as a family and have enjoyed having this added time together. But maybe some of you are thinking, “I can’t wait for everything to get back to normal.”
So, what is “normal”? As of right now, we know that it is not rushing out the door to get to school on time, heading to work, or rushing to after-school activities. “Normal” may be a calmer, more relaxed start to the day where you sit down and have breakfast together before starting the day. You might even have time to sit down for dinner together.
You are probably thinking to yourself, “We are already together all day, every day!” But many of these hours can still feel stressful with the monitoring of Zoom chats, doing math worksheets, or writing reports. So, yes, it is still important to create that special “down time” to relax together.
Parents are the best role models for their children, and the examples set at home will either encourage or discourage them. Our home and family are where we should feel most comfortable. Children learn by imitation, so it is important to set a positive and loving environment, yet still set boundaries and expectations.
Being organized at home can go a long way in creating a pleasant environment. To minimize chaos, try designating personal spaces for everyone. Each family member should have their own special place in which to put things such as backpacks, bags, books, schoolwork and personal items, like tablets and phones. Having that sense of organization will lessen arguments and reduce anxiety about where things are when you need them. Create a simple flow for your days. Print your schedule or routine and post it where everyone can see it. Take a few minutes each day to tidy up the house as a family. Do morning chores before breakfast and evening chores after dinner (see “Create a Pleasant Atmosphere,” https://classicallyhomeschooling.com/pleasant-atmosphere/). Working together can create that sense of responsibility and satisfaction in helping one another.
As a classical school, Memorial Lutheran School teaches the good, true and beautiful. How can we best translate this emphasis into our home environments?
One important way in which to fill your home with goodness, truth and beauty, is to gather as a family in prayer and for family devotions. These are the things your children will remember. They will remember their home as a place of love, kindness and especially, the love of Christ. Your children will likely grow into adults who will want to create this same type of home for their families. Start and end your day with prayer. As Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
This really resonates with me. I fondly remember growing up, attending church every Sunday, getting together with my grandparents, and sitting at the lunch table talking about the importance of keeping Jesus front and center in your daily life. As the Bible tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it,” (Proverbs 22:6).
Another important way in which to create and maintain a pleasant environment in the home is to eliminate the negative influences that endanger young children and teens. Most of today’s television programs are not family-friendly and can be hazardous to a child’s well-being. Because children learn by imitation, watching shows that are contrary to Christian values can result in behavior that is not God-pleasing. What we as parents exhibit to children, is what they will remember, and how they will pattern their behavior. When a family shares Christian principles and values, they grow together (see “The Importance of Home and Family,” https://www.meaningfullife.com/home-and-family/).
Now that we are experiencing this constant togetherness, take time to play board games, work on puzzles (good for any age level), go outside in the nice weather for walks and bike rides, or draw in the driveway with sidewalk chalk.
Or you can just simply give each other hugs. Yes, you can give those in your household a big hug! Just be sure to use the “virtual hugs" for your neighbors and friends!
In closing, remember that it is important to treat your children and others with kindness and Christian love. Tell your family and loved ones often that you love them. Create that warmth and love that results in the pleasant home environment that is so vitally important in today’s world. The surety of Jesus’ love will provide comfort in these troubled times.