Mentor Monday Guest Post: (Almost) the Best Thing I Ever Did for My Children

If you enjoyed Elsa’s guest posts on reading this fall, you’re in for a treat today.  Her mom, Donna, will be taking the next two Mentor Mondays to talk about the benefits of reading to our children!
donna reading

Books are one of the best reasons I can think of to be closely associated with children. During my years as an elementary school teacher, I loved reading wonderful books such as The Wind in the Willows, Charlotte’s Web, and Where the Red Fern Grows aloud to my students. My oldest child listened in utero to schoolroom read alouds before she was born.

Becoming a parent launched me into a new world of books for babies, toddlers, and young children. After Mariel’s birth, daily reading aloud continued, but now the texts were board books, picture books, Bible story books, and a weekly stack of library books. Three years later, Mariel was joined by her twin sisters, Bethany and Elsa. Reading times became routine throughout the day and were added spontaneously any time an adult sat down and a lap was available. Hours passed as we read favorite books over and over – books by Richard Scarry, James Marshall, and Russell Hoban; books such as Goodnight Moon and Katy and the Big Snow.

Soon we moved on to new and more challenging authors and subjects and started reading chapter books. A child’s listening comprehension age is always more advanced than her speaking ability. By about age four, children start to understand stories without pictures. We read at home every day and always had books near at hand in the car, in church, in waiting rooms.

During our homeschooling years we collected books on every imaginable topic and from any available source. In addition to fiction, we needed books for school: biographies, poetry, history, books about art, music, and geography. We added bookshelves to almost every room in the house. The girls’ favorite Christmas present was their annual box of books. Friends and family knew that books would always be welcome gifts.

We had become a reading family. No day passed that did not include reading aloud. Even after the girls read well on their own, we gathered in the living room every day for a read-aloud-together time. Some of this time was instructional and devotional. We read art history, science, and books about economics. After trying to study the Bible using various prepared curricula, we finally settled on simply reading the Bible for its plain, straightforward meaning. Our read-aloud times introduced our daughters to C. S. Lewis (starting with Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity) and Francis Schaeffer (The God Who is There, Genesis, True Spirituality).

We also continued to read fiction, by this time focusing on classic literature. We read aloud all of Jane Austen, a fair amount of Dickens and Shakespeare, and some Mark Twain, Tolkien, Thomas Hardy, and Elizabeth Goudge. These books instructed us and helped form our characters and worldview. Our daughters began to realize that each of their lives is a story full of meaning, direction, and adventure.

Looking back, I marvel at the number of books on our cumulative family read-aloud list. Reading these books together became the centerpiece of our schooling and family life. When my girls were preschoolers, if someone had set a long list of books before me and said I must read them to my children, I would have been both incredulous and disheartened. Thankfully, raising children takes time. The pace during these years should be relaxed but purposeful. Reading aloud fits the bill on both counts.

The best of my education has come from the public library. . . My tuition fee is a bus fare and once in a while, five cents for an overdue book. You don’t need to know very much to start with, if you know the way to the public library.” -Lesley Conger

donna girls

Donna Johnson is an assistant professor of education at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD. She fondly recalls reading aloud during the years she was “everything to” Mariel, Bethany, and Elsa. Now she reads aloud to students in her children’s literature course (The Year of Miss Agnes), sometimes reads aloud to her husband when they travel (The Whole Five Feet: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else), and reads aloud to her granddaughter Ada whenever possible (Chicken Soup with Rice).


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