“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Growing up in the 80’s, my family seemed to always be one step behind the ‘technology curve.’ We laugh about it now, but back then technology just wasn’t on our radar (or that of my parents anyway!). We didn’t get color television until 1985, when my father discovered that the Vietnam greenery of Tour of Duty looked unbelievably better in color than black and white. VCRs were a 1988 thing for us, long after the time when video stores started appearing on every street corner. I eventually got an Atari (not the 2,600 my friends got as soon as they came out, but the far inferior 7,800 model when it was at least a couple of years old and on the verge of getting overtaken by Nintendo (which was, incidentally, one of the few technological advances I DID end up getting a reasonable time after release, a Christmas present in late middle-school). I still remember that magical sense of jaw-dropping awesomeness that came with being able to simply move a stick and watch Mario jump and Zelda explore universes on my TV screen.
Indeed, mine was the first video game generation, but we were probably the last ‘reading’ generation as well. While we would often spend hours playing games like Centipede, Asteroids, Pong, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers and more, I remember having a firmly laid foundation of reading and a genuine love for books and the places only they could take me. I would explore every corner of my elementary school library, making mental notes of which books I had already read and which I planned to check out later. I couldn’t wait to delve into Greek Mythology, Aztec ruins, pirate treasure, or fantasy worlds beyond my imagination. The amazing, true stories of the Bible inspired me. Among what seemed like countless others, I travelled to Narnia with C.S. Lewis, Prydain with Lloyd Alexander, and Middle Earth with Tolkien. Then Louis L’Amour took me to places in the American West I could never dream up on my own, except they were all the more incredible because they were based on a way of life that actually was lived by our ancestors. My grandpa’s ‘shoot-em-ups’ (that’s what he called ‘Westerns’) came to life in my head in ways that television couldn’t possibly duplicate.
I realize that not everyone in my generation loved reading, but it was something my parents were able to instill in me from a young age, albeit growing up in an age with fewer distractions than kids have today. Although I did well in school I wasn’t the best student, nor am I close to the top of any career ladder, nor would I consider myself anywhere close to a ‘great’ writer, but I CAN attribute a good portion of anything that could remotely be called ‘success’ in life to my love for reading. It has truly opened the doors to an understanding of the world that I couldn’t have garnered any other way.
So many kids today don’t have that. There are SO many distractions, from increasingly mind-absorbing, all-encompassing video games, to a gazillion television stations, iPads, iPods, cell phones and more. No WONDER kids today don’t know how to communicate with each other, much less express themselves in a coherent sentence! No WONDER our schools are failing and kids don’t seem to care.
All that said, turns out my parents were right. I’m proud to say our kids are behind the technology curve too! They don’t have cell phones, iPods, or fancy game systems. (We’re not criticizing parents who allow their children to have these things, just expressing an opinion for our house.) Don’t get me wrong – we aren’t Amish. 🙂 We do allow some technology. The older two have Leapsters they got for their birthdays and use it for educational games, and we occasionally let them watch programs on Netflix (with a strong bent toward older shows that we know are morally acceptable) and movies we buy for them, but most of all we want our kids to fuel their imaginations through books. Starting with the God-given stories and truths in the Bible to everything else in between, there is no greater attribute we can instill in our children than a love for reading. It will ignite a spark in every area of their lives.
We believe that the very best way to accomplish this is to actually read to our kids, especially those too young to read themselves. It will whet their appetite and make them want to learn to read faster and also read more once they learn. Bedtime stories are a great place to start. Recently I bought a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that our kids love, but there are so many great children’s books out there. Reading Bible stories also makes a great nighttime routine!
Kim and I have decided on a variety of ways to punish our children when they misbehave, and ‘grounding’ is certainly one of those ways. Our children can be ‘grounded’ from TV, from their Leapsters, from any toy they love (especially if they fight with their siblings over that toy!), but never, under any circumstance, will they be ‘grounded’ from reading or playing outside under the sunlight and sky (other than, of course, the time-tested temporary ‘go to your room!!’ 🙂 ). In our world, those are as much a child’s ‘right’ as eating or sleeping.
Nathaniel is seven, just old enough to start reading some basic books. Last month I was going through some boxes and discovered a set of four books I remember reading and loving as a kid – Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and Swiss Family Robinson. When I passed them on to him and told him about the wonderful places those books took me when I was his age, his face lit up in anticipation. When I see him on his bed or on the couch reading, I know that wherever he is, whatever worlds he is traveling to, he will ultimately be better equipped for the world he is in right now.
School may teach your children the nuts and bolts of HOW to read, but it’s up to you to teach them how to LOVE reading! Their lives will be all the richer for it.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” -George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons