(I'd love for this stack to be higher, but in preparation of our move in three weeks, most of our books have been packed.)
After eighteen years of parenting and thirteen years of homeschooling, I can say that one of the things that has defined our family is our love of reading. Having grown up on too much TV, I had to exercise my mental muscles early in my adulthood and develop a taste for good reading.
I always say that you can tell a lot about a person by what's on his or her bookshelves. Perusing ours, you'd find a variety of literary interests, including foreign and US politics, military history, economics, marriage, parenting, biblical apologetics, sewing, decorating, etymology, the Middle East, biographies, cooking, nature study, and others.
A favorite pastime of ours, and one that has greatly solidified our family unity, is reading aloud. I can remember the "olden" days of our parenting when our big girls were small, the boys were smaller, and Gabriela wasn't formed yet. At the time, the girls had a king-size bed in their room that they shared. In the evenings, after bath time, Craig and I would pile onto the girls' bed with all four children and have our "Family Reading Time" before bed. Craig would read and I'd nurse the baby (Graham) as together we'd explore foreign lands, read stories of strength and character, learn history and geography, and have our faith reinforced by the lives of missionaries and martyrs who stood their ground to honor the Lord at any cost. All of this took place without ever leaving home.
We've come to treasure these special times, which are more sporadic these days with varying schedules. Of course, we still have our normal read-aloud time in our homeschool schedule; but our Family Reading Time sometimes gives way to other activities. It used to be that this time was chiseled out of our Monday evenings, but multiple changes over the past couple of years have found us groping for moments to relax together on the sofas with a good family read-aloud.
Just as restricting junk food and providing healthful alternatives trains a child's appetite to crave what is good for him, so abstaining from lesser pastimes that distract and steal time, and providing stimulating, challenging books whets the child's appetite for good reading, helps him learn to focus his attention, and encourages critical thinking. There have been times when I've doubted whether one or another of our children would ever develop a love of reading, but daily, line-upon-line exposure to this regular part of life -- as regular as doing the dishes or making the bed -- has proven an effective tool for encouraging all of the children to enjoy the world of literature.
Early in our homeschooling, when I was devouring every book I could find to learn how to navigate the home education waters, I read a very helpful piece by Michael and Susan Card. In it, they shared their daily homeschool lifestyle and explained the importance of keeping interesting books on a low enough shelf that even small children could learn to appreciate them. They encouraged parents not to worry so much about the risk of damage to the books, as much as the sad possibility that keeping them out of reach would discourage a love of reading. My obsession with the condition of my books is difficult to overcome, but I've taken baby steps to make books readily available to young hands. Incidentally, I've discovered -- unintentionally, of course -- that the length of time it's taking me to get over this obsession is directly correlated with the growth and maturity of our children. We no longer have tiny, destructive hands in our home, which enables me to freely allow access to any and all of our books to all family members. To mothers of small children, though, I say, "Go ahead and allow them now!" (No double-standard intended.)
A couple of days ago, I read a wonderful blog post on the importance and benefit of reading aloud to our children. Lindsay at Passionate Homemaking is a beautiful example of a godly young woman pursuing biblical womanhood according to the Titus 2/Proverbs 31/I Peter 3 model in her home. She is a true Daughter of Sarah. I strongly encourage you to grab a cup of coffee and spend some time perusing her blog. She is doing a marvelous job being Christ's ambassador in the blogosphere. I urge you to then gather your family around the dinner table or on the sofa, or pile onto the bed, and enter into the world of Family Reading Time. You'll never regret it.