Read along or just click below and listen to INVITING FAMILIES TO STOP FOR A STORY, originally published as Episode 9 on The Writer's Reverie Podcast on The Writer's Reverie Blog, and simultaneously in RUBY Magazine in September 2016. Running time is 18 minutes. Brew some tea and stop--for a story.
Note: The following is a repost of monthly podcast episodes I recorded under the title, The Writer's Reverie Podcast. They may not show up in order here on the new blog platform, but you will eventually find all 25 episodes under the menu tab AUDIO STORYTIME. I hope you'll enjoy this library of inspirational stories, history lessons, literary chats, and devotionals for the whole family.
Do you sometimes feel like a fractured family?
Too much busy in your lives?
The demands of home, work, church, school, activities, relationships, and the complexities of 21st century living keep many modern day families rushing about in opposing directions—especially now that school’s back in session and our summer vacations are just a happy memory.
But, we can be too busy, and even more separated from one another, just sitting in our homes surrounded by all our modern communication tools. Electronics captivate and shorten attention spans. Social media keeps us connected, filtered through touch screens and emoticons, but imprisoned in a virtual world of news and chatter. Minds learn to expect satisfaction at the click of a button. We lose the ability to wait in the realms of delayed gratification. We squirm with crankiness, weighed down with stress, chasing the minutes of our day . . . tick-tocking away.
Children are trained in this from their earliest years, now. Overstimulated and loving it, with insatiable appetites for non-stop action. It’s a challenge to keep up with them.
Do you ever just want to turn the world off and escape?
Turn back the clock?
Recapture a slice of simpler times?
Maybe even come to a complete STOP!
A hundred years ago, life moved at a much slower pace. Folks didn’t have all the modern conveniences to minimize the cumbersome details necessary to daily life. But, they seemed to have more time on their hands to accomplish the chores required of the day. People lived closer to the beauties of nature—more down to earth. Slower days, with less expected of them in it, they enjoyed the luxury of taking their time in their tasks. Minimal distractions. Harder work—but rewarding.
What if I told you that’s precisely what you can do when you prioritize family reading as a lifestyle . . . when you purpose in your household—with all ages, all at the same time—to STOP! For a story.
Taking time to slow the pace and make a place for reading aloud together seems an archaic activity. But, it was once a normal part of family interaction in years past. In those slower days, novels and storybooks became precious moments and memories shared together. Even when state-of-the-art inventions like the STEREOSCOPE captivated family literacy in the home with 3-D visuals and stories told in captions on cards—like the picture below:
In 1861 Oliver Wendell Holmes invented a hand-held wooden viewer to hold a rectangular card with two identical images side by side, fastened in place by wires. A person put the goggle-framed eyepiece against his eyes, and looked through square lenses to see the two images on the card—just few inches away—blend magically into one three dimensional image with depth. Families passed the amazing image around, taking turns while someone read the caption on the back of the card. Travel images, stories, and current event view cards were very popular for family entertainment—and as a companion to reading books aloud together.
The stereoscope eventually became the View-Master sensation of the mid-20th century, but by then radio, long playing records, and television had usurped books in popularity. The family was more likely to gather in the evening and bicker about which channel to switch on, and program to watch, rather than what book they might all read out loud and enjoy together.
But, really now—what type of reading can satisfy mom, dad, boys, girls, toddlers, teens, and even grandma and grandpa, all at the same time?
To answer that question, we must first determine the overarching purposes in developing such a reading routine. Each member of the family will have differing tastes in literature. But, this does not need to become a divisive element to family reading, because it doesn’t even enter the equation.
WHY Family Reading?
Before you begin, you must set the ground rules of understanding WHY you’re gathering together in one place to open a book and read aloud as a family—all ages, all at the same time:
WHAT Books are Best for Family Reading?
Some 2,400 years ago, Plato advised in his classic work of Western thought, Republic, that “It is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts . . . then will our youth dwell in a land of health, amid fair sights and sounds, and receive the good in everything; and beauty.”
The last part of that quote might sound familiar to you if you’ve hung around me for the past decade or so. It’s been my personal tagline expanding the moniker I wear as an “enrichment artist” and storyteller: Telling stories that lead to all good things and beauty. It is also a snapshot of my life verse in Philippians 4:8NKJV:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy— meditate on these things.
Plato understood that virtue is developed in the human heart purposefully. The stories of our youth have great import in the process. When we understand that our family reading lifestyle has higher purposes than merely amusing family entertainment the choice in literature to read aloud becomes clear:
Is it a virtuous tale that will lead to all things good and beauty?
Is it a story that illustrates truth, noble thoughts, justice, purity, loveliness, goodness, virtue, and praiseworthiness?
If you’re feeling like that fractured family described above, enhance your parent-child relationships as you develop a regular habit of family reading, modeling a love of learning. This is what I mean when I use the term, “family literacy.”
To be literate is to be learned and instructed. To do so in the context of a family unit cements the nurturing heart of home to the instruction of the mind. The impact of this on every family member in the sphere of their emotional well-being, personal worth, and confidence, with an expanded capacity to love and be loved, is incalculable.
Reading aloud as a family builds minds and binds hearts.
I can trace my calling today as a writer, speaker, and dramatist, back to those cozy moments cuddled on the couch with my own mother. She opened a poetry book that had once belonged to her mother—a gift from an unrequited suitor in 1925. Grandma married my grandfather, but kept the poetry book. That book became an integral part of my mother’s literacy lifestyle growing up. She took it with her when she married and regularly read aloud to me and my sister from it.
There were no colorful pictures—let alone 3-D images to captivate. Just small yellowed portraits of long dead poets whose work contributed to the volume titled, One Hundred and One Famous Poems. I never minded that there were no pictures. When mother read select favorites, images like a movie screen materialized in my mind’s eye. The cadence of the words lingered like a melody. Each reading session was peppered with questions to better understand the story. Constructive conversations about important concepts challenged my thinking. My love of learning and literature was sealed.
Even today, when I perform some of those classic poems speaking on this topic, I hear mom’s voice echoing the delivery in my ear. She may be gone, enjoying the company of Jesus now—but our earthly relationship lives on in every work I write, read, or dramatize.
We shared the glories of STORY together! When days were slower and there weren’t so many buttons to push us speedily onward against the clock, stopping for a story was foundational to our lives. And I am better for it.
But, that was fifty years ago. Today’s modern family has been severely hampered by the vile efforts in society to redefine the family and place restrictions on the authority of parents. A monster government claims to be a better arbiter of what is best for your children. In fact, a whole generation has been trained to relinquish the reins of their children’s education to a public society and popular culture run wild.
I collect antique and vintage books—especially school books. I’ve made the comparisons to modern textbooks. For all the supposed progress of society, all the state-of-the-art tools for learning, Jane and Johnny aren’t reading near the level their counterparts of a hundred years ago were. In many ways, we are living through a very dark age of illiteracy in these contemporary times.
Much of today’s popular literature and entertainment targets the base nature of the human heart—including a good deal of what is marketed to children, and especially in the young adult genres. Language is dumbed down and absolute morality is replaced with overstuffed tolerance levels of “anything goes” and “do what is right in your own eyes.”
Hmmm. The biblical Book of Judges has some lessons for us on that score—but that’s another article all in itself!
STOP for a Story
In this busy, rush-about, wild world, where everything seems to work together to pull families apart, reading stories aloud as a family can make a lasting impact for all good things and beauty in your lives.
STOP for a story as a family and schedule time regularly to curl up with quality literature. Use these precious hours as opportunities to engage in constructive conversation about important virtues and traditional values mined from the stories you read.
Parents must own their place as the primary educator and mentor in their children's lives, and can do so through the pages of a good book. Choose your family reading literature prayerfully, and boldly go against the pop culture tide.
Here’s a short list of suggestions to start you off:
Read the Classics--Invitation to the Classics, edited by Louise Cowan and Os Guinness is a great place for parents to rediscover the masters and make quality choices for reading with older children. I also recommend works by C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, George MacDonald, Lucy Maude Montgomery, G. A. Henty; and for the young ones, A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, and the Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.
Read SELECT Newbery Award Winners—Pre-1960’s--The older title winners are far superior over some of the recent winning titles that do not possess the quality content in plot, language, or characters to pass the plumbline of Philippians 4:8. The Borrowers series by Mary Norton is a favorite of mine—though not a Newbery winner, it took the Carnegie Medal for outstanding children’s literature in 1952. Highly recommended.
Lamplighter Books—A popular press for homeschool families seeking quality classic literature written for children elementary grades and up. These are beautiful, hardcover reprints in the design of antique books—a work of art, each one—both in word and binding. They harken back to the 19th century so there’s lots of great opportunities to follow-up with a bit of historical background of the times. The quaint, melodramatic elements tug at heartstrings and feed imaginations. Lamplighter carries a host of titles as well as audio book dramatizations.
CLICK HERE to check out Miss Kathy's Recommended Reading Lists for grades K-12 and develop a Family Literacy Lifestyle!
And don’t forget to . . .
Read the Bible—Parents can look ahead at what they’ll be reading with their family in regards to literature, and find select Bible references that relate to the story being read. But, don’t miss the opportunity to get a good reader’s Bible in a translation that lends itself to reading aloud. The Message by Eugene Peterson and The Voice published by Thomas Nelson are perfect for this.
Build your family relationships through family literacy—reading and thinking together through the power of story. In so doing you will make cherished memories while igniting a love of learning and literacy in your family, all ages—all at the same time!
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Writer-speaker-dramatist, Kathryn Ross, inspires Christians to develop a Family Literacy Lifestyle producing readers, writers, and thinkers who can engage the world from a biblical worldview. Join me in creative, informative literary reflection and instruction about all things books, publishing, the power of story, and the glory of God to transform lives through His Story.