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Reading to Your Children

with Dennis and Barbara Rainey | May 8, 2006

On today's broadcast, respected author and parents of six, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, talk about the rewards and benefits of reading to your children.

On today's broadcast, respected author and parents of six, Dennis and Barbara Rainey, talk about the rewards and benefits of reading to your children.

Reading to Your Children

With Dennis and Barbara Rainey
|
May 08, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: As a parent, you want your children reading; you want them to love to read, right?    But you still have to pay attention to what they're reading.  Here's Barbara Rainey.

Barbara: For instance, when Ashley hit about junior high, she was wanting to read a lot of books that had a lot of romance involved in the story, and what it did for her is it made her want to have a boyfriend.  So she didn't need to be reading that stuff yet.  So it's evaluating the messages that are being communicated and evaluating what kind of desires or interests or curiosity is that stirring up in your child that doesn't really need to be there yet.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 8th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We want to talk today about what you can do as a parent to help your children learn to love to read.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Just recently I was with a group of folks who were from Minnesota, and we got to talking about Mankato, Minnesota, because Mankato is the home of an author – Maud Hart Lovelace, who lived back at the turn of the century and wrote children's books.  She wrote the Betsy-Tacy series of books, and these are books that I read to my daughters when they were growing up and then later they read again for themselves and they became some of Amy's favorite books.

 I look back, I would have to say if there is one thing that we did as parents, and I give Mary Ann most of the credit for this, that really helped give our children an edge when it came to schoolwork and studying, it was reading to them and instilling in them a love for reading, and it meant that I had to spend many nights reading books like "Little House on the Prairie," and the Betsy-Tacy series.  But, you know, there's nothing wrong with that.

Dennis: You know, when I was a kid, first grade, I remember the teacher gave me an assignment – or the class, I suppose – of reading a certain number of books for the year, and I think you had to read five books.  And I think I struggled to get the five books just to pass the first grade.  Reading was not one of my great loves, shall we say.

 But the love of my life, Barbara, one of her great loves is reading.  Now, tell me the truth, when you dated me, did you realize …

Barbara: No, of course, not.

Bob: You thought he was much better read?

Barbara: We didn't take books on dates.

Dennis: You know, recently, I was asked to list the 10 books I would want in my library if I could only have just 10.  And I would have to attribute to Barbara many of those books because she got me off into avenues of reading that really has broadened me, and so I don't think it's wrong, as you build your family, for one person to have a strength in an area where the other person isn't necessarily strong.  I think you can look at that as a weakness, or you can look at that as a counterpart who is a real complement.

Bob: Barbara, for you, teaching your kids to read and reading with them was nothing you really had to work at, was it?

Barbara: No, because it was something that I valued early on.  It was something that I did as a child and loved reading as a kid.  I would get a book, especially in the summer, when I wasn't in school, and I could walk to the library and check out books, and I checked out dozens of books and always joined the book reading club in the summer, and I would curl up on the stairs or in a chair or in the backyard or just about anyplace and spend hours reading books during the summer.  So it was natural for me to want to do that for my kids.

Dennis: See, I thought the library was akin to a cemetery.  I was in the ballfield playing ball.  You know, no one would be caught dead in a library in the summertime.

Bob: Reading a book.

Dennis: That's right.  You know, so here we find ourselves married and, all of a sudden, I find that a library really is a resource of living things, you know, books that take you place you couldn't go otherwise.

Bob: How old were your kids, how old was Ashley when you first started reading to her, do you think?

Barbara: Well, I think I started reading to all of our kids when they were about 12 months.  Now, you don't read much to a 12-month-old, because they can't sit still more than about 12 seconds.  But they can sit, and they begin to look at pictures, and at that age they're beginning to recognize things or people or mommy, daddy, and children.  I mean, they can distinguish, at least, visual images.  And so with a book, even if they can't understand the story, which they can't, they can begin to recognize things on the page, and you can begin to point things out and tell the story at the same time.

Bob: And you'd read a book like this one – like "Goodnight, Moon?"

Barbara: Yes, "Goodnight, Moon," is just a classic, and that's one of the ones that we started reading early on to our kids.  It's very simple.  The pictures are very simple, but all my kids loved it.

Dennis: And I learned to love it, I did.

[laughter]

 It was fun.  I really did enjoy reading to the kids.  It was fun to expose them to literature that I'd heard about much of my life, but I remember my mom reading to me, but, again, I was such an activist, my mom compared me to a roadrunner.  And so it was all she could do to get me to sit still to do anything.  And we've got some roadrunners in our family, but Barbara has taught them how to love books.

 One of the things she did early on in our family was give them money for reading books, and I think that's a great motivation – to reward young children – not with a lot of money, but a penny a page or, as they get older, perhaps a nickel a page for books, you know, and pick out books, of course, that have enough words on them that it makes it worthwhile for the age of the child to make reading a part of their steady diet.

Bob: If you started with the kids when they were 12 months old, did you just progressively add a little bit more difficult books to their diet?

Barbara: Well, it was natural for me to read to the kids before they went to sleep, both in the afternoon for naps and then again at night.  So I would say every day we read for probably about an hour – about 20 or 30 minutes in the afternoon before naptime, and then 20 or 30 minutes at night before bed, and it just was part of our routine.  It was just like eating.  Every day that was what we did, and so it was real easy to do that, and as the older ones got older, I just put the – whoever was the baby at that time – on my lap, and I'd have the two older ones on either side, and we'd read.  And when the little one got squirmy, I'd go put him or her to bed and come back and finish with the older ones.  And I enjoyed the time probably as much as the kids did, because it was good for me to sit down and be still and rest, and I relaxed, and I enjoyed being close to them and having them cuddle up with me and reading stories about as much as they did.

Bob: Now, at age 3, 4, 5 – how did you know where to go and what to find that would be appropriate to read to your kids?

Barbara: Well, I guess part of it was just my own experience.  I remember my mother reading nursery rhymes to us when we were little, and so we got a couple of nursery rhyme books when our kids were little, and I'm sure some of them were gifts, baby gifts, and gifts for our kids when they were little, and so I read those, and the other thing is that I read a book called "Honey for a Child's Heart" by Gladys Hunt early on when our kids were younger, and she has lots of suggestions in there of good books to read.  From her book I got a lot of ideas of books that I hadn't read when I was a kid, either, and we began to explore those, too.

Bob: Did your kids differ on their favorites?  Did Benjamin like some books that Ashley didn't care for?  And Samuel liked some that Rebecca didn't care for?  Or did they all seem to like whatever it was you picked to read?

Barbara: I think for our kids, at least our experience was, is that five or six and under, it didn't really matter a whole lot.  We have a book that we read over and over again about the new baby in the family, which was also a Golden Book, and even the boys would sit and listen to that, and they didn’t seem to be particularly bored.  So it was when our kids got to be more school age that they began to have more preferences, and Samuel needed to have books that had more action to them, and the girls were more interested in family stories and things that were more along their lines of interest.

Dennis: Right here I want to say a word to moms to get your husband to read to them.  It's a great opportunity to connect their hearts to one another.  Now, they'll be discouraged if your husband kind of resists it.  He may be a little weary, but that's what Barbara did with me.  I would go upstairs, and I would say to the kids, "Okay, you guys pick out a book," and then I got wise, because they started out picking out the real long books.

Bob: Encyclopedias.

Dennis: Yeah, that's right.  And I –

Barbara: Because they didn't have to go to bed on time.

Dennis: Or the ABC book, where I couldn't skip the pages.  You know, they picked out that book.  But it was a great time to bond and to spend some time with the kids in my lap.  And, later on, as we got into some of the more sophisticated literature – C.S. Lewis and George McDonald, who is a great writer, boy, those were rich times, and I can't say that I would have grown up with the kids in literature if I hadn't started when they were young.

 So I'd encourage moms – help your husband get plugged in at an early age with your kids.

Bob: You know, I don't know if that was Mary Ann's design, but she started with me with Amy as I would put her to bed at night.  We would typically read, and I worked it so that in order for Amy to get her story at night, her room had to be clean.  And that kept the room clean every night because Amy wanted the story and was happy to clean her room – well, not happy – but willing to clean her room in order to get a story read to her.

Dennis: How are you doing with Jimmy and keeping their room …

Bob: … a little more of a challenge.

Dennis: Yeah, okay.

Bob: But it gave me an opportunity to read, for the first time, the "Anne of Green Gables" stories, and to read "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," and to read everything Louisa May Alcott wrote; to read for the first time the George McDonald stories that you talked about.

 Barbara, when the kids got old enough to read themselves, did you continue reading to them?

Barbara: Yes, I did, because, it's interesting, I remember when our kids all were around first grade, and they were able to read, there just isn't a whole lot available on that first-grade reading level that you can give to children who read.  Now, there are some books, but there aren't many, and I think the reason there aren't many is because kids don't stay at that level very long, and so there are many more books that would be for, say, a third, fourth, or fifth-grader than there are for a first-grader.  So I continued to read even though I provided them some books that they could read on their own, because that's such a big accomplishment.

 But we continued to read to our kids until they were 10 and 12.  So I still think that reading out loud as a family, even when your children get older, is a real valuable time spent together.

Dennis: It is such a hard discipline to achieve, though, in this visual culture where we feel like we've got to help them see it, and yet it's like radio.  It's fun to paint images and pictures of reality through wordsmithing.  And great literature does that in the theater of the mind, and I think it's a great chance with kids to learn biblical principles, spiritual values around stories that can pass on character qualities to our children.

Bob: Let me ask you about fantasy, Barbara, because there are some parents who have been concerned about reading fantasy stories to their kids if a book has a witch or a goblin or some of the things that they're concerned about with their children.  They're not sure that they should be reading it to their children.  Was that ever an issue for you?

Barbara: That wasn't really an issue for me partly because I had read "Honey for a Child's Heart" early on with our kids, and she makes a strong case for fantasy and make-believe being important to children.  She talks about how it's good for them because they aren't real concrete thinkers when they're young, and she talks about how important it is to go ahead and allow children to imagine.

Dennis: Listen to what Gladys Hunt says here in her book – "Books introduce us to people and places we wouldn't ordinarily know.  A good book is a magic gateway into a wider world of wonder, beauty, delight, and adventure.  Books are experiences that make us grow that add something to our inner stature."

 You've got to believe the God who created 40,000 different kinds of butterflies, that that God, Jehovah, is the God who also wants to expand our minds through visiting places in books with our kids through imagination that builds the wonder of it all with our kids, so that we share those experiences with them.  And I believe it's as we visit those places like Narnia with our kids that we really do start to build that relationship with them.  It's like going on a trip together.

Bob: Barbara, did you ever start a book with your kids and get halfway into it and go, "I'm not sure we're going to finish this one," because you found some things in it that you were concerned about and have the kids go, "Oh, Mom, come on.  This is the most exciting part."

Barbara: Well, I do remember a for instance when Ashley hit about junior high, she was wanting to read a lot of books that were very good books, they were even Christian authors, but they had a lot of romance involved in the story, and I felt like she was too young to be wanting to think about having a  boyfriend.  So those are the kinds of lines that I draw, because it's evaluating the messages that are being communicated and evaluating what is that doing to your child?  What kind of desires or interests or curiosity is that stirring up in your child that doesn't really need to be there yet?

Dennis: And I think one of the keys for us was, again, what Gladys Hunt wrote about in her book, which is the selection of the book.  You know, if you do a good job selecting the kind of books that you want for your kids, and you know what you're looking for, you're going to avoid exposing your kids to literature before they're ready or inappropriate types of literature.

 In the back of her book she has a bibliography that's over 75 pages long that recommends books, by age level, for children.  This book really, again, motivated me not only to read but also select good books.  And she's got a chapter here, "What Makes a Good Book." 

 Just let me read for moment here a couple of paragraphs.  She says, "Real books have life.  They release something creative in the minds of those who absorb them.  The author captures reality, the permanent stuff of life, and something is aroused in the heart of the reader that endures.  A good book," and I really like this.  She says, "A good book has a profound kind of morality – not a cheap, sentimental sort that thrives on shallow plots and superficial heroes, but the sort of force, which inspires the reader's inner life and draws out all that is noble.  A good writer has something worthy to say and says it in the best possible way.  Then he respects the child's ability to understand.  Principles are not preached but are implicit in the writing."

 And, you know, when I read her book, there was something about how she stated all this that whetted my appetite to become more of a focused reader and to make books a part of my life and to want to impart that to our children.  So, you know, if you're married to a non-reader, or if you're a non-reader, this may be a great place for you to start because I think Gladys Hunt will motivate you, as an adult, to want to get into some of these great books like "Pilgrim's Progress," or the series by Beatrix Potter.  Those books are really worn on our shelf.

Bob: As a matter of fact, Gladys Hunt, who is the author of "Honey for a Child's Heart" is on the phone with us from her home in Michigan.  Welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Gladys: Thank you.

Bob: Did you have any idea back in 1969 when this book was first published that 35 years later people would still be reading it and catching a vision for reading to their children?

Gladys: I had no such idea, but I am absolutely delighted.  I think of all the things I've written, it's my favorite because it has affected so many families, and I am absolutely delighted about that.

Bob: What kind of stories have you heard through the years from moms and dads who have read "Honey for a Child's Heart?"

Gladys: One of my favorites, actually, happened just fairly recently.  A student came up to me, put his arm around me, and he said, "Mrs. Hunt, I have you to thank for a great deal."  And I never saw him before, so I said, "Tell me about it."  So he told me how his mother had heard me speak when he was three years old, and she had purchased the book and brought it home and insisted that her husband read it and, together, they decided that they would be a reading family.  So as we walked across to the meeting house, he was telling me all the titles of the books that his family had read that were part of their riches in this life right now, listing these books. Well, by the time we got to the meeting house, I said, "You know, you have made my day.  In fact, you may have made my life."  I was so grateful to hear a grown man tell me that.  But it's now into the third generation, you see.  The kids who were read to are now young moms reading to their own kids, and it's just been delightful.

Bob: If you were steering a young mom today in the direction of books and, of course, you've got great lists of books in "Honey for a Child's Heart," but, in general, would you steer her back to the classics or do you think there are books being written today that are just as good and just as exciting for moms?

Gladys: I think you need some of both.  Some of these wonderful books go back a long, long way.  But there are also some delightful ones being written today, and one of the reasons I was so pleased that Zondervan has let me update the book is that I was able to include some of these wonderful new books.  But I would not say that some good ones are being written today.  They are listed in "Honey for a Child's Heart."

Bob: The point is, there are plenty of good books at the library or in the bookstores, and they're not hard for moms or dads to find if they've got a guidebook like "Honey for a Child's Heart," right?

Gladys: That's right, you know, a library can be quite intimidating if you go and just see all those books and think, "Where do I begin?"  But if you have a guide, you can find these, and then you'll come to love certain authors, and you'll look for other things that author has written.  Like, if you liked the first Beverly Cleary book, you'll find another and another.  And that's the way you learn authors.  Then you start to talk to your friends about books, because you feel a little bit knowledgeable, and they share ideas, and it's just a whole wonderful world to take children into.

Bob: Gladys, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to be with us, and thank you not only for writing "Honey for a Child's Heart," but for keeping it updated for us through the years so that, as parents, we can find the good new books as well as the classics.

Gladys: Thank you.  It's been my pleasure.

Bob: Great to talk to you.

Gladys: Bye-bye.

Bob: Bye.  And I want to let our listeners know that we have copies of the fourth edition of "Honey for a Child's Heart" in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  We also have "Honey for a Teen's Heart," so if you want to get your kids reading through the summer, you may want to get a copy of both of these books.

 We also have a book that we'd recommend that parents either read to younger children or let your children read through on their own – it's the classic book, "Pilgrim's Progress," that has been retold by Helen Taylor using vocabulary and concepts that younger readers will understand while keeping the story line in tact, and I can't think of a better book for kids to be in than "Pilgrim's Progress."

 We've got all of these resources, again, in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website, FamilyLife.com.  You'll see a red button that says "Go" on our website, and you click that button, it's right in the center of the screen, that will take you to a page where you can get more information about the books we've talked about today, or you can order online.  Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  Click that "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and then get your kids reading this summer.

 You can also call if you need more information, or if you'd like to order by phone – 1-800-FLTODAY is the number.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, then someone on our team can let you know how you can get any of these resources that we've talked about today sent out to you.

 This month we are hoping that we can hear from as many of our FamilyLife Today friends as possible, those of you who listen to our program regularly.  We have an opportunity during the month of May to take advantage of a matching grant that has been provided to us by some friends of our ministry.  These are folks who have agreed that during May they will match every donation we receive on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $350,000.  So when you send a donation of $50 or $100, whatever you are able to do, these folks have said they will match that donation with an equal donation, the same amount, up to a total of $350,000.

 Now, frankly, these funds are much needed.  These are going to help us make it through the summer, which is, traditionally, a time when donations are down for ministries like ours, and yet the ministry doesn't stop during the summer.  The radio program continues to be heard, our website continues to be available, and our staff continues to be here to help and to serve listeners with questions about marriage and family issues.  But if we can take full advantage of this matching gift, that will go a long way to helping our summer slump.  So we're asking you, if you can, to either call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation or go online at FamilyLife.com.  You can donate online, and let me go ahead and say thanks in advance to those of you who are able to help us out.  We appreciate your partnership, and we appreciate the confidence that you place in this ministry when you make a donation.

 Now, as we wrap things up today, you know what would be nice, since we have your wife here, and since she's a good reader, we may have some of our listeners who have gathered their children to be listening to a part of today's program, and we wanted Barbara to read a bedtime story for all of us.  This is the classic children's story, "Goodnight, Moon."

Barbara: (Reads "Goodnight, Moon")

Dennis: Bob, Bob.  Wake up.

Bob: [snoring]

Dennis: [laughs]

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 

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