Opinion by Jim Denney, author of Battle Before Time,
Christian time travel adventure for young readers
In Parts 1 and 2 of this four-part series, I talked about the research of Dr. Catherine Posey, which showed that good books nurture a child’s soul and encourage spiritually sensitive children. In Part 3, we’ll look at five ways we can use Dr. Posey’s insights in our own conversations with our children. In the process, we can encourage our children to build lifelong habits of reading good books and thinking deeply about eternal values. Here are five “key” principles for using children’s literature to unlock your child’s spirituality.
Key No. 1: Read to your children. Help your children learn to associate reading with joy, pleasure, fun, adventure, laughter, and play. Read with them at play time and snack time (books and healthy snacks go great together). Read with them by the fireplace in the wintertime, or out by the pool in the summertime. Take good books on family vacations.
Read from picture books, chapter books, the Bible and Bible story books. Read fiction, poetry, and books about science, nature, and history. Read in a lively, enthused voice, so that children sense the excitement of reading.
When is a child too old to be read to? Never! In The Reading Promise, Alice Ozma tells how, when she was ten years old, she and her father made a pact that he would read to her every night for a hundred nights. By the hundredth night, they had built a habit they didn’t want to break—and they continued reading together until Alice went away to college, a reading streak lasting nine years or exactly 3,218 consecutive nights.
Key No. 2: Encourage your child’s imagination, curiosity, and wonder. Take books on trips to the mountains or the seashore. Imagine the joy of reading to your kids about hobbits and elves while huddled by a campfire in the forest, reading by flashlight. Or read about Jonah and the great fish as you sit on the beach, watching the waves washing in to shore.
Books come alive in a setting where the stories could actually come true. In the mountains, under the stars, or even in a city park, your children will absorb a special sense of wonder about nature and the Creator. You can even connect with nature in your own backyard, watching the hummingbirds at the feeder or looking at the Moon through a telescope, then reading together about birds or worlds beyond our own.
Key No. 3: Ask your child thoughtful questions about books. Set aside quality time with your kids to talk, listen, and interact. Put away the phone, turn off the TV, give your child steady eye contact, nods, hugs, and other signs of affirmation, and let your child know you are really listening. Your undivided attention makes kids feel valued and loved.
Ask open-ended questions—questions that require thought and conversation, questions that can’t be answered “yes” or “no.” Ask about feelings: “How do you think the mouse felt when that happened?” Ask the child to identify with the characters: “What would you do if you were a mouse and that mean cat was chasing you?” Ask the child to compare storybook events with their own experience: “Isn’t that kind of like the day you had yesterday?”
Don’t expect your children to draw the same spiritual meaning from a story that you would. Don’t expect their answers to be “theologically correct.” Avoid making a child feel corrected for giving a “wrong answer.” Nod and smile, and let your child speak freely. A child who fears giving the “wrong answer” will stop talking.
Key No. 4: Use good books to reinforce family rituals and celebrations. Read together as a family in your devotional and prayer times. Read different versions of the nativity story throughout the Christmas season, and different versions of the resurrection story during the Easter season. Combine short spiritual poems and Scripture readings with mealtime prayers.
Encourage your children to see God everywhere—in your home, in the world around them, and in the books they read. Make talking to God feel as natural as talking to each other in the family. As God told Israel, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7, NIV).
Ask questions during the devotional time: “What book are you reading? What was the book about? What did you think about while you were reading? Did the book remind you of the blessings God gives you? Let’s thank God for our blessings.” As screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi has said, “Great art makes a soul homesick for Heaven.” By incorporating spiritual discussions with the books your child reads, you help stir a hunger for God and a longing for Heaven in your child’s soul.
Key No. 5: When talking to your children, freely admit you don’t know all the answers. Your children may ask a difficult question, and you may need to do some research or ask an expert. Don’t hesitate to say, “Let’s find the answer together.” Your children may learn more from researching the answer with you than if you spoon-fed the answer to them.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.” —Kate DiCamillo
Next Saturday: Five more ways to use great children’s literature to help raise spiritually sensitive children.
Just released: My new book with Orlando Magic founder Pat Williams, Character Carved in Stone. Overlooking the Hudson River on the campus of the United States Military Academy at West Point are 12 granite benches, each inscribed with a word representing a key leadership virtue: Compassion, Courage, Dedication, Determination, Dignity, Discipline, Integrity, Loyalty, Perseverance, Responsibility, Service, and Trust. These benches remind cadets of the qualities that lead to victory and success, not just on the battlefield, but in all of life. In Character Carved in Stone, Pat Williams shows us how to develop these 12 essential virtues in ourselves, our children, our teams, our students, and our churches. Foreword by Coach Mike Krzyzewski.
And if you’d like to learn more about how to write faster, more freely, and more brilliantly than you ever thought possible, read my book Writing In Overdrive, available in paperback and ebook editions at Amazon.com. —J.D.