When parents read to their toddlers at night, an intimate bond grows between them. Children feel loved because their parents’ attention is focused wholly on them. Positive attitudes are formed in early childhood as children associate good experiences with reading. They will sleep more soundly with happy thoughts. As they grow older, the positive habit of reading is formed and implemented. In all likelihood, they will become independent readers. Children who are accustomed to seeing books in the home, and children who hold books in their hands are inclined to be readers in their adolescent years.
Read, and Your World Will Grow Larger
Reading good literature enlarges a child’s world. Vocabulary increases, and language skills improve.
Emily Dickinson begins one of her poems with lines that expand our own thinking:
“There is no frigate like a book
to take us lands away.”
There was no one who understood this thought more than Abraham Lincoln whose speeches with their beautiful cadences reflect the great literature he read.
In our own day, Dr. Ben Carson, the world-renowned pediatric surgeon and candidate for the Republican Party, grew up in a very poor household in which his parents divorced when he was a child. Dr. Carson developed such a violent temper that one day, over a trivial matter, he nearly stabbed a classmate with his knife. Determined that her son would not grow into a delinquent and join the prison population, his mother pressed him to read. She became the instrument through which new worlds were opened up to him as he read voraciously one book after the other.
When speaking to parents and young people, Dr. Carson repeats: “Read and you can go everywhere and anywhere with anyone.” In other words, “Read and your world will grow larger.” Dr. Carson’s world did grow much larger as he embraced the medical profession with purpose and distinction.
Reading as Intelligent Enjoyment
When parents read uplifting and inspiring stories to their young children at their bedtime, certain favorite topics will emerge. Animals, children living in faraway places, sports, suspense mysteries, the arts are only a few topics. Reading biographies is a fine way to learn about the lives of great people who preceded them. Biographies show children the worth of human life and how men and women have woven their own lives into the lives of historical figures. Reading biographies of these men and women and of saints too can inspire their imitation. Lives of the saints do this better than most.
Reading good literature can change life for the better in practical ways. It improves vocabulary and language skills. Children whose parents know a minimum of English need to read a great deal to increase their vocabulary.
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The Language Arts as a Way to Virtue
Where do our children derive their inspiration? And by whom or what? Reading good literature offers virtue to them as an attractive way of life. In fact, reading can be a way to virtue. When children read stories about people who live virtuously, they are inspired to imitate them.
The ancient Greeks, a growing number of theologians, and other educators hold that the cultivation of virtue makes individuals happy, wise, courageous and competent. Summer is the time when our children should grow in virtues like faith, loyalty, hard work, and respect for elders. Virtue is that quality of character by which individuals habitually recognize the right thing and do it. Virtue is always in style and never takes a vacation.
The Joy of Memorizing Poetry
Readers ought not to be surprised at how many people learn poetry by heart. They do it while jogging, traveling by public transportation, doing manual chores, going on errands. Some years ago, learning poetry formed an essential part of the language arts curriculum. Children loved poems like “If,” “The House with Nobody in It,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “St. Catherine, St. Catherine, o come to my aid.”
“Marlon Brando memorized heaps of Shakespeare,” writes Robert Pinsky. Maria Bartiromo, the daughter of Italian immigrants and a Wall Street Whiz, recites Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” whenever she delivers a commencement address.
Memorizing poetry, apart from the sheer joy it gives, is power—power of mastering the beauty of the English language. It brings with it its own reward.