Read for Fun; Learning Happens Along the Way
Do you ever worry that your children are reading the wrong thing? Does fun reading really accomplish anything? I believe it does, and here’s why.
I’ve always loved to read. My earliest memories involve wonderful, imaginative stories that enriched my life. The Little Red Hen, Johnny-Go-Round, Sendak’s Wild Things, Anderson’s and Grimm’s fairy tales were as much a part of my life as the freeway traffic that flowed endlessly across the street from our home, the railroad at the end of the block, and the liquor store where I bought my weekly treat — a fudgesicle, or if I was feeling flush, a 10-cent Rocket Pop.
Books were companions indoors and out. Every day I’d pack my school bag with at least two books with which to stave off inevitable boredom. Trips to the library or my favorite thrift store were highlights of my week; I knew I’d come home with at least a few more books to cherish.
Reading as a window into life
Perhaps I was an odd little kid, but even then I wasn’t reading just to find out what happened in the story. I read to discover new worlds, different lives, deeper meanings in everyday matters. Reading historical fiction such as Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling, and biographies about women such as Prudence Crandall and Florence Nightingale aroused awareness that not everyone had the kind of life I lived. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom gave me a picture of faith in adversity.
Through stories, both fiction and non-fiction, I learned that it’s essential to stand for what is right; to be brave when it’s easier to be passive; and to understand that every human was created with a heart and soul, and must be treated with kindness and respect.
Reading as relationship
Because I didn’t have brothers and sisters at home, I shared Amy, Meg, and Beth with Jo; adventured with Beverly Grey, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys, and traveled, played, and lived with great men and women of the past through the Landmark biographies. Because I had beloved pets, I devoured animal stories — The Black Stallion, Lassie, and countless others. I wept over Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, and hunted with the Wahoo Bobcat, and came to a new understanding of blindness and the work of guide dogs.
Reading to build a sense of place and possibility
During road trips through the western states, I devoured the work of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. They taught me to truly see and appreciate the vast, not-quite-empty spaces, mercurial skies, and distant horizons. Each book — even the easy reads and funny stories — expanded my small world in some way. And each book showed me compassion, ingenuity, curiosity, persistence, integrity, diligence, humor, and imagination as it could be lived out.
Fun reading as a gateway to the classics
As I read endlessly, often in books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I saw that many of the young characters I read about were receiving a different sort of education than the one I was getting. They read different books, told stories from Shakespeare and Homer and other authors I’d never encountered.
My curiosity piqued, I searched the library shelves for classics. From Jane Eyre to Don Quixote and the fantastical adventures in Jules Verne novels, I loved them. They were different, but they were stories and they were good. Endless reading for fun had given me the vocabulary and reading skills I needed to delve into the more challenging books. I’m almost certain that I learned more from my reading at will than I ever did in a classroom.
Create a reader-friendly atmosphere
As parents, we can’t begin to teach our children everything they need to know, but we can teach them to read. We can make sure they have plenty of good books, time to read, and a comfy spot with good lighting. And we can model the desire to learn and grow.
Stories aren’t just ways to spend time, they are gateways into a more mature understanding of human nature, life, and the natural world. Truth that is carried to the heart through the power of story will linger far longer than anything received through a lecture or a worksheet. As you begin the new school year, make time for reading, and I promise, learning will happen.