A Family of Readers
As a high school junior, our oldest son, Oscar, is receiving mailings from colleges and universities from around the country—from Ivy Leagues to the community college down the road. He’s also in the season of life where standardized testing begins to occupy an outsized portion of his attention.
He took the SAT this spring and did very well—he’s a bright student who works hard, so we’re very proud and weren’t surprised. We just learned that his scores will further stand out because his verbal score is higher than his math score, which isn’t common among high school males.
We’ve been reading to Oscar since before he was born. Books have always been an important part of his life. We learned long ago that, as much as he loves stories, we don’t get much value in purchasing books for him because he reads through them so quickly. Instead, we’ve become regulars at the public library. With three kids—all of whom are avid readers—we visit the library at least twice a week to exchange books. It’s just one of the regular tasks in our rhythm of life, like going to the grocery store.
All of this is very different from the way I grew up. Sports loomed large in how I spent my time and imagination. It was also an important social binder. All three of our kids, though, can kinda take or leave it. Sometimes, I fret over the fact that our kids aren’t among the best athletes in their class. They don’t know which baseball teams are in the National League or American League, for example. They might not even know if the Chicago Bulls are a basketball team or football team.
So once in a while, when I’m casting about for something to worry over, I get anxious that they are missing out on a lifelong skill that improves vitality and socialization. But when I look around at our life, I see that they are already regularly practicing another lifelong skill—one that might be more important to their long-term well-being. In fact, it occurs to me that after forming them in the practice of our faith, the most important way we’ve shaped our children is to form them as avid readers.
Studies have shown that the best preparation for standardized testing is reading widely and regularly, and our experience with Oscar certainly bears that out. And how does one measure the way good books engender empathy and spark imagination and grease the language wheels of the mind?
Promoting habits of reading is one of the major reasons we limit screen time with the kids. They each have a set amount of time to use on video games (on weekends only), but it is only a fraction of what they spend in books every day. Thinking about it for this post, I’d put the ratio of reading time to screen time at 5:1, which puts my mind at ease when I think about how their imaginations are being formed.
One of the joys of this stage of family life is a quiet house full of readers. It’s not the silence that’s comforting—though I clearly recall longing for it when our children were of the screaming toddler age. It’s the sound of a family exploring new worlds through books—together.