Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Lost Art and Why It Matters

Last night was our Christmas program for our kids' ministry at church. The program usually consists of a few songs (instrumentals by the kids and singing as a choir) and a short reading. This year Prince Charming adapted some excerpts from The Jesus Storybook Bible (a book we highly recommend, by the way) to be read aloud to the congregation.

Due to our experience of the past few years, we knew we wanted only three readers. The sad reason for this is most kids are just not capable of reading aloud. I don't say that to judge them but I do find their education wanting in this respect. We tried to avoid having one of our girls do the reading (not wanting the evening to be turned into a Polly & Tigger Christmas Extravaganza) but one of our best readers (a 6th grade student) had a conflict and couldn't come, so Polly got called up.

Polly is in Fourth Grade. She is only 8 (until Monday, when my baby will be -gasp- nine). And I'm not saying this to brag, but the girl can read. Tigger just turned 6 and her reading skills are not quite as good as her sister's...yet. She's getting there. The really crazy thing is Tigger's reading aloud skills are almost as good as most of the fifth and sixth graders in our Wednesday night ministry.

I'm not kidding. When I coached the kids who wanted to try for our reading jobs this year, I had to tell sixth graders such obvious (to me) tips like:

"A period means you stop. Take a breath."
"A comma means you pause."
"A question mark means your voice should raise a bit at the end of the sentence."
"An exclamation point means you should sound excited!"
"Don't rush. We need to hear the words."
"Only read what's written." (For a child who continually made the same grammatical mistake even though the paper in front of her was grammatically correct.)

So, how can the apparently lost skill of reading aloud be taught? Here's what I think helps:

1. Read aloud to our children. With expression. With excitement for what will happen next in the story. I'm not saying you have to do all the voices, but if you feel up to it, it's fun! Prince Charming and I both read to the girls. Sometimes I'm reading a chapter book to the older two and he reads storybooks to the younger two. Sometimes we switch. We haven't quite graduated to the entire family listening to one read aloud yet but we want to do that too.

2. Books on c.d. Our girls have several books on c.d. and cassette that they listen to, along with the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version of The Chronicles of Narnia. They have listened over and over again to these since our family has "quiet time" every day when they must be in their beds but can listen to these c.d.s. This also enables them to listen to stories that are slightly above their reading level. (For instance, Polly was well acquainted with Anne of Green Gables because of a book on c.d. long before she could attempt to read the book herself.)

3. Have children read aloud as soon as they've mastered the basics of reading. Tigger reads aloud to her sister Sweet Pea almost every night. This isn't something we've asked her to do, she just wanted to do it. Prince Charming and I were amazed the first time we peeked in their room and saw Sweet Pea hanging on Tigger's every word, since those two sisters are usually somewhat antagonistic toward each other. Apparently that's all forgotten at night when "reading time" starts. Everyone likes to read to an appreciative audience. Tigger started by reading to our borrowed dog, Onyx. (I guess Onyx was good training for what it would be like to read to an active, three-year-old little sister...)

I was proud of all our kids last night. They sang enthusiastically. They sounded sweet, if nervous, for the reading. They behaved well. And that's quite an achievement for 58 bustling youngsters.

But this is what worries me: learning about God requires reading. God gave us His word; the Bible is God's gift to us. What happens when these kids can't read? They have to take our word for what God says. And our goal ought to be for them to be like the Bereans and search the scriptures for themselves. So we'll keep coaching them on Wednesday nights. We'll have them memorize scripture. And we'll keep repeating, "A comma means you pause," when we have to. Because it matters.


Karin said...

Excellent post! I personally know many adults who cannot read properly; who mumble, trip over the same words again and again, don't know how to project their voice, and generally read expressionless. Glad you are doing all you can to mentor the young ones and make a difference! God bless!

Karabeth Baptist Homeschool said...

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." I'm not sure who said it, but it applies in this case. Did you know that the first Sunday schools were started to teach children to read so that they could study the Bible themselves? And now our church's Wednesday night program has come back to this concept again.

Thanks for working with the children and teaching them - among other things - to read.

Stephen said...

Excellent post (as usual). I have noticed this problem in my Sunday School class too.

We are trying to start in early with Boo, reading the Bible and Winnie the Pooh to him on an approximately daily basis. He's somewhat less than captivated by it at this point, but I am a ham and get a kick out of doing the voices! :-)

Carletta said...

Thank you for the reminder! My two readers are thankfully great at reading aloud, but it is not something I have them do often. I really need to add this back into my day so they don't lose the skill.

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