Why reading aloud as a family is valuable

And three ways to make the most of it

July 23, 2019

Our youngest child is ready for her next series of childhood milestones. She wants to ride a bike without training wheels and learn to swim without her float. And then, she’ll “finally be a big kid,” as she puts it. She’ll also begin reading instruction when she starts kindergarten, and we’ll have another independent reader in the family soon enough. 

She was born into a family of readers, so books have been a part of her life since the day she entered this world. My husband and I have read her hundreds of books, some of them hundreds of times. When she’s flipping through the pages on her own, she’s growing less and less satisfied just looking at the pictures of a book. She’s trying to understand how letters work and how words are made. 

In my education classes in college, we were taught that reading aloud to students had many benefits, including a better vocabulary, a better understanding of grammar and syntax, and increased reading comprehension. But once the child starts reaching fluency, we tend to ask them to exclusively read to themselves. Teachers and parents often view the change from listening to picture books to silently reading novels as a sort of graduation that means our kids don’t need us to read aloud anymore. 

Independent reading is important. Words are everywhere, and we must be able to decode and comprehend their meaning. Our quality of life is often dependent on being able to read words for ourselves—medicine bottles, warning signs, leases, and job descriptions. If reading filled only these utilitarian purposes, then we’re right to stop reading aloud. But reading aloud to our children is not a crutch like training wheels or a swim float. It is not something we do to bide time until they can do it alone. We cheat our children—and ourselves—when we stop reading aloud to them just because they can do it independently. 

Stories allow us to experience so much more than we could in any one life. We get to travel to faraway lands and long ago times and participate in different professions and see the consequences of our decisions. As C.S Lewis wrote, reading allows us “to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.” Stories aren’t just about going on an adventure or solving a thrilling mystery; they are about learning what it means to be flawed, sinful humans with a good and holy God. Stories help us feel the weight of sin and see the beauty of obedience. They work on our hearts as we ponder their meaning and see ourselves reflected in the characters. Good stories will echo the message of the Bible by pointing us to justice and redemption. 

Reading can be better together 

And how much better is it to read stories of hope and restoration together with the ones we love? We should read stories with our children as long as possible that we might walk many roads with them, cry with them over pain and heartbreak and death, laugh with them over quirky characters and funny scenes, and celebrate the joys of marriage, childbirth, and victory. Our children can learn about us as we interact with the story and they hear a tremble or laugh in our voice. Through reading with our children, we can share more of life and grow together. 

As my daughter and I read the Anne of Green Gables series recently, we got to experience the grief of a breakup and, later, the joy of an engagement. She asked me about how her daddy proposed to me, and we looked at pictures from 15 years ago. I was able to share with her God’s faithfulness to our marriage. Through Little Women, my children and I walked alongside each other through many of life’s hardships, including the death of a sibling. We’ve encountered all sorts of evils in the works of Lloyd Alexander, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Walter Wangerin and have been reminded that good always conquers evil. We’ve suffered through the treacherous climb of a mountain in an attempt to summit in Banner in the Sky. We’ve grieved our country’s wicked history of slavery and racism in the works of Mildred Taylor and Christopher Paul Curtis and made connections with the history of our city. Where else can we experience so many of life’s events together without the high stakes of actually being in them?

As my oldest children have fewer years left at home than what’s behind them, I feel the pressure of wanting to teach them everything I possibly can. I want to walk them through the full spectrum of life. And yet, I can’t. But I can read to them stories that have many more experiences than we’d ever find ourselves in their 18 or so years at home and allow the truth of the story, the changes in the characters, and the experience of a range of emotions to help them grow. And as they have gotten older, reading aloud has helped bring us together as a family when their interests and activities take us different directions. 

Making the most of reading aloud 

For some families, reading aloud isn’t the most natural activity to share. Regardless of where you are starting, the benefits are the same, and families can grow as they go. How should parents approach read-aloud time?    

1. Start with reasonable goals. 

You don’t have to read the hardest classics for an incredibly long time with your children frozen in one spot to be successful. Read-aloud time isn’t going to go very well if you start with War and Peace. Good books to start with vary with age and personality. For younger children ready for texts longer than picture books, my family enjoys Homer Price by Robert McCloskey and the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody. If your kids are in late elementary school, try books by Edward Eager or Eleanor Estes to start. For older children, Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga, Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society, or Laura Hillenbrand’s biographies Seabiscuit and Unbroken may be good options.                                                                    

Children can color, play with blocks, or even eat a meal while listening to a story. Sometimes I read aloud to make chore time a little more enjoyable. They don’t have to be sitting perfectly still to follow along. 

When my kids were younger, read-aloud time was 15 minutes. Now they enjoy me reading for longer periods as our day and my voice allow. But, I try not to read for so long that I’ve lost their attention or that they’ve stopped enjoying it. 

2. Read books that you like too. 

You’re not going to prioritize reading if you hate the book. Choose books that interest you as well as the kids. The master storyteller C.S. Lewis wrote, “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” If you’re not currently a reader, it may take longer to get interested in a story, but start by picking something that interests you.

3. Allow the story to work in your children’s hearts. 

Good books that communicate truth don’t need us to moralize them. There’s a reason that Jesus frequently taught in parables: He knew that people were not only capable of understanding them but also that as they considered the meaning and significance of the parable, their hearts were being penetrated by truth. And truth that we understand through a story stays with us longer than when it is reduced to a one sentence moral or, worse, a lecture by mom or dad.

The importance of stories transcend time and place; every culture shares stories because they matter. They pass on tradition and values and history. They help us understand ourselves and others better. And I want them to be a part of my family’s culture as long as there are people in the home to share them with. 

Jessica Burke

Jessica Burke is married to her high school sweetheart, and they have four children. The Burkes lived in Skopje, Macedonia, as missionaries for three years before moving to North Carolina where Jessica’s husband is a chaplain at a local jail and a pastor. A former public school teacher, Jessica home educates her … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24