Today’s post is by publishing coordinator Linda MacKillop.
The memories are vivid and warm and delightful: my husband and I, gathered with our four sons around a campfire in the middle of the woods, with water lapping the shore from the nearby lake. Crickets and tree frogs serenaded us while the wind whispered through the trees above and wood crackled on the fire—usually while someone poked at it with a stick, stirring up the ashes and flames.
Their young faces looked expectantly at us while we all enjoyed being transported to another place through story with a book in my lap or my husband’s lap. At the same time, we were writing our family’s story. We read many animal books during those seasons since we were in the “wilderness”, as well as the Chronicles of Narnia several times over, bonding in glorious summer moments around tales we internalized together.
There were so many levels of learning that took place during those times, which included rainy nights inside a tent, gathered in sleeping bags with a battery-operated light in the middle of our cluster of family members. Once, we spent a week camping in the tail-end of a hurricane right on the coast of Maine. How did I forget to check the forecast before we went? We had to make our reservations and pay up front for this coveted campground well in advance, so I assumed we would go no matter what. But if I had known how dreadful the weather would be with six kids in tow (we were with friends), I certainly would’ve forfeited the money.
Instead, we spent many hours sharing books inside the tent—when we weren’t mopping up the flooding water which soaked our clothes, sleeping bags, food, and books. Even though the ages of our kids spanned five years, if we chose the right book, the older ones were hooked with an adventure of a dog-sledder or a time traveler, while the younger ones followed along as best as they could, picking up new vocabulary words and learning from the older kids that reading is fun and cool.
In the 1980’s, author Jim Trelease wrote his best-selling book, The Read-Aloud Handbook. According to Trelease, reading aloud to your children “builds vocabulary, conditions the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure, provides a reading role model, and fills in the background knowledge necessary to understand things that aren’t in his or her neighborhood—like war or whales or locomotives.” Reading is the perfect family activity that teaches, while also bringing great pleasure.
We encourage you to find similar moments this summer now that the schedule has grown quiet. Enjoy books as a family and connect with your kids around stories that teach values they can absorb and cling to for a lifetime. If you’re not a camper, read around a bonfire in the backyard or just have a “campout” in the family room with a battery operated light in the midst of a collection of sleeping bags with some popcorn (maybe popped in the fireplace?).
Here are a few suggestions to get you started. If your children love animals and horses, Dandi Daley Mackall’s series of Winnie the Horse Gentler would be perfect around the campfire, as would Starlight Animal Rescue series. Or consider Sigmund Brouwer’s Robot Wars series that documents life in an experimental community on Mars. Enjoy a good mystery in The Red Rock Mysteries by Chris Fabry and Jerry Jenkins. Any book that takes you and your kids on a journey through time is sure to capture young minds, so consider T.J. and Time Stumblers by Bill Myers. The characters stumble into one hilarious catastrophe after another while learning the importance of a few core values.
Today, those distant moments of reading together with our sons form some of the highlights of our wonderful family story. As for me, I’d love to go back for one more night and gather them back to share a common read-aloud experience. Even though they are grown men now, sometimes I’m tempted on one of our rare visits with everyone in the same house to pull out a book again and capture everyone’s attention and enjoy a journey to a fictional land. For you young families, this is still an option. Take advantage of the moment!