It is amazing how many mistakes we parents can make over the years in raising kids. I’ve made more than I can count, and more than I wish to remember, but somehow they managed to rise above all that and become pretty amazing people. There is one thing that I think my wife and I did right — well, pretty much my wife, with just a little help from me. That was reading to our children while they were small. Trying to teach them the principles of the Gospel is up there also, of course, but tonight I want to put in a good word for reading.
I really think one of the most important things we did as parents was to read to our children while young, well before they could read. Whether it was children’s books and stories or even more advanced material, sitting with them and reading out loud signaled that reading matters. They sensed that and sought to master that skill. We coupled that with phonics training since they usually weren’t getting it at school.
We were amazed one day when we heard our oldest son, just five years old, behind his closed door giving a lecture to his three-year-old brother. He was systematically explaining how to sound out letters and read words, drilling and correcting his pupil. He was holding a reading class of his own on the side, and the three-year-old was paying attention. We hadn’t tried teaching the three-year-old at that level, but his older brother didn’t see any point in waiting and plowed ahead. The three-year-old was soon reading basic words and became a skilled reader far earlier than we expected. It made us realize that we shouldn’t be afraid to teach basic skills even earlier than we assumed would work.
All four of our boys exceeded our expectations academically and have just amazed us with what is possible. Parents (as in mostly my wife) spending plenty of time reading to children while very young makes a huge difference, in my limited experience. My wife was able to stay at home while they were young, a luxury not available to all and a sacrifice that I am grateful for, and I think that was an important factor for my boys.
We used lots of kids books and other materials, but over the years we always did regular family scripture study, and I think that really helped. The King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon have that old-fashioned English that we don’t use much, but the challenge of dealing with these complex texts and big words added another level of richness to their reading experiences and skills. I don’t regret a minute of it.