Training to Read for Application
It may not seem like it, but there is more than one way to read something. Maybe you've experienced moments like this in your own life and with your own children... You ask them to go and do their reading for the day and when they finish you ask them what they read. You know, that book they finished reading just 2 minutes ago. "I don't remember," is the answer you hear. Or maybe you've been the one to forget. How many times have you pulled out your bible and read a chapter, only to struggle to remember what you just read?
One definition of reading is simply "the action or skill of reading written or printed matter silently or aloud". This means that we can see a word, put the sounds together, read it, but not understand it. I could "read" a book in latin without understanding a single word of it!
Reading for Understanding
So then how do we read for understanding rather than just simply reading? Another definition of reading is "to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of". This is the goal. This is the goal when we read and this needs to be our goal for our children when we are asking them to read.
We work to foster reading for genuine understanding in a few different ways in our home. When our son was first growing in his reading skills we did this through simple reading comprehension questions. I would read through his chapters before he did and would put together just a few simple questions for him to answer. The questions were not meant to challenge him at that point, but rather to help him look for important information as he read. We found this to be extremely helpful and it created great opportunities for us to talk further and deeper about his reading once he was done. This even led to a greater enjoyment in reading for him. As he truly paid attention to the stories he saw how much fun they were! It was this success that we had in our own home that spurred us on to create Read & Remember. By encouraging our children to engage with their reading on another level, we are training them to read for understanding rather than simply read for completion.
Along the same lines as Read & Remember, we created our science and history units using an approach that I had implemented into our own schooling days. The approach of reading important materials while learning how to pull out important information. If I want my children to read about important people or important events, but I am not training them how to pull out key information, then I am doing them a great disservice. And please don't misunderstand my desire. It is not to memorize a fact. It is honestly not important to me whether or not my young children can tell me the date that a person was born or the exact year that a war took place. What matters to me is whether or not they can recognize that information as important. I want to teach them how to identify information that is valuable and necessary to understanding the full context of people and events. This is why we created the Field Journal in our Sleuths of Science units and the Scroll in our Heroes of History units.
Another way that we do this is by reading aloud to our children. Reading aloud every day gives me the opportunity to connect with my children in a special way. As they listen to my tones and inflections change as I read, I am guiding them to better understand the content without them even knowing it. Then, before we put our book away each day, we can briefly talk about what they just heard. This is another great opportunity to engage their brains and help them to connect reading to actual understanding.
The last way that we encourage reading for understanding in our home is by simply encouraging our children to slow down. Eduction is not a race and real learning doesn't happen over a specific amount of time, but rather over a specific level of real understanding. Reading time in our home is not something that we allow our children to rush through. I am daily encouraging them to take time, read slowly and thoughtfully, and to really enjoy the story they are reading. As I find moments to hear them read aloud to me in our schooling days I am able to hear when they skip over small words or rush through groups of words. This gives me opportunities to slow them down and make them look again. We are continually looking for opportunities to teach our children the benefit of an appropriate slowness. One that breads better quality work and more intentional learning.
From Understanding to Application
I'm positive that there are a plentiful number of reasons to teach our children to read for understanding. More learning takes place when they read for understanding and a deeper joy for the written word is created when they are truly understanding (and enjoying) what they are reading! But there is one reason that takes supreme importance in my book. I desire that my children read for understanding so that they can, in turn, learn to read for application. Every desire I have to increase my children's love of books and love of reading is rooted in a desire for them to grow to love the most incredible book of all, the bible. There are many adults who struggle to read their bibles simply because they struggle to read. Maybe reading is difficult for them or maybe they've never had joy in reading. It becomes very difficult to break habits as adults that were formed as children; both good and bad. So by creating great reading habits in my children I am setting them up for greater reading habits as adults. The chief of these habits being one of reading, understanding, and then applying God's Word to their lives.
It is a struggle for many adults who read their bible on a regular basis to apply what they are reading to their everyday lives. The bible even addresses this in the book of James.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. - James 1:22-25
God's desire is not for us to simply read His Word, but to read it, understand it, and, ultimately, apply it! God's Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and is meant to shape our lives, one day at a time. One application at a time. So then how do we train our children to take their understanding of a text and turn it into application? We talk to them. We ask them questions. We help them to make the link between understanding and application. Let me give you an example...
If you are learning about Christopher Columbus you would begin by helping your children to understand who he was, the choices he made, and the consequence of those choices. Then you take it a step further by asking questions about their lives in comparison to his. How do they see themselves as the same? How are they different? What kinds of choices have they made in their life that have brought similar consequences? Then you talk through their answers. Where do you see them thinking rightly about these things? Encourage those connections that they've made! Where do you see them thinking wrongly through things? Gently correct their thinking and do your part to direct their thought process for future application. This same process can, and should, be applied to everything that we are reading about! From snails and earthworms to the American Gold Rush and World War II.
We have the incredible privilege and opportunity to take our children from reading to understanding to application. I encourage you to embrace that task and keep at it, no matter how challenging it can be on some days! The fruit of our diligence will, Lord willing, make an eternal impact on our children.
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