One of my favorite ways to begin the school year is with a story called Born to Read by children’s author Judy Sierra. It’s about a little boy who loves to read, who reads absolutely everything he can get his hands on, from lists, to cereal boxes, to signs, to books of every variety. The plot involves the ways in which Sam uses his reading skills to solve myriad humorous problems, from entering and winning a cycling race to solving the town’s problem with an untamed giant. My students unfailingly love the funny situations, the colorful illustrations, and the bouncy rhyme of the story, but I also love to use the book as a jumping-off point for class discussion about why we must learn to read. Why all this fuss and bother about coming to school and learning to read and write? In fact, the title of the book was what first drew me to it, because we are, in fact, born to read. What does that mean and what implications does it have for our students?
The Small Children’s Catechism by Christ Schlect that we use at TCA serves as a brilliantly simple way of answering this deep and mysterious question. We know that God reveals Himself to us in His Word and in nature. We further know that from nature we can understand God’s character, law, and wrath, but that it is in His Word alone that we can know “His mercy toward His people.” And where is God’s Word today? The Bible! God has created us to be People of the Book. He has made us so that we have the ability to enter into relationship with Him and with one another through the amazing and beautiful gift of language, and to use that powerful gift to read and write. TCA students know right from the very first days of school that we are not learning to read in order to acquire an important life skill, to do well in school, or even to grow up to get a good job, but to know the Lord as He reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures. I am humbled to know that as a teacher I can share in ushering a small person into the Kingdom through the power of reading. Wow!
I get to witness this beautiful magic at work on a daily basis as I see over and over that my little pupils are not only amazingly capable of learning to read but that their Creator has made them story lovers. God has built a narrative core into each of us, and we long to hear and be captured by stories, and to tell our stories to one another as we seek to know and be known. There are a variety of activities that take place in my classroom on a school day—singing, counting, chanting, working through flashcards, writing, drawing, cutting and pasting, and on and on. But one activity that never fails to elicit a gleeful response from every child is the call to story circle. When we are sharing a picture book, I love to see each child’s face upturned with attention to the book, their eyes eagerly scanning the pictures, their mouths often open with relaxed interest, and their minds attuned to the words. In fact, I have noticed that during story time, my kiddos very rarely require the sort of correction that is commonplace during other activities. Usually the only evidence of a lack of self-control is a child exclaiming over some aspect of the story, blurting out a thought that the story inspires, or laughing a bit too exuberantly. Their bodies are still and their hands are quiet as they give themselves over to the deep delight of story time.
Children want to tell stories too. They love to talk about their own experiences, and even an otherwise reserved child has been known to get on a roll when he has grabbed the class’s attention as he narrates some event in his life. An experienced teacher learns to allow a little extra time after a school break for some stories from the children as they are bursting with things they want to narrate. Learning to write stories is more challenging as small children work to navigate the vagaries of English spelling and some of the tricky conventions of punctuation. In first grade we write in journals as a way to practice this narrative skill. We write about things that have happened to us, like going on a field trip or having fun over a school vacation; we respond to stories we have read; we record information we have learned. We also draw a lot, in journals and “just for fun,” because drawing is another important early literacy skill–another way to tell stories. What a joy to see my little pupils demonstrate every day that they are made in the imago dei as they create and narrate!
All this practice in reading and writing leads us together to God’s Word, where we can feast upon the greatest story ever told. The Bible is God’s great narrative, the glorious story of our redemption in Christ. God does not merely provide us with a prescription for our sin: even a cursory glance at the Scriptures suggests that God made us to be story lovers, as He weaves into His Word the narratives of so many forebears. These stories and the real people they happened to capture our fancy and ignite our curiosity. The stories of Noah and the great flood, of Daniel in the lion’s den, of Joseph and his coat of many colors, of Jonah and the great fish, and a multitude of others should all be part of the warp and woof of our children’s imagination if we are seeking to live out the commands of Deuteronomy 6. Jesus even emphasizes this feature of our nature as He used parables to teach His followers about His Kingdom. He told simple but keenly powerful stories of sowers and seeds, lost coins and sheep, and good Samaritans. He reminds us to let children come to Him, to encourage even little ones to seek Him out and listen to His stories.
Come, He seems to say in His Word, come with Me to story circle.
Written by Jenni Moyer