My most vivid recollection of 5th class is of my teacher, Peter Harwin, perched on his desk, reading aloud from the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes. I remember looking around and seeing boys sprawled face down on their desks while this fresh-faced teacher brought to life another spine-chilling instalment of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. When the hour was over, he would close the book and the class would suddenly rouse from its apparent slumber and beg him to continue. It was all in vain, for he was a master at keeping boys in suspense. It was sweet agony.
I can only remember one other teacher who consistently read aloud to us. His name was Mr Swan—a frail, elderly man and a chronic asthmatic. He used to sit at his desk like an owl, wrapped in a black academic gown coated in chalk dust and, in between gasps for air, read to us George Orwell’s Animal Farm. His laboured breathing never worried us; we were enthralled by the story. By the time he finished, we were all prepared to die for democracy. Socialism was well and truly on the skids. Such is the power of communal reading.
Sadly, the practice of reading aloud to children and teenagers seems to be waning. Perhaps it’s just a case of having replaced one pleasure with another: instead of reading to the kids at the dinner table or as they go to bed, we now watch McGyver with them or play Space Invaders on the computer. But the new forms of sharing are passive, and not nearly as rich as communal reading. Children remember the reading of books and poetry in a way they don’t remember TV programmes. There’s something about reading aloud that creates a genuine bond amongst children in a family or school class. Educational research bears this out and demonstrates convincingly that reading aloud is a vital component in a child’s development.
While it is important to read aloud all types of literature with our children, the most important type of reading involves the Bible. This is the secret for producing strong young Christians (like Timothy—2 Tim 3:15). That’s why I was delighted when I recently discovered the new NIV Family Worship Bible, published by Holman. It’s a gem. It’s crammed full of all sorts of hints about how to teach children of any age. It has helpful suggestions on how to structure meaningful times of family worship, and suggested activities and discussion points on each page. One of its most obvious benefits is that you get the Bible text and question starters all in one package. No need for an extra booklet! It also has a musical supplement.
The Family Worship Bible has given me a new zest for reading aloud with my family, and it has become my No 1 project for 1994 during the International Year of the Family. I can think of no better way to build our family life and to establish a storehouse of treasured memories than to put reading the Bible aloud back on our family agendas.