Why is it important to teach our children to read instructions? Why do we spend the first ten years (or so) of a child’s life emphasizing basic literacy skills, such as phonics, spelling, handwriting, and fluency in reading? Why should we expect that a child raised in a Torah-observant household would have a higher ability in reading than a child raised in a pagan home?
The fact that YHWH God has revealed Himself as the Word of God reveals how important words are. Not only is YHWH equal to the Word, but He used words to create the world — which means that as humans, we are able to understand the creation around us by use of the written word. Most importantly, YHWH chose to reveal His instructions to us as words.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Messiah” (Romans 10:17).
Think about this for a moment. YHWH is the Word.
YHWH is not a video. YHWH is not a podcast. YHWH is not oral tradition handed down from one generation to the next. No, He is the written Word.
It is true that YHWH’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). We can learn much about YHWH from videos, television, DVD’s, sermons, podcasts, and oral stories.
However, His instructions to us are written words. Let me show you:
“The secret things belong to YHWH our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
“For YHWH will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of YHWH your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:9-10).
“Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests… And Moses commanded them, ‘At the end of every seven years… when all Israel comes to appear before YHWH your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing” (Deuteronomy 31:9-11).
“When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end…” (Deuteronomy 31:24).
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
“And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them” (Joshua 8:34-35).
In the times of the apostles, the Jews from Berea were noted because they examined the written Scriptures daily, to check to see if what Paul and Silas had taught them was really true.
“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:10-12).
It says that these Jews were “noble” and “of high standing.” It is generally understood that these Jews were probably wealthy and born of higher rank than those from Thessalonica. They were certainly well educated. The Scripture says that they “received the word,” which comes from the Greek word prothumia and means a mind that is predisposed to learning, with eagerness and willingness. They “examined” the Scriptures, which means they interrogated and investigated, to judge or determine something’s truth.
In our curriculum, we want to emphasize literacy, or the ability to understand written words, to apply them to life, and to use language with proficiency in order to interact with the culture around us. Here are some of the ways we do that:
- We teach our children to use Scripture to interpret Scripture. In our Bible curriculum, for instance, we encourage them to look at the Scripture itself to answer the discussion questions we give. If at all possible, children should answer questions with direct quotes from Scripture.
- We have our children memorize a lot of Scripture. We have purposely chosen verses that can be used to defend key doctrines or that encourage obedient, faith-filled living.
- We emphasize reading the instructions. Much of our curriculum supplies directions to the students. We want them to learn how to read the directions and figure out what to do, gradually teaching them to read instructions without help from Mom or other teachers.
- We teach the definition of words so that our children will know what words mean and will be able to comprehend difficult passages.
- We teach our children how to put what they have learned into writing, using their own words, because this lets us see that they understand what they have learned.
One author writes,
Television is the culprit. Anyone who teaches young people, as I have for a quarter century now, knows that the video mind and the book mind are most certainly at enmity. While movies and books sometimes interact in a way that increases readers, the more usual result is that hundreds of hours of VCRs, DVD, video games, television, CDs, computers and the rest are at the exclusion of books and the extermination of the concept of the Bible’s foundational role in the Christian life.
This is a major issue for a religion that believes God has communicated to us in written form and our interaction with God is highly influenced by the reading and understanding of texts. God has not made a movie. He has not handed us a set of principles on a Powerpoint presentation. He has not given us an experience or a feeling. He has not chosen music or art as his primary means of communication. Even the incarnation of Jesus must be framed within the boundaries of propositional, verbal communication in scripture. In other words, we are a religion of the book because God is a God of the book. When, as a culture, we move to a mind that is hostile to the printed page and the reading mind, we are in trouble. (source)
Sometimes we adults have to retrain our brains right alongside our children as they are being homeschooled. We were raised in a video generation. If we do enjoy reading, we prefer fiction to non-fiction, short blog posts to long, historical documents. We’re used to thinking in an Internet society where instructions are images rather than words and where sentences are short enough and in large enough print to be viewed on an iPhone.
“These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
If reading instructions is difficult for you, I encourage you to do the following:
- Read aloud from Scripture with your children each day. At one time, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a counseling ministry. One of their hallmarks was that they asked participants to read aloud from Scripture during counseling sessions. Sometimes these men and women could barely even read, yet they were required to read long passages from Scripture to their counselors. Over the months that they went through the counseling program, it was amazing to see their literacy skills increase exponentially. Adults with learning disabilities and severe dyslexia saw huge improvement, simply from the discipline of reading aloud from Scripture.
- Do copywork with your children each day. Yes, sit next to them with your very own copywork journal and begin to copy the Torah yourself, verse by verse, chapter by chapter.
- Read some of the high-school level assignments. You might choose to assign reading to yourself in Bible, in history, and in science especially.
- Learn to read and write Hebrew and to copy Hebrew from Scripture. Take special advantage of some of the recommended websites, such as Hebrew4Christians and Memrise.
- Memorize Scripture as much as possible. Subjects such as Bible, Together School, History, Science, and even Preschool will give you opportunities to memorize Scripture alongside your children.
- Practice reading directions aloud with your child. In subjects such as arithmetic, as well as arts and crafts, vocabulary, grammar, and writing, practice reading directions orally in order to understand what they mean. Read one phrase at a time. Ask your child if he understands what it means, and if he doesn’t, help him define each word until he does. Re-read the directions again, continuing until you both are sure what to do. Especially in arithmetic, resist the urge to immediately watch a YouTube video, trying to use words to understand meaning instead.
What is our goal in all this literacy? Our goal is to “meditate on [the Book of the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).