Looking at the big picture, fostering literary reading is important for the health of our culture. "America can no longer take active and engaged literacy for granted," according to National Endowments chairman, Dana Gioia. "As more Americans lose this capability, our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent minded. These are not qualities that a free, innovative, or productive society can afford to lose."

Bringing it home, there are several good reasons for creating a literary environment by reading to your child. First, reading together fosters relationship and encourages skill development. There's something special about cradling a child on your lap and reading a good book. When a child equates reading with parental affection, he is transferring a positive feeling to an important skill and is more likely to want to read himself.

Second, when you read aloud to your children, you can read books above their reading level. This develops the child's vocabulary. She is more likely to read a new word later when it is part of her receptive vocabulary, even if is has not been previously introduced in her reading studies. Language is first receptive. You hear it. Then you speak it, reproducing it verbally. It is only after these two stages are completed that you can read language or produce it on the written page. Developing your child's vocabulary through reading good literature increases their reading and writing skills.

Third, reading good literature shapes a child's beliefs about themselves, God, and the world. When you read together, you have an opportunity to discuss themes of the story and impart to your child your own schemata of life. Things like compassion and morality come through in a good story with much more impact than a lecture ever could. Some of the best discussions I've had with my children about life and God and the big issues of our world have come as we've read a good book.

Recently, I attended a conference in which Sarah Clarkson, who graduated from homeschool a few years ago, shared the impact literature has had upon her life. She talked about how reading Tolkein had helped her find her own passion and step into God's calling for her life. "Books help us believe in the epic spiritual story," she said.

My own daughter tells me that while some Bible stories have become mundane, God has met her with the same passions and deepened understanding of the Bible stories she's memorized as she's experienced similar themes in literature. My sons, too, have been greatly impacted by the family read a loud time. It's amazing to me how they will bring up scenes or themes from the books we read earlier in the day when I tuck them in bed at night. I love it that they've spent the day processing and want to think it through with me before they go to sleep.

Perhaps you're convinced that incorporating more reading time into your homeschool schedule is important, but like my friend, you haven't discovered how to do incorporate a family reading time with positive results. Here are some ideas that worked for us.

I began reading to my children before they could walk. My house was filled with simple board books. The kids slobbered on them, carried them around, and jabbered to them. Eventually, they would bring their little books to me, crawl onto my lap, and ask me to read to them. I'd even catch them "reading" to their stuffed animals or younger siblings.

Soon we progressed to books with more words on the page and the endless trips to the library began. I tried to find books that would hold my children's attention and didn't force stories upon them that had too many words on the page for the amount of time they were interested in the picture. That's not to say my kids never started to wiggle off my lap or turn the page before I was ready. But I kept reading and sought to tailor that read a-loud-time to their attention span.

Honestly, I received some criticism about this at homeschool conventions where vendors were absolutely convinced that their books were geared for an average four-year-old, but I disagreed. Many times I had to go with my gut feeling about what books would hold my children's attention, even when I secretly feared my children were behind schedule as vendors tried to convince me to buy something I felt was not age appropriate. A mom knows her children better than anyone else. When choosing books, don't feel pressured to choose literature someone else believes you must have. Step back and ask yourself what will really work in your home, and make your decisions based on that, not on pressure, guilt, or insecurity.