Shaping Christian virtue through reading aloud

Written by Kendra Parks
Published on April 28, 2023

Stories have power

When my husband and I had three young boys under the age of four, I discovered the captivating effect of books and reading aloud. At times, our energy-filled boys would run around our playroom going crazy, and pretending not to hear my voice. Once, out of frustration, I pulled a copy of Kadir Nelson’s He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and Mary Ann Hoberman’s The Seven Silly Eaters off the bookshelf. I sat down in the middle of the boys and started reading aloud, amid their crazy. Do you know what happened? Each boy slowed their dizzying sprints, gathered around me, and listened to the story! The countless times this has worked is probably what cemented our story-lived home. 

As stories began to shape our parenting days, we discovered the power of narrative to shape not only momentary behavior in our children, but lasting Christian virtue as well. Here are a few of the ways stories can impact your children’s moral imagination, whether they are two or twelve!

Diversity matters

By choosing books that include a global array of people and cultures, you encourage a heart for people of all nations that Jesus speaks about in Acts 1:8. This helps develop an eye to look for the marginalized or those not included on the pages they are reading. Jesus’ heart for reconciliation between people groups is apparent in Ephesians 2, where he speaks of his death to break barriers  between the Jews and the Gentiles of his time. In the Spirit of our Lord, if we as a church want to continue breaking barriers worldly systems have enacted to separate people, then we must be aware of our part as parents. We must seek out materials to place before our children’s eyes that represent people of all colors, cultures, countries, and backgrounds to invoke a global imagination in their hearts. 

Developing a faith imagination

Finding stories to place before your children’s eyes that contain characters who pray, read their Bible, and imitate Jesus’ love, models spiritual awareness for them. Philippians 4:8 encourages believers to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” 

Books that plant virtue throughout the narrative allow faith, hope, and charity to grow in the minds of young readers. Likewise, if a book primarily models violence, it gives imagination to aggressive situational responses. And if a book is full of sarcasm and crude jokes, it gives imagination to mimic such behavior. Are you aware of what your children are eating? In the same way you look to ensure their physical health, directing them to books and entertainment of uplifting virtue helps nourish their minds toward spiritual health. 

Redemptive stories

We read plenty of stories in our home that have challenging themes. The beauty of these books is the conversations that have bloomed as we read them aloud as a family or one-on-one with a child before bedtime. Perhaps the best way to look at your child’s book choices on a spiritual level is to pull back and view them as opportunities—opportunities to enrich their spiritual imaginations through character modeling and engagement of thoughtful conversation surrounding the narratives. A story does not necessarily have to be Christian to unearth ethical conversations, but it takes time to engage with your child through it, and to ask good questions as you shepherd the way.

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:6–7 NIV).

Let good books mingle amid your family’s journey. Use them to spark discussions about Jesus’ unending love and God’s timeless truths. 

Read aloud to your children

We read aloud to our children every day! Even if your children can read by themselves, try reading aloud to them a few times weekly. Having a book you read together is a wonderful way to connect, engage in meaningful conversation, and establish family routine, virtue, and identity. Insert a few pages and conversations into your children’s hearts before you pray over them and tuck them in at night, or start an audiobook together while you drive to basketball, theater, or music lessons. We take books with us to appointments, and even toss one in our backpack when we hike.

Jesus is the Word

Christians should not be surprised to read that narrative shapes virtue. Take our Savior Jesus Christ as the living example. John 1 speaks of Jesus as the living Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5).

Jesus took on death to give us everlasting life; to shine light into the darkness. Jesus is the living example of narrative shaping virtue—and our very lives. Don’t underestimate the power of narrative to speak into your family’s life. Pray for wisdom. Study your sweet children to watch what stories leave imprints on their hearts. Perhaps you will discover that your family is a story-lived one as well.

Consider a few extra resources:


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Kendra Parks

Kendra Parks is the author of the devotional journal  Seen: 40 Days of Biblical Encouragement for Moms to Feel Seen and the uplifting children’s book series Grace Notes, about a group of kid musicians who go undercover as “The Good Deed Crew” to spread love in their Colorado hometown. She has a Journalism degree, and grew up reading books in trees and playing her own violin in a traveling string quartet. She currently lives, loves, creates and writes on the edge of a whimsical forest with her best friend/husband Jason (also a writer), where they homeschool their four brilliant dreamers. She is often found steeping in tea and books – usually with a child in her arms or on her back. Find her on Instagram: @kendraparksauthor

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