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Conversations from Reading with Children

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Conversations with children can cycle from hilarious to inspirational to challenging.

When my son was in preschool, I told him once that I’d slept badly. He asked, “Too many hoots?” I laughed when I figured out that he was referring to owls.

A friend was inspired when her son, looking at a mud puddle, said, “Look, Mom! A rainbow landed!”

And my granddaughter challenged me one day with the question, “How can I be less like the devil and more like Jesus?” Her question really made me think. Coming up with a good answer would take me some time, and I knew if I prayed, God would give me the grace to come up with an answer for her. This is an example of how a conversation with a child can draw me closer to God.

Children may have wide open ears, but knowing what they absorb isn’t always easy. That’s one reason I love having conversations with my grandchildren while reading books together. I never know what questions will come up when I ask what they heard.

I’m incredibly blessed to have 11 grandchildren, ranging in age from soon-to-be-born to almost 18. That means I’ve had many hilarious, inspirational, and challenging conversations over the years. And we’ve read a lot of books together. I’ve practically memorized Go, Dog. Go! and other books they wanted to read again and again. And I felt privileged when a high-schooler who struggled to get through Jane Eyre asked me to explain some of the stilted vocabulary. I offered to help her get through it by reading aloud on a video call. It sparked some marvelous conversations we never would have had without sharing the story.

The same is true of Jesus’ story. We hear it read to us all of the time. It never gets old. Just like with Go, Dog. Go!, I’ve memorized some passages. But my appreciation for Gospel stories gets better when I am able to retell them to the grandkids in my own words.

Stories about Jesus can be fresh with each new telling, especially when we allow ourselves to use Ignatian contemplation to gain fresh insights. For example, what comes up if you imagine sitting on your Abba’s knee and listening as God, with great expression, reads you the salvation story?

What stories about Jesus are such favorites that you can retell them with excitement? While writing the Loyola Kids Book of Jesus, His Family, and His Friends, I read drafts to my grandchildren, who were excellent reviewers and editors for me. One day while reading to the nine-year-old, the 12-year-old stopped to listen. I could see in his face that he was hearing the story as if for the first time, and it was exciting. It was the Transfiguration, a story he had heard often at Mass. After listening with great attention for a few minutes, my grandson’s face lit up with comprehension. “I know this story!” he said. He paraphrased the ending with satisfaction.

When Jesus told his followers to be like children, did he mean that we should remain inquisitive? Sometimes my young editors would interrupt to ask me to define words like miracle and Apostle.

It really challenges and solidifies my faith when I have to explain it to someone else. Children have challenged me with questions like, “Does Jesus still cure people today?” or, “What does God look like?” These queries direct me right back to Jesus, who shows up for me when I read to children.

Loretta Pehanich
Loretta Pehanich
Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Loretta. “The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children” – Mahatma Gandhi

  2. Our grandson is only three so he’s just now building enough vocabulary to ask questions. Most of our conversations right now revolve around firefighters or construction workers and their vehicles. LOL. But we, and his parents, are laying the groundwork for his Catholic religious faith. We attend Mass as a family each week, say grace at meals, and his parents read a simple Bible stories book to him at bedtime. I’m sure he will have more questions, as your grandchildren have had, as he gets older.

    • And I suspect some of those questions will be hilarious, and others challenging. For example, “Why do good people have it so hard sometimes? Why doesn’t God just make life easy?”

  3. Loretta,
    What an excellent article about “listening” and “learning” from our little ones. It is so very true that we don’t always hear what our little ones hear. I’ve learned a lot about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit through my grandchildren.

    Remember, it’s all gift.

  4. I loved your piece on conversations with children. The observation about inquisitiveness.
    I belong to a L’Arche community in Richmond Hill Ontario (Spirit Movers!)
    During the pandemic when programs were closed, a Core Member who lives in a group home asked me to read the bible together on Messenger. We took turns reading to one another. His questions were stellar. When we were reading about David and Bathsheba, he interrupted me mid sentence and said, “What did he do that for — I thought he was married already?!!!” There’s so much more, but all to say. Thanks for articulating so beautifully …. Life as a live education that continues to bear fruit. Bonnie Parsons

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