Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 3: Books to Read With Older Children

Author’s note: a few of my personal favorite chapter books and/or authors are represented in the photo. Many of them showed up again in the survey we conducted. What are YOUR family’s favorite chapter books and authors to read aloud together? Please comment below, and help our community meet some new book friends!

Orthodox Christian parents want to instill the values of our faith into our children’s lives. We desire to protect them from the deception that is so prevalent in our culture while also teaching them to live as Orthodox Christians in that culture. How can we do this? One way to work at this is by reading books together and guiding natural discussions that can come about as a result of that reading.

There are many wonderful Orthodox books out there for kids, and more are constantly being produced. We are blessed to be raising children in this time period, for there are more Orthodox Christian resources available to English-speaking children now than ever before. We need to take advantage of these helpful resources and provide them for our children!

It is also important that we not limit our reading to Orthodox books. We are not living in an exclusively Orthodox world, and we must teach our children how to live in the world without compromising their faith. One way we can teach them to do so is by reading together books that are not Orthodox, viewing what we read through the lens of our Faith, and then talking about it as a family. While we read we will have opportunities to show our children how we should always live our life: constantly bearing in mind what Christ taught us about how to live; what the Ten Commandments teach; what the Church Fathers have taught; and so on. We can then talk together about how the characters in the book are following or ignoring those teachings. These discussions can help our whole family learn how to apply the Faith through someone else’s (in this case, a fictional character’s) experiences. Nurturing our children’s Orthodox faith through books and ensuing discussions can help them to learn to look at all of life through the lens of our Faith, to evaluate their own life in its light, and to make choices that lead them towards Christ and His Church.

These discussions can happen with younger children and picture books. However, their value and importance increase as our children grow older. “Older children’s” books tend to deal with issues and characters’ choices that are even more conducive to these discussions. Bigger kids have bigger issues and tougher choices. Discussing those choices and issues in the context of a book character allows us to help our children shape their understanding of the Faith. Then, when similar situations arise in their own personal life, they already know what is the right thing to do.

The opportunity to teach our children how to apply the Faith intensifies the importance of finding time to read to them, even if they have “outgrown” picture books. We already know that reading to them increases their vocabulary and intelligence and that it is fun! But this may well be the best benefit of all: reading to our older children offers us a natural way to shape their understanding of the Faith by providing examples of how to apply it to their daily life.


Not sure what to read? Don’t worry! The respondents to our summer survey have given us a list of fabulous chapter books that can be read aloud to children. Some of these books are Orthodox, but many are not. We will share them below in alphabetical order by title. (Note: please bear in mind that you know what is best for your family, so some of these books may not be what they need to hear or what you wish to discuss with them. As always, please use your own best judgement for your family.)

“Basil’s Search for Miracles” by Heather Zydek is the story of a middle-school boy’s reawakening to the Faith through unusual circumstances related to an article he’s writing for his school newspaper. (Available many places, including here: http://bookstore.jordanville.org/9781888212860)

“Children’s Bible Reader” published by the American Bible Society. This Bible story book illustrated with icon-style pictures tells stories from the scriptures using words that children can understand. https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

classic fairy tales – You can find fairy tales appropriate for children in the 398.2 section of the children’s department of your local library.

“The Five Little Peppers” (and the ensuing sequels) by Margaret Sidney tells the story of a family consisting of a mother and her five children who have fallen on hard times. They work diligently, love each other fiercely, give generously, and learn much as they rebuild their life together. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CJDDPOO/ref=dp_st_1450558518

“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri is the story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with a crochety mountain man and turns his world around with her love for life. (Note: Spyri wrote many other wonderful children’s books as well.) https://www.amazon.com/Heidi-Childrens-Classics-Johanna-Spyri/dp/0517189674

“The Hobbit” and its sequels, including “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien are all fantasy stories of an honest, “homebody” hobbit whose reluctant choice to join in on a quest begins a chain of events that lands him a very difficult, but very important, job. His adventures, (and the adventures of others after him that come about as a result of his adventures) enable him (and them) to help restore good and peace to their world. https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X

“Let the Little Children Come to Me” by Cornelia Horn and John W. Martens takes a look at childhood in the early church. http://cuapress.cua.edu/books/viewbook.cfm?Book=HOLL

“Miracles of the Orthodox Church” by Mary Efrosini Gregory is the story of Christ’s miracles and how they are continuing today. https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Orthodox-Church-Original-Continue/dp/1933654244/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1476281097&sr=8-2&keywords=miracles+of+the+orthodox+church

“Mission in Christ’s Way” by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is a collection of his essays on missions. https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/mission-in-christs-way?variant=697122139

“The Orthodox Study Bible” is the Bible, complete with footnotes written by Orthodox theologians. http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover

“The Prologue from Ochrid” offers daily readings for Orthodox Christians, including the lives of the saints, homilies, and more. It can be found online at http://www.rocor.org.au/?page_id=925)

“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is the heartrending story of a boy and his coon dogs and their adventures in the Ozarks. https://www.amazon.com/Where-Fern-Grows-Wilson-Rawls/dp/0440412676 

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is the story of a family who works together across space and time to try to save their father. Sprinkled with science, this book allows its readers to learn while suspending disbelief. It is a true work of science fiction, and is the first in a series. https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546

The following authors, publishers, and chapter book series were also recommended by those surveyed:

Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated a delightful series of books about animals, from the animals’ perspective. https://www.amazon.com/Beatrix-Potter-Complete-Tales-Rabbit/dp/072325804X

The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis are beautifully told tales of high adventure and quests with strongly Christian overtones. https://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Narnia-Box-Set-Lewis/dp/0061992887

George MacDonald was a prolific writer who “wrote for the child-like.” He wrote for all ages, but his children’s books can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_fb_1_25?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=george+macdonald+children%27s+classics&sprefix=george+macDonald+children%2Cstripbooks%2C285

The Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling follows an orphaned boy through his wizard-schooling years as he learns how to surrender his own safety/security and use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others. http://harrypotterbooks.scholastic.com/books/original-series

Patricia St. John wrote many children’s books that bring the adventures and learnings of children in other parts of the world to life, in the context of Christian (though not Orthodox) life. Find one of her books, “Rainbow Garden,” (and links to others) here:  https://www.amazon.com/Rainbow-Garden-Patricia-St-John-ebook/dp/0802400280/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476285820&sr=1-7

Spiritual Fragrance Inc.’s books: This Orthodox publishing company features children’s books about Our Lord, His mother, and the saints. Find them here: http://spiritualfragranceinc.com/home/

Lois Lenski wrote (and illustrated) period-appropriate regional books that give the readers a taste of life in different regions of the USA in different time periods. Favorites include “Strawberry Girl” and “Indian Captive.” https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=lois+lenski+books

“The Little House” books, semi-autographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offer the readers a taste of life in the American frontier. “Little House in the Big Woods” introduces the reader to the Ingalls family and their adventures as they decide to leave Wisconsin and head west. The other books follow as the Ingalls girls grow up. http://www.littlehousebooks.com/

Thornton Burgess’ books about animals: especially “Jimmy Skunk”, “Bob White”, and “Peter Cottontail.” These simple chapter books were written with the intent of helping children appreciate nature and wildlife through stories in which the animals can talk and share their adventures. (Find a thorough list of his books here: http://www.thorntonburgess.org/PDF’s/Thornton%20Burgess%20Books.pdf)  


Author’s additional recommendations:

This just in: this sweet chapter book tells the story of a boy named Sam who doesn’t want much to do with church or monasteries, and a corgi named Saucer who lives to herd, and how their stories entwine. The story is so believable (as long as the reader is willing to imagine that animals try to communicate their thoughts) that the reader feels as though she’s watching it unfold. The book has just the right touches of humor. The illustrations are few, but fit the book perfectly. This book is a great addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s bookshelf! http://store.ancientfaith.com/shepherding-sam/

“A Bear Called Paddington” and the ensuing sequels by Michael Bond. Paddington bear is found by the Brown family in London’s Paddington station after his Aunt Lucy cannot care for him any longer, so she ships him away from “deepest, darkest Peru” in hopes that he will have a better life. He gets into all sorts of mischief, usually completely by accident, throughout his life but is forgiven again and again, and remains much-loved by the Browns. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062312181/a-bear-called-paddington

“Betsy Tacy” and the rest of the series by Maud Hart Lovelace offer readers the opportunity to grow along with Betsy and Tacy in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062095879/the-betsy-tacy-treasury

“The Bronze Bow” by Elizabeth George Speare offers its readers the opportunity to join a young man, Daniel bar Jamin, who is involved in the rebellion against the Romans in the time of Christ. What happens when he and his needy sister Leah come into contact with Christ Himself has the potential to be life-changing for them if they allow it to be. http://www.christianbook.com/the-bronze-bow-paperback/elizabeth-speare/9780395137192/pd/137195 (All of Speare’s historical ficion books are a wonderful way to learn about history in the context of a story.)

“Facing East” by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green gives readers a glimpse into the life of an Orthodox mission across the time span of one year. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060654988/?tag=holycrossanti-20

The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander take readers on an adventure with Taran, a boy who knows little of his personal history except that he is an assistant pig keeper who dreams of grand adventure. Thrown into the journey of a lifetime in the very first book, “The Book of Three,” Taran learns the value of friendship and how to do the right thing even when it is impossibly hard. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CKCWI2O/ref=dp_st_0805080481

“Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks offers Orthodox girls a chapter book they can read and relate to! Abigail learns how to handle life as an Orthodox Christian, helped by her friends and her priest through all the adventures an Orthodox girl of today encounters in life. https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


Want even more ideas? Find a purely secular list (you will notice that some of them overlap with our lists) of the top 25 chapter books to read aloud here:




Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 2: Books to Read With Younger Children

Author’s note: many of my personal favorite picture books or picture book authors are represented in the photo. Some of them showed up again in the survey we conducted. What are YOUR family’s favorite picture books and picture book authors? Please comment below, and help our community meet some new book friends!

We parents know that we should be reading to our young children, especially at bedtime. For many of us, however, the question is: WHAT should we read to them? The answer could be “anything we can get our hands on!” We jest, but that statement is at least partially true. In the early years of our children’s life, we greatly benefit them with every book that we read to them. So we should take advantage of every opportunity to read to them! But rather than just reading anything we can get our hands on, we need to be sure to include books that help us steer our children towards the Faith.

The goal for this blog post is to provide our community with a list of books to read with younger children. Our hope is that some of these book suggestions will be new and wonderful discoveries for those among us with little ones. (Or older children as well: picture books are fun to read with any age, so we should not eliminate them from our family’s reading times when our children are old enough to enjoy chapter books!)
We will begin by highlighting two brand new Orthodox books that recently came to our attention. You may want to add these to your family’s bedtime reading.

For the very young:
Goodnight Jesus by Angela Isaacs, with illustrations by Nicholas Malara (available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/goodnight-jesus/)

This brand new board book is the perfect book to finish off a baby or toddler’s day! The sweet illustrations delightfully match the gentle rhymes. The fact that the book teaches children to reverence the icon of Christ in everyone will make parents happy to read the book over and over. And there will always be kisses all around at the end of the reading!

For slightly older children:

Let There Be Light! By Alisa Rakich Brooks, illustrated by R. E. Bursik (available here: http://westserbdio.org/en/sebastian-press/christian-inspiration-for-youth/item/388-let-there-be-light)

This is the first book in what will be (God willing) a series of books that combine scientific study with our Orthodox faith in the context of a story. Mila and her mother are reading the scriptures together at bedtime (what a great time to read the scriptures!) when Mila asks a question about light, and so the story begins. The beautiful icons and other pictures in this book help the reader to follow Mila as she and her mother learn about creation, scientists, and how light works. Mila is just like any other curious child. She wants to know how and why things work, and she’s not afraid to dance a little when she figures it out! She models life as an Orthodox Christian throughout the book as she prays, makes the sign of the cross, and finally gives thanks to God for what she has learned. Young readers will be learning without even realizing it, and even the reader will be encouraged to love God and His creation more than they did before.

The respondents to our summer survey have given us a list of fabulous picture books that can be read to younger children. We will share them below, in alphabetical order by title. (Note: we have shared as much information about the titles as we could, based on what we were given.)

For younger children:

“Catherine’s Pascha” by Charlotte Riggle follows a young girl through Pascha while introducing the reader to the truth that Pascha is celebrated around the world: http://www.catherinespascha.com/

“Every Time I Do My Cross” by Presby. Angela Alatzakis allows readers to follow James throughout his day, as he has opportunities to make the sign of the cross and explains both how and why he does so: http://www.tocpstore.com/product/every-time-i-do-my-cross-pre-order

“Goodnight Ark” by Laura Sassi is a humorous book about what would happen if Noah shared his bed with the animals in the ark because of the storm. http://www.zondervan.com/goodnight-ark-1

“Goodnight Manger” by Laura Sassi is a story about Joseph and Mary trying to get the baby Jesus to sleep in the noisy stable. http://www.zondervan.com/goodnight-manger

“Josiah and Julia Go To Church” by Kelly Ramkin Lardin helps young readers to learn more about how to show respect to God at church: http://store.ancientfaith.com/josiah-and-julia-go-to-church/

“The Littlest Altar Boy” by Jenny Oehlman humorously tells the story of a boy on his first day as an altar server: http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-littlest-altar-boy/

“My Prayer Book” by Dionysios and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis is illustrated with beautiful icons, and provides prayers that can be read together: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Books-in-English/My-Prayer-Book-English/flypage-ask.tpl.html

“What Do You Hear Angel” by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson follows Annie on a walk through the woods with her guardian angel, listening to all the woodland sounds around her and learning that her angel hears them as praises to God! http://store.ancientfaith.com/what-do-you-hear-angel/ “What Do You See at Liturgy?” by Kristina Kallas-Tartara is a colorful board book that introduces little ones to what they will see during the Divine Liturgy.  https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox


For older children:

“The Abbot and I” by Sarah Elizabeth Cowie teaches children about a monastery through the eyes of the monastery cat. https://www.amazon.com/Abbot-As-Told-Josie-Cat/dp/188821225X


“Bible Stories For Babies”

“Corduroy” by Don Freeman tells the story of a stuffed bear who loses the button of his overalls and is in danger of never being adopted out of the store where he lives. http://www.corduroybook.com/books.html

“Daniel and the Lion”

“From I-ville to You-ville” by Mersine Vingopoulo helps the reader to learn more from the teachings of St. Paisios by telling the story of a boy named Stubborn who leaves where he lives in I-ville to become a citizen of you-ville. http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=3FITU

“A Gift for Matthew” by Nick Muzekari tells the story of the adventures of Matthew when he visits a monastery and learns how icons are written. http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-gift-for-matthew/

“The Golden Children’s Bible”  is an illustrated children’s Bible geared for ages 3 to 7: http://www.christianbook.com/the-golden-childrens-bible/9780307165206/pd/65205

“Good King Wenceslas”

“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Browning helps a child end their day in a peaceful way by saying goodnight to everything. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780694003617/goodnight-moon-board-book-60th-anniversary-edition

“Holy Hierarch Luke of Crimea, the Unmercenary Physician” by Cătălin Grigore tells the story of this recent saint, his challenges, and his great love for and devotion to God. http://www.stnectariospress.com/holy-hierarch-luke-of-crimea-the-unmercenary-physician/

“How do dinosaurs say goodnight?” by Jane Yolen is a rollicking rhyme illustrating how it would (or would not) work for dinosaurs to be in a people-type house, getting ready for bed. http://janeyolen.com/works/how-do-dinosaurs-say-goodnight/

“If Jesus Lived Inside My Heart” by Jill Lord helps children think of how Jesus would act if He were in their shoes, in their life. https://www.amazon.com/If-Jesus-Lived-Inside-Heart/dp/0824919378

“The Legend of the Cross” by Dr. Chrissi Hart tells the legend of the wood that the holy cross of Christ was made of, and how it came to be. https://www.amazon.com/Legend-Cross-Chrissi-Hart/dp/162395570X

“Let the Little Children Come to Me” is a compilation of stories of 50 children martyrs throughout the history of the Church. http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/ccp7/index.php?app=ecom&ns=prodshow&ref=3LETTEH01

“The Monk Who Grew Prayer” by Claire Brandenburg helps children learn about cultivating their prayer life, just as the monk did in this story. http://www.svspress.com/monk-who-grew-prayer-the/

“North Star” by Dorrie Papademetriou tells the story of St. Herman of Alaska.  http://www.svspress.com/north-star-st-herman-of-alaska-hardcover/

“The Orthodox Children’s Bible Reader” published by the American Bible Society is an Orthodox illustrated Bible storybook. https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

“Psalms for Young Children” by Marie-Helene Delval offers paraphrased Psalms to help children with their feelings as expressed in the Psalms. https://www.amazon.com/Psalms-Young-Children-Marie-Helene-Delval/dp/0802853226

“The Ravens of Farne” by Donna Farley tells the story of St. Cuthbert. http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-ravens-of-farne-a-tale-of-saint-cuthbert/

“The Saint and his Bees” by Dessi Jackson tells the story of St. Modomnoc and his bees in Ireland. https://www.amazon.com/Saint-his-Bees-Dessi-Jackson/dp/1623954878

“Saint Gerosimos and the Lion” by Georgia Kalogerakis tells the story of the saint who befriended a lion by removing the thorn in its paw, and its faithfulness to him after that happened. http://www.stnectariospress.com/st-gerasimos-and-the-lion/

“Saint Seraphim’s Beatitudes” by Fr. Daniel Marshall tells the story of St. Seraphim of Sarov. http://stinnocentpress.com/products/st-seraphims-beatitudes2.html

“Song of the Talanton” by Claire Brandenburg helps children learn what a talanton is and how it is used to draw people to worship at a monastery. http://store.ancientfaith.com/song-of-the-talanton/

“Sweet Song” by Jane G. Meyer tells the story of St. Romanos the Melodist.  http://store.ancientfaith.com/sweet-song-a-story-of-saint-romanos-the-melodist/

“The Story of Holy Hierarch John Maximovitch the New Wonderworker” by Catalin Grigore tells the story of St. John Maximovitch. http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-story-of-the-holy-hierarch-nectarios-the-wonderworker/

“Thank You God”

“And Then Nicholas Sang” by Elizabeth Johnson tells the story of the trisagion hymn.  http://store.ancientfaith.com/and-then-nicholas-sang/

“Under the Grapevine” by Dr. Chrissi Hart tells the true story of a miracle by St. Kendeas of Cyprus. http://store.ancientfaith.com/and-then-nicholas-sang/

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle offers children the opportunity to follow a little caterpillar as he eats his way through a variety of foods, each increasing in number by one. (find a list of his books here: http://www.eric-carle.com/ECbooks.html#anchor707516)


The following authors and/or publishers of picture books were also recommended by those surveyed:

Dr Seuss wrote many silly rhymes loved by children of all ages such as http://www.best-books-for-kids.com/list-of-dr-seuss-books.html 

Marina Paliaki wrote these icon board books (http://store.ancientfaith.com/birth-of-christ-in-icons-board-book/, http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-life-of-christ-in-icons-board-book/, and http://store.ancientfaith.com/the-mother-of-god-in-icons-board-book/)

The Paterikon series published by Potamitis Press are beautifully illustrated books that each tell the story of a saint, or a story from Scriptures: http://orthodoxchildrensbooks.com/eng/index.php/Paterikon-for-Kids-Set-1-20/English-Paterikon-for-Kids-1-20-Set/flypage-ask.tpl.html (this links to only the first set: there are currently 5 sets)

Spiritual Fragrance Publishing Co. offers a variety of books about Christ and the saints: http://spiritualfragranceinc.com/home/

Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Berenstain Bears books offer stories of bears who live much like people, the struggles they encounter, and the moral way in which their parents help them to grow up to be good citizens. http://www.berenstainbears.com/

Jane G. Meyer has written more books than those listed above. Find them here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/


Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 1: Why Read at Bedtime?

For many families, the words “bedtime” and “stories” go hand in hand. In the “Bedtime Routines” survey that we conducted, less than 10% of participants selected “we do not read books together at bedtime;” indicating that over 90% of the families who participated do read books together at bedtime (and the others may have parents that tell stories but do not read them from a book, but our survey did not ask about that!). What is it about bedtime and stories that goes together? Is it important to include stories at bedtime? If so, at what age should we begin to read to our children? When should we stop?

First, let’s take a look at why bedtime and stories go together so well. If we think about it a little, we realize that whether we are 2 or 100, each story that we hear offers us a mental break from real life. This is what draws us to stories, whether they are told, read, or acted out in a play or a movie. Besides the mental release, stories also offer us an opportunity to observe the characters’ experiences and learn from their mistakes (without having to make the mistakes and learn the lessons for ourselves). The rest that comes from stepping back from the intensity of life is a great way to begin to relax and prepare for sleep. That is a likely reason that bedtime and stories (read aloud or told) are paired as a part of so many families’ bedtime routines.
So, is it important that we include stories with the bedtime routine? Studies have shown that besides the beneficial mental break mentioned above, reading bedtime stories helps children to learn. The vocabulary in the stories shapes and enlarges their own vocabulary. The patterns they find in hearing the same book read over and over again help to organize the way that children think and allows them to begin to make predictions about what should or will happen next. The positive feelings associated with this cozy daily routine offer comfort and stability to children (and, if we are honest, to us as adults, as well). So, while it is possible to have a bedtime routine without including stories, the benefits are so great that perhaps it is important to include them in the bedtime routine.

What age is the appropriate age for bedtime stories? We have read that as early as in utero, children benefit from hearing their parents’ voices. We also read that teens continue to learn from hearing stories read to them. That’s a wide range of ages! But, at least in our experience, beginning to read aloud to our children as early as possible and continuing to read to them for as many years as possible affords them continuous learning opportunities. Also creating family memories together through stories is just a lot of fun. The mutual, “Remember that time we read that book (terrible or awesome as it was)?,” can only happen if we have actually taken time to read aloud together, regardless of the age of our child(ren).

We found countless articles celebrating the value of reading aloud to children at bedtime. We will share a few of them below. We hope that you will find them helpful, and begin (or continue!) to read together at bedtime.

Note: This is the first in a subseries of the bedtime routine articles. This subseries will look specifically at reading books to our children at bedtime. The next two blog posts will feature suggestions of books to read to younger readers and to older readers, respectively. In the weeks beyond that, we will focus on other kinds of bedtime stories, including stories from the lives of the saints and Bible stories. Thanks again to each member of our community who filled out the survey over the summer: we will be sharing your suggestions and adding a few of our own.


Improved speech, language, spelling, and imagination: all of these are benefits of reading aloud to our children! Read more in this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/caroline-hartwell/reading-to-children_b_8488578.html


“Great ideas come from people who are able to bring their whole selves – emotional as well as rational, memory as well as logic – to bear on problems. Bedtime stories give reading an emotional depth. Why would you ever stop? This is something people have done since the days of sitting around campfires napping flints. To stop doing it now is to break the great chain of our being.” ~ Cottrell Boyce, as quoted in this article on how important bedtime stories are to children’s literacy: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/sep/26/bedtime-story-is-key-to-literacy-says-childrens-writer-cottrell-boyce


Find an article about the benefits of (as well as tips for) reading books to babies here: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/reading-babies.html


This blog post offers 6 outstanding reasons for reading to children. It also utilizes the word “hogwash” in reference to children’s attention spans being short. Read the post for yourself to find out why: http://blog.housefairy.org/6-benefits-of-reading-bedtime-stories


“…Reading picture books with young children may mean that they hear more words, while at the same time, their brains practice creating the images associated with those words — and with the more complex sentences and rhymes that make up even simple stories.” from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/bedtime-stories-for-young-brains/?_r=0

It is not just the “littles” that benefit from bedtime stories. Big kids benefit from being read to (at bedtime or otherwise) as well! This article offers an elaborated list of ways that reading to your “bigger” kids will help them: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/parent-child/importance-reading-bedtime-stories-to-big-kids


For those of us with teens: keep reading!!!

If you have not yet begun reading to your children at bedtime, it is never too late to help them in this way! Recent research has found that reading to children boosts their cognitive levels regardless of when it is begun! “…Researchers have found that electronic images of the brains of children considered poor readers show little activity in the verbal-processing areas. But after the researchers spent one to two hours a day for eight weeks reading to the poor readers and performing other literacy exercises with them, their brain activity had changed to look like that of the good readers.” Read this and more in this excellent article full of information about why to read to children at all ages – even into their teens:




Bedtime and Other Rituals: Winding Down and Gathering Together

As we begin our series on bedtime routines for Orthodox families, we need to start at the very beginning. We need to consider how and where these evening gatherings take place. In the survey we conducted this summer, we asked what families do to wind down, and where they gather. Here are the responses that we received:

How does your family wind down? What do Orthodox Christian families do to help each other calm down and be still before bedtime? Here are the results of the survey question regarding pre-bedtime wind-down activities (respondents could select more than one answer):
We quietly stand together in our icon corner. (23%)
We do bedtime stretches to wind down. (30%)
We do a quiet exercise routine. (1%)
We sit down together to read. (55%)
We cuddle and hug each other. (57%)
We do not have a regular physical activity to quiet our children down. (18%)

So, most families cuddle and hug, and/or sit down to read. Many also do exercise routines, and a fair number stand quietly in their icon corner. And some do nothing specific. A few respondents offered these additional ideas of ways that they quiet down together as part of their bedtime routine:

  • “We hang out in the bedroom and chat before going to sleep.”
  • “I listen to my Russian orthodox cd.”
  • “Nursing/breastfeeding.”
  • “Being that [the children] are a year old, bath time is the main activity.”
  • “A walk around the block prior to the start of bedtime routine.”
  • “Sometimes a cartoon.”
  • “A ‘no electronics’ rule.”
  • “Getting pajamas, and brushing teeth, drinking water, etc. Occasionally a story.”

Of course there are many other quieting activities to do together as a family to wind down before bedtime, but perhaps these can help us be more cognizant of what we are (or are not) doing to help our children be still and prepare for bed.

Where does your family read together at bedtime? We were curious about where other Orthodox families gather for their evening bedtime routine. In the survey, we asked respondents to tell us where they read if reading together is one of the things that they do in their bedtime routine. Here are the responses for where the reading families gather to read (again, respondents could select more than one answer):

We read in our living room. (30%)
We read in the children’s bedrooms. (69%)
We read at our icon corner. (4%)
We read around the dining room table. (4)
And several people offered additional places where they read:  

  • “In Mom’s bedroom”
  • “In the playroom”
  • “In bed”
  • “Parent’s bed”

Where does your family pray together at bedtime? We asked the respondents whose families who pray evening/bedtime prayers together where they gather to do so. Here are their responses (again, the survey allowed them to select more than one answer):

We pray at our icon corner (53%)

We pray around the dining room table(3%)
We pray in the children’s bedrooms (53%)

We pray in the living/family room (3%)

Other places where Orthodox Christian families gather to pray together in the evening include:

  • “We made a chapel in our house.”
  • “[We pray] in our own bedrooms. [We have] older children.”
  • “[We pray] in the children’s icon corners.”
  • “[It] varies between the chapel or our icon corner.”
  • “[We pray] in front of the icons in the children’s room.”

It is our hope that sharing these results will encourage each reader to press on in what their family already is doing at bedtime, while also gaining new and helpful ideas.

Read more about quieting children down at bedtime here:


Are you out of ideas of ways to quiet down with the children before bedtime? Here’s a list that may be helpful: http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/66-things-to-do-with-kids-before-bedtime/


Read several parents’ suggestions of ways to calm toddlers at bedtime here: http://parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/207/how-to-calm-a-toddler-before-bedtime


“An easy relaxation game like starting at their toes and making each body part still as you say goodnight to them is an easy one for kids to practice on their own after a few goes with adult help.” Find this suggestion to help children still themselves at bedtime and more in this blog post: http://picklebums.com/five-ways-to-help-your-child-wind-down-for-sleep/


Find some age-level-appropriate quieting activity ideas that could be useful before a family bedtime routine here: http://modernparentsmessykids.com/quiet-time-activities-perfect-getting-kids-settle-bed/


“Bedtime is a daily opportunity to build and nurture your relationship with your child. There’s something about a quiet darkened room that invites conversation. This is a time to take stock, to snuggle, to talk about some of the important things that your child is thinking about. When children know that bedtime is a time when you give a few minutes of undivided attention, they often save up their most sensitive questions for sharing. Yes, sometimes they’ll use it to hang onto you when you really want to get to your own projects or the newspaper. Calmly set some limits and carry on. This is the real stuff of parenting — building your child’s sense of personal value, answering the big questions, teaching your values through stories and talk.” http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-value-of-a-childs-bedtime-routine/


“According to the Mayo Clinic, relaxing activities like a bath, reading books and soft music help your child wind down for sleep. Children should spend at least 30 minutes preparing for bed, but one hour is optimal.
“Stay away from electronics an hour or more before bedtime. That means no television, iPads or video games. Children model what their parents do, so it’s ideal if you aren’t watching Breaking Bad before bed. You may find that you sleep better as well.
“Avoid vigorous exercise and adrenaline-producing activities too. That means no talent shows, hide-and-seek or tag. No trampolines. No wrestling. No Daddy Tickle Contests. It’s a fun time of night when the entire family is together, but if the kids are running screaming through the house, that may not bode well for drifting quickly off to dreamland.” Find this and more in this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-howell-miller-/the-ultimate-bedtime-routine-for-young-children_b_5982848.html


If you find yourself struggling to get your kiddos to go to bed, try including “wind down” time in your nightly routine. Each of these calming activities is great for spending quality time together as a family in the evenings:” https://pathways.org/blog/6-activities-help-child-wind/?gclid=CIfQ9MrXoM8CFcQehgodaSkIHA




Bedtime and Other Rituals – an Introduction

This fall we will be focusing our attention on bedtime routines and other rituals. Over the summer we posted a survey that many of you took time to answer for us. Those answers will be a significant portion of some of these posts. The first question on the survey invited respondents to rate the importance of a bedtime routine in their family, on a scale of 1 (having no routine at all) to 10 (using the same routine every night). An overwhelming majority (more than 82%) rated routine at bedtime as having an importance level of 7 or higher. We were curious to see if the general public, beyond our Orthodox Christian Parenting community, considers a regular bedtime as truly important or not. We also wondered whether or not it is important to do the same sequence of events in preparing for bedtime every night. We did a little research, and here is what we found:

It seems that a regular bedtime, in and of itself, is of great benefit to children. National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” featured a report (1) several years ago about the importance of a regular bedtime. The report covered a British survey of 10,000 children studied at ages 3, 5, and 7, assessing the effect that having a regular bedtime had on each child’s daytime behaviors. They took into account differences like family size, income, whether or not the child had breakfast, etc., and still came to the same conclusion across the board: the children with irregular bedtimes had a much more difficult time managing themselves during the day. “If you change their bedtimes, say, 7 o’clock one night, 9 o’clock, the next, 8 o’clock the next, 10 o’clock the next, if we do too much of that switching, we end up inducing this kind of jet-lag effect, which makes it really, really difficult to regulate behavior.” said researcher Yvonne Kelly from University College. The study found that children with irregular bedtime were more likely to act out, be hyperactive, or be withdrawn than their regular-bedtime counterparts.

And what about having a routine at bedtime? Is it necessary to follow a certain schedule every night, or does it not matter as long as everyone ends up in bed with clean teeth? Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker answers this question in her article “The Value of a Child’s Bedtime Routine,” posted on PsychCentral.com: “Repetition and structure help children feel safe. Bedtime declares that the day is over. When you are loving and firm about when it is time for bed, you are building your children’s confidence in their world. Repetition for young children is comforting — ever wonder why they want the same story over and over? The repetition of the getting ready for bed routine (getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, a drink of water, a story, a hug, goodnight) lets your child know what to expect and helps him or her feel secure.” (2) So while a bedtime routine may not be imperative (even without one, they will still eventually fall asleep!), it seems that a routine at bedtime is more beneficial to a child than having none.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come to find some ideas that could answer questions like these: How do Orthodox Christian parents in today’s world guide their children in the Faith at the end of a crazy busy day? What routines and rituals can families do to calm their bodies and their minds so that they can rest? What stories, books, songs, and prayers are helpful? We value your input, so please add your own ideas in comments along the way. If you do so, we can all benefit from your family’s experience! And once again, thank you to all who filled out the survey. We look forward to sharing you are doing with the rest of the community!

(1) “Why a Regular Bedtime is Important for Children,” NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Dec. 16, 2013, found here: http://www.npr.org/2013/12/16/251462015/why-a-regular-bedtime-is-important-for-children

(2) “The Value of a Child’s Bedtime Routine,” by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, PsychCentral.com, May 17, 2016, found here:  http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-value-of-a-childs-bedtime-routine/

Read more here:


“Regardless of age, regular schedules and bedtime rituals help us get the sleep we need and to function at peak levels. When it comes to children, this is especially true. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up rested and refreshed.” Read this and more about bedtime routines here: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/childs-bedtime#1


“Enforcing a bedtime can seem impossible at times, but it is well worth it.  Doing so makes things easier when it’s time for the kids to get up in the morning, it enhances their performance at school, and it keeps them healthy.  It’s never too late to start a soothing bedtime routine that will help your child get the rest she needs.” Read this article on the importance of bedtime and sleep, including suggestions for how much sleep children of different ages need, here: http://www.celestialhealing.net/childrens_health/Childhood_Sleep_Routine.htm


“Establishing a bedtime routine helps you create an environment and situation conducive to sleep for your child. Before your child is able to express him or herself verbally, it’s creating signals for the conscious and subconscious that now is the time to settle down… Used consistently, routines help children (and you) set expectations and get into rest mode more quickly.” Find ideas for setting bedtime routines in his article: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/825711/the-importance-of-bedtime-routines


Responses varied when we asked what families do together as a bedtime routine. Here are a few:
“Our routine varies but we always do reading and prayers.”
“We cross ourselves before bedtime”
“We do a special blessing for each child”
“At the end of night prayers, my husband always says, ‘If I have offended or sinned against you in any way, please forgive me.’ And all the kids say the same to us and to each other.”
“We read something — sometimes Scripture, sometimes book, sometimes Saint’s life… but not all 3.”
“Kisses and hugs for each child after they’re in bed.”
“Venerate the icons.”
“Dinner, pajamas, teeth, compline (or preparation for Communion).”
“Read or watch TV together before prayers.”

Parents with babies who are looking for ideas of how to establish a bedtime routine may benefit from watching this short video: http://www.parents.com/baby/care/american-baby-how-tos/how-to-establish-a-bedtime-routine/


“Scientists found that as children switched from having an irregular bedtime to a regular bedtime their behaviors improved. Hope dawns anew with each morning, so remember to set aside that nightly time to read, sing, pray, share highs and lows, or whatever lovely routine you and your kids have established together.” Read this article, complete with five suggestions of things to do (or not to do) as part of your children’s bedtime routine: http://www.thedcmoms.com/2014/11/sponsored-the-importance-of-strong-bedtime-routines/




On the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 or 27)

The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:

Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.

Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.

We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,

Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.

And by the power of Thy Cross

Preserving Thy Kingdom!

Blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!


Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to celebrate it together as a family:


For more background on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory)’s podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/the_universal_exaltation_of_the_precious_and_life-giving_cross


Another excellent resource is this article on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, complete with details of the reason for the feast, here: http://www.antiochian.org/feast-of-the-holy-cross


Read this blog post with your children to help them understand the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-holy-cross-september-14-part-1/


Create your own set of clothespin people and small props to tell (and let your children retell) the story of the finding of the Precious Cross with this detailed tutorial: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/09/04/elevation-of-the-cross-peg-dolls/


Tuck this idea away for next spring, so you can be ready with your own fresh basil at next year’s Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/04/20/traditions-planting-basil-for-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross/


Next time the feast occurs, you may want to print this pop-up centerpiece to help decorate your table for the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/804f8cedc57699833cfee4824634a4b5.pdf

nativity of the Theotokos

On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)

The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.

So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?

Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our children about the feast so that we can better celebrate together.

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!


“The icon and the feast… acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This was but another foreshadowing of what would be offered through Christ, the transformation from death to eternal life.” Read more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, including a brief explanation of the icon, here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmnativity/index_html


Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
Together as a family, look at the different icons. In each, seek every detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in that icon. What can your family conclude about the consistency of icons written by different iconographers? What aspects of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos are the most important, as demonstrated in all the icons? Talk together about how those aspects apply to your family: how do they change your life?


Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! On the Feast day, dress in blue; decorate the house with blue; eat a “blue” meal (including as many blue things as possible: maybe a salad with blue cheese, fruit salad or fruit pizza decorated with blueberries, blue jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0


Find a list of books to read together as well as a variety of activities to consider doing with the family, in celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2011/09/festal-learning-basket-nativity-of.html


Families with very young children will want to take a look at the ideas of ways to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos mentioned in these blog posts: http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Nativity%20of%20the%20Theotokos


Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth