“Why do you have to dust in THERE, too??” Precocious seven year old eyes peer at me as I run the dust rag along the very bottom shelf, in between all the pilled books, games, and knickknacks. It is easy to see why this shelf is overlooked – it is the very last place you would think to dust. “You have to dust everywhere – not just the places people look.” The words left my mouth without a lot of thought, but after I said them, I realized my cleaning motto should be implemented in the rest of my life.

How often do I leave the really high shelves or the spaces in between clutter dusty? How many times have I swept the last bit of dirt under the rug, or only cleaned the windows that get light every day? How often have I neglected to clean the schmuck out of the windowsill, or left crumbs in the edge of the drawer? Too often.

Too often do I put on a fake smile, and clean up the parts of my life that everyone can see. I make sure to dust off my facebook page, and vacuum up every indication of weakness from my demeanor. I stain-treat my relationship with my friends, and bleach down my language and music choices when I’m with people who might judge me. I clean all the visible shelves, but I don’t often bother with the ones that are harder to see.

I leave all the grime on my thoughts, and I don’t bother wiping down my spiritual life. I don’t febreeze the corners of my heart I keep secret, and I don’t sweep up the anger problems I have or my anxiety attacks.

I might clean my house well, but how well do I clean my life?

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf….” the sweet four year old’s voice carries to the kitchen as he reads aloud his favorite book. Holding a dish and soapy rag, I pause to listen.  Never missing a beat, and only mixing up a couple words, the little boy recites “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” page by page. Once he finishes, he moves on to another favorite by Anna Dewdney, “Llama Llama Misses Mama”. My heart melts as I listen to him working his way through dozens of his favorite stories that I have read to him over and over again for the past months, and I know if I were to ask him, he could correctly tell me each book’s title, author, and illustrator (as well as what those words mean). Although he hasn’t started school yet, and he cannot fully read, he knows his ABCs, can write his name, and is working on sounding small words out by using his favorite picture books.

This scene took place in the summer of 2011 with a little boy I babysat once or twice a week for about nine months. He loved books, and since reading is a passion of mine, I always brought a bag full of children’s books when I spent time with him. Over the course of those nine months, we spent dozens of hours reading books together. Once he got to know a story, he would “read” along with me, and we would say the words together, using silly voices and giggling at the comical parts.  This little boy was hungry like that very hungry caterpillar – but not hungry for food and leaves – hungry for learning and literacy.

Child literacy is no small issue today. A study from April of 2012 reports that 67 million children worldwide do not have access to any sort of formal education, and more than 796 million people cannot read or write (Cree, Kay & Steward, 2012). These numbers are staggering considering how little it takes to influence and improve children’s literacy. Many studies have shown that something as small as reading to children regularly improves their reading, writing, and numeric skills. According to the National Education Association (2013) 26% of children who were read to three or four times in the last week by a family member could recognize all their ABCs, as compared to only 14% of those who were not.

A year later, that little boy started kindergarten already “ahead” of the game because of the simple routine of reading books together. He already had a firm grasp on syntax, rhyming, and enunciation as well as a fantastic vocabulary. It is hard to realize what a huge impact something so small can make, but taking five minutes out of your day and reading to your children (or to any children you care for) can provide them an enormous academic and developmental head start and instill in them a lifelong love of learning.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss