I read to Ethan from the time he was a babe in arms. Good Night Moon & Pat the Bunny still make me nostalgic. Reading made me feel like I was really doing ‘something’ for my baby who I was told was at such a deficit. I did not know all the reasons it was so good for him – I just knew that it was. I could see his little eyes searching my face and watch his body settle deeply into his baby seat at the sounds and cadence of my voice. I had heard that reading to babies was important – so that’s what I did.
I was fortunate to come across Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook early in my parenting journey. This book is an excellent explanation as to what reading aloud to children can give them – from better vocabularies to how it can develop and deep and sustained love for books and reading. I’ve seen it. This book is chock full of statistics and technical information about reading out loud as well as practical suggestions about how to read and how NOT to read to children, great book lists and how to navigate the library. I have learned many of my ‘reading’ behaviors from this book.
Reading to the boys makes me sit down – with them. In so many things, they have become competent and independent. When I read to them, we settle down somewhere and carve out a time that is just for us. There is not ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’, no struggling to figure something out or debating or discussing….just reading. Sweet.
Sharing a story with several or one of my boys is a great relationship builder. I love when they pipe up and ask something about our story when we are not, in fact, reading at that moment. What do I think the character is thinking or what do I think might happen next. While I am making lunch, they are mulling over our latest adventure. A shared book gives us something to talk about. When I am reading the same book to several of them – they have something to talk about with each other. I could recount so many great events surrounding reading out loud – like when they told they had been outside playing Watership Down. Wonderful.
I protect the books we read together by never associating anything negative to them – they will never have to write a report about them and I don’t ‘make’ them answer any questions about them or require anything other than cozy listening 🙂 I only read when they are ready and willing – but that is almost anytime I ask. They always have to opportunity to ‘veto’ a book, but rarely have. I am certain that they are eager listeners because Jim Trelease gave me such good advice.
I have read epic novels and short chapter books, compendiums of short stories, and thousands of quality picture books (thank goodness for people who make EXCELLENT lists). Sometimes we read through ‘authors’ at a time – like when we read all the Roald Dahl books or series like Little House on the Prairie (they never thought they were ‘girl’ books) and The Boxcar Children. Right now, I am reading them LOTS of Bruce Coville in preparation to meet him at the Princeton Children’s Book Festival in September.
Life gets busy. But I hold onto reading to my children like a religious practice (I’m not sure that it isn’t). Recently, when I sat down to read to Gavin, I realized I had been really hard on him several hours before. Without the ‘stillness’ that came with our time to read, I don’t know if I would have felt it. Before I read to him, I had a chance to make an apology – a connection. I will continue to read to him during his teen years – I have a gut feeling that the ties that bind us to a book are going to be really important ties.
“Instead of educating the I.Q., we need to educate the H.Q., the heart quotient, the matters of truth, love, justice, and compassion. There are two ways to do this. One is through the real life experiences and the other is through literature. Literature has the power to take us outside ourselves and returns to ourselves a changed self.”
― Jim Trelease