A second photo showing dozens of children's books scattered on my tabletop.

Read to your kids.

Read to your kids.  Read to your kids.  READ TO YOUR KIDS. 

“Hey teacher, if there is one thing I can do to help my kids be successful in school, what would it be?”  Well, assuming they went to bed at a reasonable hour, had breakfast, and have a stable, loving parent or two?  Read to them!

We early childhood people say it so much that I’ve begun to lose sight of just how important it is.  I just say it, almost as though I’m obligated, when asked that question, to make the first words out of my mouth, “Read to your children.”

The loudest strategy a parent has, the most influential, in any realm of parenting, is what they do.  I think that is true for teaching as well.  What adults model, kids internalize.  If we model enjoyment of reading, and purposeful reading, children will see a reason to learn to read.  They won’t be able to explain that to you, at the age of 6 or 7, but they will have this understanding that reading is a good thing.  Many professional musicians will say they came from a “musical home,” that they saw their parents singing and playing instruments, that it was just part of their family life.  Parents who are college-educated tend to have children who go to college.  Parents who cook at home tend to raise kids who know how to cook.  Parents who exercise tend to have kids who are active and healthy.  Inversely, parents who cuss tend to have kids to cuss.  Parents who struggle with deep emotional and relational issues tend to have kids who grow up struggling with deep emotional and relational issues.  We learn what we see and hear, so much more than what people tell us to do.

On Friday, I had a chance to read to some of my kids one-on-one or small group.  I’m done with what I needed to accomplish in reading groups, and I needed to turn in all my Guided Reading books anyway, so I let the groups choose stories from our classroom shelves.  And when asked if I would read to them, I just couldn’t see any reason to say no.  I read to the whole class all the time, of course.  But there is something really genuine and bonding about reading with a group of kids small enough that they can all see the pictures up close.  In my teacher-shoes, I will also say that in this situation, we are reading the story for the sake of the story, not to create teachable moments.  I don’t make mistakes on purpose, but when I do, I model very first-grade-ish strategies to fix them.  But the focus is on enjoying the story.  I don’t ask a lot of questions, and I do welcome comments from the kids.  Giving them opportunities to fall in love with reading stories will go a long way toward making good readers.  Being out of the habit, as reading one-on-one was such a big part of teaching preschool, I was surprised to see what happened when I started reading.  I started reading a Strawberry Shortcake version of Rapunzel to one young lady, and pretty soon there was a boy sitting with us.  A minute later, there was another boy.  The second boy that joined us, in particular, is all boy, full of stories of football and soccer, always wanting to play outside, always wanting to do something that involves NOT sitting still, if he has a choice.  He is also a summer-birthday kid who is nearly a year older than many classmates, and leaps and bounds more mature, both emotionally and academically.  And yet, here he was, laying on the floor with us, listening to a story about the characters of Strawberry Shortcake and Rapunzel. 

On Monday, I’m going to make sure he gets to choose a book for me to read.  🙂

In Radical Reflections, Mem Fox, a children’s author and professor of literacy instruction, talks about reading to her daughter:  “Through books she bonded with my husband and me, and through my husband and me she bonded with books.”  (p.44)  I wonder at all the memories I have from my early years that revolve around books.  I wonder what memories a child who is not read to holds onto. 

So many, many memories involve being read to by my parents.  The groundhog story every February 2nd.  “Twas the Night Before Christmas” from our hometown paper every year.  Sunday comics.  Mayor Goodgrub’s Very Important Day.  The one about the family who named all their children after apples.  The one about the brother and sister in a 3-legged race.  The Boxcar ChildrenCharlotte’s Web.  Dorrie and the Weather-Box.  More stories than I could possibly count or remember in this moment.  Not only that, but my parents reading for themselves.  The paper.  Always, the paper.  Mom always took us to the library, and after we had our fun choosing books for ourselves, we would spend a few minutes “behaving ourselves” while she went to the “boring” grown-up side to get books for herself.  Dad would sometimes ask her to bring home something specific:  A Christmas Carol, Mutiny on the Bounty, truly classic literature that in hindsight, I don’t think other people’s dads were reading.  How could I become anything but a book-lover?

And other bonding experiences as well.  One time my family was staying at my grandparents’ house, and my Uncle Jim and Aunt Kim invited my sister and me to stay at their house, just a few miles away, for one night.  So my sister and I packed pajamas in our tiny little duck and pig duffel bags, and went.  When bedtime came, Aunt Kim read to us until her girls fell asleep.  It didn’t take long, and I got the feeling she read them to sleep every night.  Sarah and I were still awake, and Aunt Kim came closer to our bed and kept reading.  Eventually Sarah fell asleep, and I was still listening.  Aunt Kim read book after book, and I remember my little 5- or 6-year-old mind was thinking, “I’m never going to fall asleep if she keeps reading to me!  I want to hear the stories!”  I felt guilty, because I knew I could fall asleep on my own, and she was probably tired of reading to me.  But I would never tell her that, because I loved being read to so much.  As a child, that was an experience that made me feel bonded to my Aunt Kim.

When I was in college, I was staying with my Aunt Betty, and she was in the habit of reading a chapter book with my cousin Logan each night before he went to sleep.  He was old enough to read it himself, but it was the enjoyment of the story and the bonding experience that kept the routine in place.  For the 2 or 3 nights I stayed, I laid on the top bunk, listening to the story they were reading on the bottom bunk.  I was college-age, for crying out loud!  Clearly able to read to myself.  Would not have picked up a boy-oriented chapter book for fun.  And yet, it was a memorable experience, because of the bonding.

So….what are your childhood book-bonding memories?

Photo Credit

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. doris
    May 23, 2011 @ 16:02:50

    Love the books on the table. I always felt if I shelved the kids’ books they didn’t feel as free to leaf through them and such.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: