Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Reading With Children

I have a picture of myself at age 2, sitting on my great grandmother’s lap. We are at the kitchen table and she is reading to me. Looking over my childhood pictures, I am amazed at the number of photos that show me being read to by various relatives.

A favorite great aunt has often told me how my uncle would finally hide my stacks of books for brief periods because they were so weary of my constant demands to be read to.

After I taught myself to read with “Lovable Lyle”, books were my first friends and as a child I surrounded myself with them. Laura Ingalls, Tom Sawyer, and Jo March lived and breathed in my mind.

Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes” wrote of the importance books played in his bleak childhood in Ireland and how one of his toughest school masters counseled him to “stock his mind” with books. Quoting his teacher, McCourt said, “You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”

When I look back over my own years of parenting my sons, I know I have made significant mistakes. I didn’t say “no” and mean it often enough, I didn’t make them do enough housework- I’ve catered to them too much. The list could go on. I have, however, done at least one thing very well. From the time they were infants, I read aloud to them every day. We began with picture books and moved on until, by ages 5, 6, and 7- we were reading aloud young adult fiction books and even some adult books with ease.

While little, the boys shared a room which made the evening reading routine easy. Once everyone was settled in, I would read each night. I couldn’t wait to share my childhood favorites. Out came my old Little House books, Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. I discovered lists of good books especially for boys on the internet and we delved into Gary Paulsen and adventures with Brian and his survival in the wilderness with only a hatchet to help him survive. We eventually read all Paulsen’s books and many were so

fraught with excitement that the boys would demand many chapters read each night. The laughter we shared as we read “Harris and Me”- the tale of a boy’s summer spent on a wild cousins’ farm, will always remain in my memory. We loved “The Call of the Wild” Occasionally I pushed ahead of their listening abilities and made mistakes in choices. “The Red Badge of Courage” was too advanced and dry when read aloud. After a few chapters, and too many yawns, I admitted defeat set it aside for a later date. “Watership Down”, however, was loved and requested twice (and is still a favorite with all three). We read the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy well before the movies came out- and the movies were made more vibrant because we knew the characters intimately through out reading.

Throughout their childhood, evening meant the routine of reading together, stopping to talk about scenes, character, a new word meaning; anything that related to the books. My middle son sometimes grew fidgety, and when this happened, he knew that he could work quietly with a basket of Legos while still listening, or draw with pen and paper on the clipboard by his bed. I kept a list each year of the books we finished and it was fun to try to top last years count.

During these years it was great to have wonderful children’s’ librarians to recommend books and to talk about books we loved. I think of Mrs. Doherty, a great librarian who kindly assisted my sons through grade school and is one their lists of best teachers. I also think of Paula Valentine. Paula is a wonderful librarian and teacher of children and one of the kindest people I know. We certainly miss her.

I know when I am old and my boys are living their lives with their own families, I will always remember the books and laughter we shared.


Oddswizard said...

Hi there... I am such a big fan of reading aloud. I found your post because every now and then I do a search on google blogs for "reading aloud".

We have a two year old son and thoroughly enjoy reading out loud to him every day. I'm assuming you have read, "The Read Aloud Handbook" by Jim Trelease... that book was one of the most influential books for me.

Reading out loud is so important... a child's listening vocabulary increases so much, it is like a commercial for kids to want to read fun stuff on their own, and there is a bond too by reading with your kid.

Keep on reading out loud...
~ Shawn

Christina said...

Thanks Shawn! Yes, I have read Trelease's book.
Some of my favorite books for parents:
The Other Parent by James Steyer
The Hurried Child by David Elkind
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
The Web of Life by Richard Louv
In the Shelter of Each other by Mary Pipher

Thanks again and good luck with your two year old- it is such a fun age and it goes so quickly,

In Transition said...

Loved this entry. I've been reading aloud to my son since he was born. Although he is only 2 now, I hope I instill in him a love of reading. I, myself, love reading so much, we need to build an addition for all the books:) I'm going to look up the books for parents you have listed. Thanks for making a difference in children's lives.

In Transition said...

Wonderful entry. I have been reading to my son since he was born. Although he is only 2, I hope to instill in him a love of reading. I, myself, need to add an addition on to the house for all the books I have:) I will also be checking out your list of parenting books. Thanks for making a difference.

John Guzlowski said...

I'm a fan of reading out loud too--for kids and adults.

When my daughter (now 29) was a child, I loved reading to her. It was one of our favorite things to do.

We still talk about the books we read together and recently she asked if I was interested in forming a reading club.

I thought it was a wonderful idea.

We're going to read Moby Dick!

Teale said...

You know, I'm amazed that in different pictures of Grandma Eades, I see different glimpses of her children. That one is Aunt Wilma ALL THE WAY! I've seen many a picture of my dad and you sitting reading books in our albums. And also one where he was scolding you after you had written(?) in one of the books!