This may come as a surprise to many of you, but I am a BIG fan of reading. Ok, I lied – that’s not surprising at all.
What is surprising is that, despite all of the access we have to stories from myriad authors covering all of the weird and wonderful subjects you could ever imagine, literacy standards in the western world are still not looking that great and in some areas are falling.
As a child who was read to from before I can remember (possibly even before I was born) the idea that some people see no benefit whatsoever in reading to their children blows my mind.
Reading is more than just about imagination, it’s more than a nice quiet activity for a rainy afternoon (curled up in a big chair with a hot chocolate… sorry, I got off course), it is also vitally important for our children’s future.
Illiteracy and low literacy really do have a devastating effect on people’s lives. I have seen it first-hand, meeting teenagers who, despite their teachers’ best efforts, are falling through the cracks because what they can be taught in class time cannot make up for a lifetime of discouragement at home.
When I think about all of the tiny things we read each day, from bus timetables to texts from friends to street signs and house numbers, I can’t imagine how anyone could survive in this modern world without the ability to read.
Reading can also have a wider impact on our abilities in other areas of education. Mother and teacher Megan blogged her observations on the subject among her own students here. The results (as Megan says in her blog) are not surprising, but it is saddening to see that so many things can be put before the future prospects of our children.
Renowned Australian author Mem Fox is a passionate advocate of reading aloud to children, even providing a spoken tutorial on the subject on her website (which is organised into chapters with a contents page – how awesome is that?!).
But how young is too young to start reading to your children, and what should you be reading?
The answers: never and everything!
One close friend of mine started reading to her daughter while she was still baking. This friend read the entire Harry Potter series to her growing bump, which the bump seemed to enjoy greatly – the baby would wriggle about like mad at every reading session.
Now that she’s out into the world, coming up on her second birthday (where does the time go?) this special little girl’s favourite toys are her books, and she is already beginning to grasp the basics of letters just by seeing the words that are being read aloud.
Another mother I know, a talented journalist who I had the good fortune to work with, would read anything and everything to her eldest daughter when she was a baby, from books to the ingredients on the side of the laundry powder box.
Stories are great for entertaining and engaging kids, but when they’re really little they are learning at such a fast rate that you can say almost anything and they will find it fascinating.
What exactly is the difference between hearing words spoken from a page and words spoken on television? Well firstly you can see all of the words, and hear the interaction between the letters on the page and the way they sound out loud. Secondly, when you read with your child you are engaging with them. Think of the difference between a lecture and a one-on-one conversation with a professor – you will always learn more when you are actively engaged.
So the benefits to our children are pretty clear, but what about benefits to us? How much can we gain from reading children’s stories?
For one thing, it’s a great opportunity to bond with your kid/s – as well as the cuddling and reading together it’s a great way to get to know their likes and dislikes, which makes birthday and Christmas shopping a whole lot easier!
It’s also a good way to take time out from all of the stuff – you know, working, studying, cleaning, cooking, shopping, all the things that somehow seem to fill up our days and make us feel drained. Put a priority on reading with your children at least once a day and you can escape from all of that stuff for a little while without feeling guilty.
It keeps your inner child happy – especially if you attempt character voices. When reading children’s stories you can be as silly as you like and the only possible consequence is making your children roll their eyes at you. As my father always says, it’s a parent’s duty to live long enough to be an embarrassment to their children. I often narrate things in character voices in my head, it makes life a lot more entertaining. Though, I do recommend not accidentally breaking into character voices in normal conversation, it does tend to score you some odd looks…
So break out your favourite books from your childhood and read! Read to any child within your reach, tie them down away from the television if you have to, and READ UNTIL THEY LOVE IT!
Some awesome links:
Define Crazy – Megan’s blog about life as a mother, wife, teacher and rebel. Well worth a look!
Mem Fox – since finding this site I have greatly expanded my “must read” list.
Offbeat Mama – a really interesting article about getting teenagers back into reading. If you read the comments you’ll see where I found Megan’s link to her blog! There are lots of interesting comments as well, so check it out.