The Family that Reads Together…. (aka What’s in it for ME?)
By Andrea Ross, Just One More Book!!
Published: August 16, 2009
The Children’s Book Review presents a guest post by Andrea Ross, co-creator of the children’s literature and literacy radio program Just One More Book!!.Through this thrice-weekly program and its website, Andrea and co-creator Mark Blevis are building a lively, interactive community that puts great children’s book recommendations in ear buds and links children’s book readers, authors, illustrators, librarians, enthusiasts and activists. Andrea lives in the heart of Canada’s capital with her husband, two daughters and a ridiculously large number of children’s books.
We often talk about the benefits of reading aloud to our children — but we usually focus on the benefits to the children. Today, let’s reflect on the ways reading aloud to our children benefits ourselves as parents, our families and our relationships with each other.
I’m no ham and I rarely attempt read-aloud theatrics, accents or voices, but boy-oh-boy do I love the rush I get when I have my young audience shrieking with laughter, swooning, raving and begging for more. Sure, all I’m doing is reading the printed word, the real genius is the author, but I’m the main act at our house and I bask in the glow of my appreciative and enthusiastic audience. Childhood is short — I treasure the precious moments when reading aloud makes me a star in the eyes of my children.
The cuddly intimacy that it prompts is an obvious but overlooked benefit of taking time each day to read aloud to our little ones – regardless of how big said little ones may be! My ten year old is as tall as I am and a voracious reader herself but our at-least-daily read-aloud time gives us regular and natural opportunities to cram into a tight huddle and snuggle. And I’m secretly delighted after each meal when my eight year old trots around to my side of the table, climbs onto my lap and insists that I read – though my own meal sits half eaten. The intimacy that reading together inspires spills over into the rest of our lives, reminding us to touch and to nurture and to remember the little people who still linger inside these stretching, confident, eye-rolling bodies. That’s hitting the jackpot for any parent.
“Just one more chapter!” “Just one more book!” These unfading refrains mean much more than, “Entertain me, Mom!”. When we nudge them awake on school mornings and when they roll out of bed on weekends, our girls’ first words are requests for reading. Sometimes they are stalling and too often time’s too short but we understand that our girls view read-aloud time as a haven of undivided attention; as a time without demands, reminders or distractions. Read-aloud time is a time to connect. I can’t cook, gab or plan while I’m reading and any of my own grumblings, nagging or less than stellar moods are put aside. What I’m reading, in these cases, barely matters. They want to know that I’m there for them and reading aloud lets me show them I am.
Spacing and Pacing
Life can be a stop-and-go whirlwind. We’re often running from one commitment to another or, on the other extreme, stuck waiting. Reading aloud is a welcome and extremely convenient way to remove ourselves from the fast or boring pace of our day and re-charge. Even a few minutes of reading aloud while flopped on the couch, huddled in corner at a bustling event or between individual or group activities can be the ticket to breathing room, perspective and a fresh start to the remainder of the day. Not just for our children, but for ourselves.
And speaking of line-ups, what better way to avoid squabbling and other unpleasantness while the youngsters are stuck waiting than to treat them to a handful of picture books or a chapter of a riveting novel? Great children’s books are portable, dependable and unobtrusive sources of laughs, soothing, intrigue and excitement – any time, any place. Instant entertainment makes for contented kids but the real pay-off is for me as parent – when you’re stuck lined up or waiting, contented kids are worth their weight in gold.
Shared (cheap!) Adventures
I’m a work-away-from-home mom so my family time is limited and precious. Exotic vacations and adventures are just not par for our course. Reading aloud with my children gives us common, exciting, memorable experiences that we can look back on together as we go about our somewhat boring lives. That may sound pathetic, but think back to reading a truly exciting, engaging or hilarious book with your child and I’m sure you’ll agree that the excitement you shared as you reflect on the vicarious thrill was a pretty good substitute for reflecting on an actual, unattainable adventure. Reading independently is a great skill for a child, but sharing the excitement of a good book is a gift to parent and child alike.
Springboards to Life Lessons and Discussions
Sex, death, war, divorce, birth-control, sickness and injustice — you name it, we tackle it early and painlessly, thanks to a healthy diet of engaging and relevant read-aloud books. Not every important issue crops up naturally in conversation. Not every important issue is easy to discuss. By reading a wide range of carefully crafted children’s books covering a full spectrum of views and situations, our read-aloud habit gives us abundant opportunity to field questions, play with ideas and flesh out our children’s understandings of the world around them. Parents who avoid these issues or can’t find routes to casual discussions can build walls between themselves and their children — and that might mean trouble when real needs for discussion arise. Reading aloud improves our comfort and communication with our girls and that’s as much a gift to me as it is to them.
Last but not least, when read-aloud time is plentiful and pleasant, children become readers. They’ll read on their own. They’ll read to others. They’ll entertain themselves when they’d otherwise be bored. For happy readers, just add books! For happy parents, just add reading children!
Sure, reading aloud is good for our children but with benefits like these, we’re clearly pampering ourselves. So grab a book and a child and treat yourself to some rampant read-aloud!