Friday, October 17, 2008

soapbox #3: creating lifelong readers

One of the very best things that my parents did for us was not having a TV in our home until I'd been away at college for a year (and my mom was called as seminary teacher and had to have a TV to show all the seminary videos).


Because we spent our childhoods either a) running around like crazy outside or b) draped over furniture inside reading, reading, reading. Even today, I love how it's totally normal for every one of us to be sitting in the same room immersed in our various books, even if we've traveled 2000 miles to be there.

So here's my third soapbox: read to your kids. Every day. Read, read, read. I'm not saying you have to teach them to read, or totally ditch having a TV in your house (Neil and I do have an ancient 12-inch TV/VCR that somebody gave us that we break out every now and then), or spend every second of your day reading the same four books over and over. But I really honestly think that reading to your children every day, for a decent amount of time, is one of the best gifts that you can ever give them. Absolutely read books that they're interested in, but also read books that "stretch" them a bit, whether the subject matter seems a little complex, or maybe there aren't a ton of pictures, or the book's a bit longer than they usually sit through. Give them the chance to reach and to grow (and plus, you can only read so many Berenstein Bears books before you really have to break out in a little Laura Ingalls Wilder).

I read to my girls at least fifteen minutes a day (although it usually stretches out to quite a bit longer, but that's our minimum)--this doesn't include stories at naptime/bedtime or family scripture study. We usually sit down together in the morning before lunch or right after naps and just work our way through a pile of books. Some benefits I've seen already in my very young children:
  • lengthy attention span
  • large and increasingly complex vocabulary
  • attention to small details that comprise a whole
  • ability to follow stories and notice any discrepancies in logic
  • increasingly rapid grasp of correct sentence structure and verb conjugation, with ability to self-correct errors
  • imaginative play building off of stories
  • quality time together--something I really value, as everyone is still, attentive, and focused, and we generally sit snuggled up together while I rub little backs and smooth tousled hair. It's a very affectionate bonding time as well as reading time.
  • and last but not least--having a three-year-old who will stay in her room for two hours every day (during Juliet's naptime), entertaining herself solely by looking at picture books.

On a larger scale, in my own life I've seen the immense impact of my childhood reading experiences. Reading so much means that I read very quickly. I write easily, because I've read lots of good writing. Both of these abilities have really helped me to excel intellectually, which in turn means that I went to college for free, I finished grad school at the age of 22 with a year-old baby and a 4.0, and I can juggle teaching university courses and being a full-time SAHM (reading very fast = way less time grading).

I don't mean to sound like I'm bragging about my success, or to say, "If you don't read to your kids, all kinds of dire things will happen!" but I do want to show some of the really positive things that I've seen in my own life from being a reading addict (although the downside is, of course, that when you spend an average of 4-6 hours reading every day, you're often a little sleep-deprived because the book (or books!) was so good you just had to finish it. That was me last night).

So think of it this way: read to your children to create a time where you are focusing wholly on them, where you are cuddling together and not thinking about the stresses of the day. Read to your children to teach them about the world, to show them the possibilities in their future, and to give them the tools to create that future. Read to your children to enhance their vocabularies, their attention spans, their interests. Read to your children to create people who are genuinely interested in learning and who are able to do so quickly. Read to your children.

And perhaps, in return, they'll pay you back with some full-ride college scholarships. Now that's what I call a sound investment!

**I also highly recommend attending the story times at your local public library--it's a great way to make reading seem super fun to your kids. Plus you get to bring home all sorts of cool new books that make everyone excited for reading time! And then you can say things to your kids like, "When you are four, you can have your very own library card" in a very dramatic and awed voice and they think it's the best present ever and hurray for you, it's free!


Meghan said...

One other advantage: you develop the ability to do some fun accents, because it's the only way to get through some of the BORING books that your kids want over and over and over again.

Kristin said...

I AGREE!!!!The one thing that I noticed when I taught middle school was that the kids who HATED reading were the ones that weren't very good at it. I know it's like a DUH moment, but really... if you can develop a love for it at a young age, it'll make school A LOT easier.

Crapos said...

I love what it does for developing their memories too. Sadie's current favorite book is Where the Wild Things Are (she and her daddy have to put down the book and "rumpus") but she insists on reading it to ME at bedtime. She has countless books memorized. And now that she's learned the lower-case alphabet she's really good at picking out letters and she's honing in on interesting things like there's more than one way to write an 'a.' So much to be learned from books.

Rebecca Jensen said...

Hey, this is Ruth's friend Becca. I got bored and was looking at her sibling's blogs and I just have to say that I totally agree with you. There's a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook, but I can't remember who the author is. It talks about the importance of reading out loud to children, and the last chapter is a bunch of suggestions of books to read out-loud for different age groups and interests.

Katrina said...

When did you start reading to Abigail? I've been thinking I should start reading to Asher just to get in the habit.

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