Whether “your kids” means your sons/daughters, nieces/nephews, grandchildren, neighbors, students, or any other child you take care of or spend time with, one of the best things you can do to strengthen your relationship with that child(ren) is to read out loud together. It doesn’t matter if (s)he is a newborn or a teenager, reading together is an important activity for every age.
My earliest memory of reading out loud with my first born was when she caught her first cold at 4 weeks old. I was such a new, worrying Momma! I was certain that if I laid her down on her back to sleep her sinuses would surely fill up and she would be drowned in her own snot. I even woke my husband every once in awhile to ask, “Are you sure she’ll be okay?” Number 5 of 8 children himself, with lots of nieces, nephews and cousins, my wise husband knew she would be just fine, but I wasn’t convinced. I sat in the rocking chair all night long as I held her upright over my shoulder. She slept fine. Momma, on the other hand, was too worried to lay her down, but too bored to just sit there. I decided that now was a good time to start the Left Behind Series that my friends suggested but that I kept putting off. Who knew how long this cold would last! 12 or so volumes in the series should do it, right! Well, I got hooked! When baby was awake, I read out loud to her. When she slept, I read to myself.
First cold down! Both baby AND Momma survived – Momma’s survival perhaps due to discovering the trick of laying baby in the reclining baby swing or carseat instead of staying awake to hold her night and day! From that first cold experience my daughter and I developed a strong reading relationship! I read to her as I fed her, I read to her before bed, I read to her as she crawled along the floor and snuggled in my lap. Soon enough, I had her seven or so books memorized and would show her the pages (and let her chew them) while I recited them from memory. There are, however, only so many times a day that this momma can repeat the same seven books without going bonkers. So I started reading my infant novels and other chapter books which may or may not have been considered “children’s” books. It is not so much the material that I was reading to my infant that was important as it was the time we spent together, the rhythm of my reading voice, and her quickly advancing speech and vocabulary.
Now, before you think I was holding this kid down and forcing her to listen, I have to say that she became even more insistent about reading than I was some days. By the time baby #1 was 18m months old and baby #2 was on the way, we were reading books like the Little House series. I would finish a chapter and close the book and she would stop me, “No, Mommy! More! More!” She loved hearing about the bears, she worried when Ma hurt her ankle, and she wanted to see if there was another picture of the horse on the next page. It was as fun for her as it was for her book-worm Momma, and it really helped me make it through those exhausting first and third trimesters with baby #2.
I wish I could say that all 5 of my children would rather lay on the couch reading with me all day long, but I would be lying. They do have their days when that is all they ask for, but I also have a few that would rather be playing than sitting, and that’s okay too! I still lay down, pull out our book, and let whoever wants to pile on top of me fight for a spot. The others build their blocks, color, or zoom around with their toys as I read, but they always come running to look over my shoulder if there’s a picture or the story is getting too exciting to resist.
We were recently having electrical work done on our home, and the electrician had to keep walking up and down the stairs to run the wires. This brought him through the living room several times while we were reading. Finally he stopped and laughed. We had to make a great picture, now that I think of it. I was laying on the couch with my feet on the lap of kid#1, kid #2 was kneeling on the trunk behind the couch and peering over, kid #3 was laying on my side, kiddo #4 was being bounced up and down on my knees, and baby #5 was in her play saucer beside the couch. “Even the baby is listening!” he said as he smiled, shook his head and went back to work. We all glanced at each other, shrugged, and went back to reading, as if to say, “This is just what we do. Doesn’t everybody?”
Sadly, I don’t think enough people do. We all have a lifestyle of being “too busy” for things like that, but it is much too important an investment to pass up! Reading out loud together builds relationships, memories, and the love of reading and learning. It is extremely important for little ones as they are developing their language skills (I have often been told how funny it is that my two year olds speak better English than many adults), and for older children as they are asking life questions and trying to figure things out.
I was listening to a radio program called Family Life Today when one of the hosts explained an activity that he shares with his teenage children that they call “doing book.” They take turns choosing which book they will use and each get a copy. A time or two each week they will sit together in the room and read an agreed upon chapter or so to themselves at their own pace. When both are done reading the chapter they discuss it. It could be a fictional book or a book focused on an issue that they are facing or are interested in, but communication is the key. What a great way to keep in touch with your teenager!
I am currently reading a book for an upcoming review (so I can’t give too much away!) about a father and daughter who read together every day without fail for 9 years (age 9-18 for the daughter), and it is amazing the strength that it gave to their relationship through many hard times that they both faced. More on that one later!
Reading out loud with children is a necessity in their young lives! and in yours! It may be difficult to start up a new habit, but it will be well worth it. You can’t start any sooner than today (I read that somewhere… hmmm… Farmer Boy, maybe), but don’t wait until tomorrow. Newborn or teen, they still need your time and they still want to hear your voice, so choose a good one, and get reading!
If you need some reading suggestions, I will be posting a list of books that we have read these past couple months sometime in the next week or two, you can leave a comment about your/your child’s interests & I will suggest something for you, or you can check out my Usborne Books and More/Kane Miller web site and find some great reads there (I LOVE the Conspiracy 365 series!! about 5th grade reading level, but I read it to myself last year & was greatly entertained even as an adult): http://www.myubam.com/F3990
Let me know what you are reading!