Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why Every Parent Should Read to Their Kids

That's me reading Gary Braunbeck, of course. To the kids.
This was going to be part of last Saturday's post about my first parent-teacher conference with Madison's Kindergarten teacher, but that post was dragging on too long, so I thought I'd save it for another day.

My parents read to my sister and me at very young ages. Because of this, I dare say we both had an edge in school, and we developed into life-long readers (Hi, my name is Kevin, and I'm a read-a-holic).  As an English teacher who's so often dismayed at how little kids read today, I was bound and determined to do the same with our children.

Madison has been read to since eight months old.  Now, her bookshelf SWIMS in books.  It's the one thing I'll indulge her in; I'll buy her as many books as she wants.  She's only five and even though she isn't quite reading on her own, she's memorized most the stories and will often get up, grab a book, sit on the coach and flip through the pages, "reading".  She gets stories and poems before each nap and bedtime, (Jabberwocky, Humpty Dumpty's Song and anything Robert Frost are favorites right now) and it's very clear that she loves listening to stories.

Zack was a harder sell.  We tried when he was younger, but because of his autism and speech delays it just didn't take.  He would never sit still long enough, would start squirming and screaming within minutes.  However - Daddy wasn't giving up.  I kept trying, kept giving it a break, kept trying...but for awhile, no luck.

After he was diagnosed and started seeing his speech therapist, I figured it was time to start reading to him again.  Not only was he getting almost daily speech instruction to help him understand stories better, communication and language are two of autism's biggest barriers.  What better way to try and combat those two, or at least give Zack tools to combat them by reading to him every day?
It took a little longer, but now Zack is in almost the same place as Madi.  He expects a story before nap and bedtime, and will also randomly flip through books and "read". At age three.  He's a little more repetitive in his book choices (this is part of his routine-obsessesed autism) so we have to work harder varying the stories we read to him, actually have to hide certain books so he'll choose others, but it's pretty cool we've hooked him it, too.

Even in the car, we've tried to keep all their listening material "story-based".  When they were babies we of course listened to "Baby CDs" in the car (and then forgot to turn them off on dates!) but as they grew older we decided to keep listening to age-appropriate songs, nursery rhymes, and audio stories.  So even on the go, the kids are always listening to limericks and rhymes and stories.  Right now we're on a dinosaur kick.

It wasn't until the other day, however, when Abby mentioned something to me that I really understood WHY reading to our children is so important, especially at bedtime.  In my conversation with Madison's KE teacher, it came up that she believes over 50% of her students have never been read to.  As an English teacher, this dismayed me.  However, Abby reacted very strongly in her own way.

"That's awful," she said.  "How can you not read to your kid? It's the best bonding time. It's the last time you get to be with them at the end of the day."

Typical me, I approach reading to our kids from a very analytical "they need to have good language skills" and an idealistic "I want my kids to love stories just as much as I do" perspective, but Abby approaches it from a purely instinctive, parental perspective: it's the very last thing your child experiences in the day, time snuggling on your lap or sitting next to you, listening to your voice. It's tradition.  It's ritual.  It's an essential part of your day together.

This made me think of how much fun I have making up voices or making funny faces to go with certain stories, acting them out and making Madison laugh.  And I realized that as much I'm doing a very good thing by equipping my kids with a strong language foundation, I'm equipping them with something far greater: the certainty that they are important enough for me to end each day with them, that we have something that belongs to us, that this twenty - thirty minutes belongs to us and no one else.  

This is why every parent should read to their kids.