Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reading to Children--Why do Some People Not do Something so Vital?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I'm what could be termed as a bibliophile. What makes someone a reader or not is kind of an interesting train of thought, particularly when you consider that a large percentage of the population that hated reading when in school end up being very involved readers as adults.

However, even more interesting to me (and more disturbing) is the fact that there are so many parents that don't read to their children on a regular basis.

I learned how to read at a very young age, but my parents (my father in particular) read to me anyway. My father spent several hours on some holidays reading Adam, Mary, and I entire books (Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox stands out)while my mother got dinner ready and cleaned the house. He also regaled us with tales of Uncle Wiggly from the same worn copy of the book that his own father had read to him as a child. My favorite aunt, AJ, and my favorite uncle, Daniel, always got us books for presents as children (I should probably note that AJ and Daniel are both my father's siblings--I'm learning an awful lot about my father through this post--so I guess that says something about the value of literature in the household my father grew up in).

I started reading to Addie and Belle while they were still in utero, strange as that may sound. Once they were born, of course, I read to them every single day. Reading became a part of their schedules, as necessary as feeding and diaper-changing. Both of my girls love stories, perhaps in large part because they had little choice in the matter.

Belle has a story every night after she gets her jammies on, goes potty, and brushes her teeth. Woe to me if I forget, and woe to the person who has to read to her if I'm unavailable. As a joke, Pythagorus took a picture of Belle and I reading together last night (I deplore getting my picture taken).

While he was laughing about how awful I look in virtually every picture that's ever taken of me, though, it occurred to me how fortunate it was that I have those moments every night to share a variety of literature with my little princess.

I don't read to Addie anymore, of course, but I did for a long time. Even after she was a fairly advanced reader, we'd read chapter books together, alternating turns (I recall Shel Silverstein's Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back and the first Harry Potter book as being special). We do talk about literature all the time, though. This very afternoon, in fact, we had a lengthy discussion about Romeo and Juliet, which I'm currently almost finished teaching to my students and which her class started reading today. We talked about the characters, the language, the double entendres, the significance of Shakespeare's need to appeal to a very broad audience, and whether Willy Shakes was in fact a real guy at all. How remarkable!

Earlier this year, I did an interdisciplinary project with the biology and social studies teacher at my school. As an introduction to the project, I read my students The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. I don't think any more than 3% of them had heard (never mind read) the book before. This made me more sad than I can put into words.

If you are a parent, do you read to your kids? Why or why not? Is it hard to find time to do this? What sort of books do your kids enjoy? Do you think there is a correlation between kids who are read to as children and adults who enjoy reading? If you are not a parent, what are your plans for reading (or not) with your children?

How can we solve this problem (and it is a problem ... I wish desperately that it wasn't, but it is)?

Well, I'm off to read Belle her bedtime story. In case you're interested, she's selected Judith Viorst's Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for tonight's fare.