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.


  1. I love "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." And I'm right on board. As a high school teacher, I can tell you what kids were read to and which ones weren't, even though they've moved beyond the point of reading with parents by the time they are in my class. It's just so important (and frankly, I think it's so fun!)

  2. My parents always read to me as a child, and consequently, I plan to do so too. It's kind of curious, because they didn't read to my little brother. They had both gotten jobs (they were in grad school when they had me) and didn't set aside time. My brother learned how to read way slower than I did, and he still doesn't like reading as much.

    I sense a correlation.

  3. My daughter LOVES books. I did a post on my blog awhile ago about what books I read to her. Just search for the name "Darcy" on my blog if you're interested.

    I think reading to children is so important! It's one of the reasons I love literature so much. My parents always read to us.

  4. We read to Little E even though he's not made his appearance yet! I read pieces of whatever I happen to be reading out loud (like that scene in Three Men and a Baby..."It doesn't matter what I read. She doesn't know what the words mean anyway-it's the tone you use") whereas Dad read him "Where the Wild Things Are" last night (I know, I know...that one is great for the pictures).

  5. Brittany--Haha, it is a great book : ) "Dad told us not to pick him up anymore."

    Roses--It's funny, my brother is not a reader at all, and my sister was a late bloomer (she became a hard-core reader as an adult, but she hated reading for most of her life). I guess I must have gotten the lion's share of the literary attention : )

    Lady G--I especially like sharing books that I read as a child with my girls. It makes it so special : )

    Mary--Tom Selleck is priceless when he says, "It's the tone you use." Anyway, poor little Mr. Ed ... hopefully he'll appreciate someday having me as the lame aunt that buys books for presents. And can you get video footage of Jon reading "Where the Wild Things Are?" There's GOT to be a story on that one ... : )

  6. WEell I'm not old enough to have kids yet but I know when I do I will read to them a lot! I think it's good to have a "reading time" especially where they can choose whatever they want as long as their holding a book in there hands you know?

  7. Fellow bibliophile here. :) I definitely read to my kids. They love it. In fact, they generally pick reading a book over playing with a toy. We inundate them with books from the time they are born. :D

  8. I read on the BBC news site about research showing that it isn't necessarily reading to kids that gets them interested in literature, but having books in the house. Not even taking them to the library is as good as owning the books. Though they admitted that book owners are also more likely to read to the kids.

    A few years ago my two eldest weren't that interested in reading. They'd been surrounded by books at school and told what to read. Since I started home-ed with them, their reading has improved and they both have their own little libraries.

    Sadly, my youngest sees books as 'school things'. Hopefully that will change over time. I wonder if we force the kids to read too much at school, or maybe take them down routes that have little interest for them.

    I read to my kids when they were little, but they no longer want it. It was hardest for my eldest (15) to read as he's dyslexic, aspergers and has VERY bad eyesight. Still, he developed a great memory for stories...and repeats them ad nauseum.

  9. I read to my kids all the time when they were little. They both drew pictures of us reading sometime in school. And today, at 12 and 14, m & f, they both love to read. We don't read together these days, but we do read and discuss the same books. But I have a friend who hated reading kids books, and her kids love reading. Go figure.

  10. JLo - For those of us who love books, it seems so alien not to have reading material or spend time reading. But there are lots of people who (like some of the kids described) hate books because reading was jammed down their throats, there are lots of parents who don't know how to read or read at a low level. In March a bunch of us parents/teachers/librarians/literacy advocates got together to try to answer that question ... and offer ideas and solutions. It is going to be an annual blog tour for literacy. You can see what happend during the 2009 Share a Story-Shape a Future event on our blog.

  11. I read from a very young age as well, my nose was always in a book, in fact my 6th grade ignorant teacher told my mother I would never amount to anything because my nose was always in a book. Uh huh that's logical. Anyhow, I also didn't watch TV at night, I had a bedtime of 7pm when I was a little girl, I had no TV in my room until I was a Junior in high school and I had to buy it for myself. There was really little else to do but read and if I wasn't reading I was outside running around with my friends "playing"

    I think the TV is all consuming to children.

  12. I plan on reading to my kids, when I have them. But I see, over and over again, the results of kids not having been read to as children. These are the ones who struggle in school, who are reluctant, who are often diagnosed with learning disabilities.

    I think it's a nurture thing (as opposed to nature). Parents don't read because they weren't read to...the cycle continues in a self-perpetuating course of ignorance.

  13. Yep, read to my three kidlets a lot. It must've paid off, or I just got lucky, because at 16, 18 & 19, they are all hungry readers. :)