Books are nightly ritual
One of my best memories of childhood, and motherhood, are being read to and then reading to my own children. The memory evokes feelings of comfort and peace. In both my own childhood and in my children's, books at bedtime were part of a daily routine.
At the end of the day the nightly bathing ritual took place. After bathtime and “PJs” and night-dresses were on, it was time for a nightly cuddle with mum or dad and a story. I especially remember the sweet smell of bathed children with clean, eager faces and brushed hair.
The children loved the stories which began as picture books and as they grew older became chapter books which were eagerly awaited every night. I even remember continuing to read to our daughter at middle school age when she just could not get into “The Red Badge of Courage.” I ended up reading to her and this helped her do well in the classroom!
When our family first moved to the United States, it was only for a year. This made us indulge in a great deal of travel as we wanted to see as much as we could. This resulted in many hours in the car. This was the days before books-on-tape and well before portable DVDs and computer games.
To wile away the hours, I started reading them American classics. This is how we read the “Little House” series. It gave us all more of a sense of America. It also gave the children something to do and not to engage in the inevitable squabbling at the back of the car, which would drive us all crazy.
I hope that the story of my experiences with reading prompt an understanding of its importance on several levels. I also want to emphasize the need to start young as children then read as part of their lives in a natural progression. Many things stay with us forever because they were started when we were young.
Reading and looking at books with children can begin as early as before the baby is even born. Babies in utero can hear from about the 22nd week of pregnancy. The rhythmic sound of a mother's voice can be one of the first things a newborn attaches to. By the time the infant can be held on a lap, simple picture books can be used. The baby begins to recognize pictures and to point as mum or dad says the word.
At each progressive stage, children broaden their vocabulary and their comprehension. They also grow to love familiar tales and characters and this prompts them to pretend and imagine. There is current research that says that children who pretend and imagine are improving their brainpower. This is taken from an article in the Wall Street Journal by Shirley Wang. The last but by no means least benefit of reading is the emotional benefit.
As I said earlier, this is an opportunity to spend special time together with your children. It is a wonderful calm and peaceful destress time. The same benefit cannot be said of TV and computer games.
I was prompted to write this article as I am teaching Children's Literature this semester. A number of my students shared with me that they were never read to as children. Subsequently they do not even like reading. I have put a class together where we explore many facets of literature such as picture books, folk and fairy tales and poetry as well as nonfiction selections.
I also read a young adult novel called “The Giver” to my students each week. My students have already demonstrated to me that being exposed to a wide variety of children's literature, as well as reading and sharing together, has provided them an opportunity to begin to understand and like reading.
In Yuma we now have, thanks to a bond passed several years ago, a number of both new and updated libraries. All of these libraries house children's literature that can be checked out, taken home and shared. The libraries also have comfortable areas where children can curl up and look at books. The children's areas also offer story-times where children can gather together to hear a story.
In these difficult times, our libraries offer free services. Reading to children, unlike so many other activities, is both free and hugely beneficial. I hope all of you will build similar memories to the ones that I hold so dear.
Judy Watkinson is a professor of early childhood education at Arizona Western College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.