I have given birth to five bookworms.
(They're also Mexican jumping beans. Well, only 1/4 Mexican jumping beans, but I digress.)
Five bookworms they are, and five bookworms I am planning on them staying. Reading to me is as natural as breathing and the love of books ranks high on my list with chocolate truffles and coffee. There is never a time when there is not a half-read book somewhere in my general vicinity.
There must be something in the genes or perhaps passed along through the umbilical cord, as life-giving as oxygen and nutrients. There was never any question in my mind that my children would be readers. Just like they had no choice in their genetic makeup, they had to know that they may as well have been born holding a library card.
I remember my very first readers that my parents bought for me. Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and Little Bear by Else Minarik became dog-eared, the spines cracked and read until they were falling apart. I loved them so. Neither of my parents were habitual readers nor particularly inclined to read aloud to us. I remember compensating by reading aloud to myself as soon as I was able. I never thought twice about it. The simple act of knowing the words and putting them together in the building blocks of literature had become as necessary as sleep, overshadowing dolls and being outside.
One of the greatest pleasures in going to school for me was when my teacher or librarian read aloud to us. I remember the kindly librarian introducing me to the Anne of Green Gables series with a twinkle in her eye and the whisper of, "Oh, you're just going to love this." As we progress on our own homeschooling journey, I always try to make sure we're knee-deep in a piece of literature that gets us out of our school room or family room and transports us somewhere new, old, familiar, or different.
I've heard for quite a while that reading aloud to your children is highly beneficial. To me, it's simply a lovely thing to sit and peek at their faces as I'm reading, watching them experience the beauty of language and the power of a good story.
As I researched the benefits of it, for all age groups of children, it has become more apparent how important reading aloud to them is. Babies who are read to at age 8 months have a more varied and well-rounded vocabulary by age 3. A better vocabulary means that when they start school, they will be able to listen to instructions given by their teachers. Early education is based on oral instructions because children are usually not reading enough to get all of the information they need to complete work. The less they're able to succeed in doing their school work, the more likely they are to drop out, setting themselves up for a much harder life. Reading also stimulates memory, curiosity and motivation. (source)
Here are a few things that I've noticed on my own with my children, no fancy research here, just plain living:
- Children automatically turn their attention to the rhythm of the written word, whether it rhymes or not. It's a given that if I sit down to read with my four-year-old, all of my kids will crawl out of the wood work to come and snuggle up on the couch.
- The physical closeness is a lovely thing. Even my older ones tend to come closer to feel their arm against mine or choose to pull a younger brother on their laps. Reading aloud, I can pretty much rest assured that no one will be hitting or kicking one another. It's beautiful.
- They learn so much about other cultures and time periods. They are learning history and about other kinds of people, just by picking up a story book.
- When it's illustrated, my kids are feasting their eyes on art while listening. The colors, the shapes and the words produce a harmony that appeals to several of their senses. If there aren't any illustrations, their imaginations are hard at work.
- They are learning different literary devices that will help them with speaking and writing later on down the road. Things like allegory, similes, metaphor, idioms and hyperbole are all things that will give them a better understanding of the world and people around them.
- Even though they may be reading at a certain grade level, they listen at a totally different one. Don't be afraid to read books that are too hard for them on their own or even revisiting the ones they loved when they were younger.
As we cracked open The Magician's Nephew tonight, by C.S. Lewis, none of my children made one motion to move away from the table. I loved hearing their guesses as to what was going to happen next and listening to my youngest as he processed the words I was reading. I have so much satisfaction of coming into a room and finding one of my older ones curled up with one of the younger ones, responding to, "Please read to me." I have many dreams and desires for my children, like all mothers do. Reading to them all now is one of the ways I can help them later on in life.
I challenge you to use this summer to read aloud to your children and then stand back and watch them grow.