When my son and daughter were little, we had a bed-time routine of one story a night. I didn’t have any difficulty getting them to go to bed! The problem was that they had their own ideas of what books they wanted me to read. My carefully selected choices were rejected when they wanted the same old favourite over and over again. My children taught me that they had their own needs and their own ideas about what was appropriate.
Now, many years later, in the Book Room at Julia Gabriel Centre, I have adopted this childcentred approach. We ensure that all the books in our library are worth reading and then allow our students the freedom to choose their own books from the age of three.
Our early reading books are chosen because they are written to be read aloud or shared. The language is colourful and flowing. It feels and sounds good to read aloud. We ensure that the story can be maximized and extended with exciting illustrations and situations. Finally, the book must motivate us, through its plot, characters, pictures or subject, to read it. We, as adults, should feel that we want to share the book with our children.
It is important that we don’t stop reading to our children just because they have learned to read for themselves. For many children, reading is a slow and laborious task, perfected slowly over time. They still enjoy being read to, and listening to stories, well beyond their own reading ability. So keep up the bed time (or anytime) stories which will extend language, imagination and awareness. I read to my children (and students) even during their teenage years.
“But……I don’t read aloud well or know how to tell stories,” is the common lament of parents, or, “I might not do it right so I don’t want to read to my children.” Take heart: There is no right or wrong! Just enjoy sharing precious time together over a book. Take your time and vary your voice with the pace, feelings and characters in the story. Let the words tell you what to do. Many parents find tapes and videos an easy substitute for books, but, are they as beneficial? A recorded voice, however professional, doesn’t respond to a child’s questions and can’t talk about what’s happening in the story. There is no substitute for a caring reader and passionate lover of books.
“How do I know if it’s a good book to choose?” If it motivates you to read it and if your child wants to read it then it’s worth reading. If it is truthful, imaginative, sensitive and enjoyable then it’s worth reading. Listen to your children: They will let you know what they value and enjoy.
As parents we teach most by example. To encourage our children to become readers, we need to value and use books ourselves. If I do not value or include books in my life, the message to my children is clear, regardless of what I may tell them. So let’s use the local library and show our children the way to choose, use and value books as our friends for life.