I sat on the couch and watched my mom's eyes fill with tears. Her voice trembled, then stopped as she composed herself then read the final pages of Where the Red Fern Grows and my favorite character, Little Ann, was dying A tear rolled down Mom's cheek and on the other side of her, I could hear my brother sniffing. Though it must have been over 30 years ago, I remember the texture of the couch and how my toes felt warm as I stuffed them between my mother and the cushions. I remember the sound of her voice and even the tightness in my chest from sorrow as we enjoyed this story together. Though I can't remember the words, I can remember the author's voice and tone as the sentences built pictures in my mind. My childhood would have been very different without our nightly ritual of reading together. My husband is the one who carries this torch in our family and I'm sure my children will have fond memories of the experience just as I do.
Reading aloud exposes children to the world of language. Shared stories allows families to explore ideas, values, traditions and books certainly provide a springboard for rich conversations about text to life connections. Reading aloud builds imagination and teaches the love of a good book. Reading aloud increases vocabulary, builds attention spans, and improves listening comprehension. Did you know that reading to your child just 5 minutes a day can expose them to 350,000 words in a year. In addition, reading to children strengthens the emotional bonds between the adult reader and the child, providing those positive parent-child connections essential to a child’s psychological health and academic growth.
Be sure to not just read fiction but non-fiction as well. Over spring break my family many opportunities to explore a variety of non-fiction texts. Reading together for a purpose brought our family closer and built memories. On our road trip to the San Francisco we hit a “chains only” section of I-5. Growing up in Central Oregon, my husband and I were always prepared for snow but had never had to put on chains. Luckily, chains come with directions and we read them, re-read, asked clarifying questions, and we even did a dramatic interpretation of what we thought it might look like from the warm car before finally following them step-by-step. The reading preparation certainly helped ready us for the actual event since the whipping winds and ten inches of slush had not be referenced in the manual. In fact, there wasn’t even snow in the illustrations. My daughter yelled the directions so they could be heard over the wind while my husband and I worked as a team to put them on (I was more of the encourager and he was the doer). When we got back in the car we were soaking with numb fingers and toes. After recovering feelings in our extremities, we were able to laugh about it and even reflect on the reading experience, noting what the authors had left out and which new vocabulary words we learned.
Building family memories over non-fiction text seemed to be the theme of our trip. We read to figure out the train system, enjoyed the historical facts at Alcatraz, and used text to defend our thinking on how we should spend our limited time. My college age daughter seems to have developed her persuasive skills and ability to develop an argument because she was often the one who was able to sway the rest of the group into going where she wanted based on her carefully constructed presentation of appealing facts.
The ability to read well and for deep meaning is one of the most important gifts we can give our children through our actions as parents at home and educators at school. In order to provide this gift, we need to be intentional with our actions and time. I invite you to think about how you can include more time for reading for your family. Whether following a recipe or enjoying storybooks, there are many opportunities each day where we can teach our kids to love reading and to learn from reading through our routine actions. What are you reading with your child this week?