Experts say that you should start reading with the kids when they’re very young, but when are we supposed to stop?
The benefits to children of reading with them are manifold. From the earliest age – and my wife and I read to ours from the earliest days – the child learns much. At first, the child learns to listen to the cadence, tone and inflection to assist them as they themselves learn to speak, even from learning the most basic sounds. As they grow and begin to master the various sounds, their brains can start to follow basic concepts that might be found in very simple books, such as shapes, colors, animals, textures and trucks. Hold a child in your lap with a cardboard book with easy-to-manipulate pages and the child can even start to get in some manual dexterity practice as she improves at grasping and turning the pages. By the time that they’re in preschool, you’re off to the races with stories that not only feed their imagination, but help them with practical skills such as learning how to sit and listen for a short period of time; as they age, the skill increases and enhances their ability to concentrate for longer periods also.
With the first two children, it was simple as they were only about two years apart and by the time that they were in early elementary school, they’d heard stories such as Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and A Christmas Carol. Each has since moved on to their own preferred genres and are now fully into adult fiction; Eldest loves chick lit and Middle prefers F Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack.
But it’s been far more sporadic and intermittent with Youngest, who’s still in Elementary School and whose reading times have been greatly affected by the general uproar that comes with active older siblings. He’s an advanced reader and unlike his elder siblings, prefers non-fiction and science to the fiction realm, which makes it difficult to stay awake in the evening hours while reading with him. Frankly, alligators and gecko lizards put me to sleep. His technical skills haven’t suffered in the least and the verbal acuity has only been brought even further along by trying to keep up with precocious siblings; I was appalled to discover last week that he’s even been introduced to Urban Dictionary, although I’m unclear if that’s courtesy of Middle or someone from elementary school. Youngest however, still wants to read with me and while it does crimp into the evening hours and activities, it’s something to which I look forward. It’s not even about story anymore, although it certainly makes a difference. Instead, it’s about spending some quiet moments alone with one another and enjoying something together. I’ve had to learn to decide in advance what I’d like to introduce and do so in enough time to make it timely. Consequently, we began Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree in the latter part of September and finished it a week before Halloween itself. While Youngest has pulled out Joshua Mowll’s Operation Red Jericho and we’ve begun that, my intent is to finish it as quickly as possible so that we can introduce him to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The time is coming when he’ll outstrip the desire and choice of literature as did his siblings and reading with Dad will go the route of toy soldiers and teddy bears, and as my own father said that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But he’s still got the desire and amidst all of the general hoopla, I’ve realized that these are moments that I’ve got to grab onto with both hands because the days are dwindling fast. So after Halloween tonight, we’ll come back and split out the candy and after he’s ready for bed, we’ll curl up with the Guild Specialists of Operation Red Jericho.
And while I’m thinking about it, perhaps I’ll yank out my old tape recording of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast and we’ll curl up to the Martians landing at Red Hook, New Jersey.