Six Children and No Theories

Covering parenting and child development issues

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Written by Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Community Blogger | May 9, 2014 12:20 PM

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." (Cicero)

I started reading to my daughter before she was born. In a kiddie lit class I'd taken one summer, I'd heard about a study where pregnant mothers had read Dr. Seuss aloud, and when they read the same story to their infants months later, the babies responded to its distinctive rhyme pattern, indicating that they recognized the story they'd heard before they were born. I loved the idea that my daughter and I could have that kind of a connection even before she arrived, and so I spent many evenings sitting in the rocking chair in the nursery reading to her while my husband shook his head.

I loved reading to her when she was little, too, and I remember making time for books before we left in the morning, which was a pretty impressive task for a non-morning mommy. She grew to recognize the words and patterns of language in familiar stories, and some of my fondest memories of her as a preschooler were the times she'd sit on the steps in our living room with a Magic School Bus book in her lap, making up the story and reading it with the same inflections she'd heard so many times. 

I don't think it's any accident that she has grown into an inquisitive teen who remains a voracious reader. In fact, if we traded in her book collection, we could probably finance her first year of college. Or at least a semester. 

But I could never do such a thing. Though we've traded books in at our local used paperback bookstore and donated books to the library, our collection of books remains substantial. A few Christmases ago, we bought her a Kindle Fire simply to forestall the invasion of the book snatchers that was occurring in her bedroom. As a teenager, she now consumes non-fiction books on topics that interest her with the same enthusiasm she once reserved for series of middle grade books when she was in elementary school. When we have dinner table discussions about history and politics, she sometimes knows more than I do; given her love of history and pursuit of its study, we are fast approaching the day when this will be the case more often than not.

I realize that not every child will love reading. For some children, reading is a struggle, and for those who do enjoy reading, it can still be difficult to find books that are fascinating enough to pull them away from other pursuits. 

But we know that children who read are children who were read to. Research supports the idea that language development occurs more rapidly and more thoroughly in language-rich environments, and that reading aloud to our kids helps to build relationships with not just the books that are in the lap, but with the kids who are there, too.

Many decry e-books as the end of civilized reading, but for kids who are more enthralled by technology than reading, e-readers can provide a way in, an opening to the world of books unlike those found on dusty shelves. Magazines, too, with their realistic photos and illustrations for audiences of all ages, fascinate those who remain unimpressed by books, as do non-fiction books, such as atlases, biographies of sports and entertainment figures and The Guinness Book of World Records.

As I type this, local libraries are gearing up for their summer reading events, fun, prize- and activity-laden programs designed to keep kids reading over the summer months (some have programs -- with incentives -- for adults as well). Participation is free, and everyone is welcome. All you need is a library card (also free) and the means to get there. Once there, you'll have access to not just the books in your local library, but to those in other libraries as well, which  means you and your kids can read the latest and greatest (or perhaps a classic or two, if that's more to your liking) without spending a penny. Want to just download it to a device so you can read it on the beach? Libraries have e-books, too.

I can't think of another investment with zero start-up cost that offers the potential for such an enormous pay-off. And unlike books, knowledge fits neatly into existing, built-in storage space.


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