Why Reading Together Changes Moments, Days, and Lives
I am currently teaching my fourth child to read, while I spend tedious time helping my third child continue to practice. Thankfully, I have two independent readers, and the youngest two are in diapers - so I've got time. When my first daughter began reading, I could not contain the joy and pride. I cheered and giggled, I wiggled giddy excitement. You would have thought she had won a gold metal in the Olympics. I fell all over myself, beaming and bragging to all who would listen. Because I remembered the immeasurable passions I felt when I first learned to read, I lived it all over again through my young child. I remembered that I suddenly felt so old and powerful; I felt both grounded and transcendent. I began to believe that anything was possible. It was thrilling.
I am convinced that bestowing a love of the art of words, reading, and story is the most important thing I can do for my children as I teach them. Stories can change us - they can grow and shape us, stretching us beyond what we were before we got wrapped up in them. Crafting beautiful words is an art (if I could swim in poetry, I would). Telling a compelling story is an art. But did you also realize that reading is an art? The way you read something is just as much of a creative and personal experience/expression as it is to do the actual authoring. Reading requires you to turn your imagination on high, pull out your thespian masks, and get really vulnerable and intimate with the characters - and thus yourself. You get to join them absolutely everywhere they go, thinking and feeling with them. You linger and soak in the truth, you rush through frantically while holding your breath, and you just might underline "ah ha moments" or record excellent quotes for future comfort and inspiration. The art of reading creates in us a bigger and better self. We grow in empathy and compassion, knowledge and wisdom. We can travel anywhere, be anyone, and do absolutely anything.
This is why reading aloud to and with our children is of utmost importance. Their own ability to read both technically and effectively will come as a result of them developing a healthy appetite for story. With your own voice (which carries with it an immense amount of soul-depth, life experience, empathy, and dynamics), you can bring a story to life for your kids. Captivate them with the drama of the story through your inflection, the different voices you give the characters, and the pauses and whispers and shouts and emotion that you put into it. You have all of the control: you can stop and ask a question and get a little dialogue going or you can stop and answer a question that they have (define a word for them or further explain a concept or place). When you read together as a family, you create a culture unique and beguiling. You share a common language and inside jokes. You identify with characters and act them out in everyday life. You come up with ways to change the world with the ideas you get from the stories. You learn together and grow more intimately close.
But please don't think that the reading aloud together stops when your children become independent readers. It must continue! Sure, an eight-year-old can read third grade level books on their own...but can they read above their level? Can they tackle classics? Can they handle alone the substance of more substantial literature? You are the one who can help them navigate higher literature- and love it. You are the one who can expose them to more sophisticated vocabulary. You are the one who can champion the beauty and power of story so that they continue to be convinced that books and reading are thrilling and worth doing!
When we listen to a book being read to us, we are growing in listening skills, imagination, and creativity. More so, we grow in empathy. We become better listeners, better thinkers, better writers, better communicators. Ultimately, we become bigger livers of life; we ride the drama to the climax, solve the problems, keep the faith, cry through the grief, laugh through the challenge, and come out the other end different and better from the journey. What is it to be human and live a life if not to imagine a better world and put the creative energy into making it so? Story, books, and reading together will help to facilitate just that.
So read to your kids: before they can talk, before they can read, while they are learning to read, and well after they can. Their moments will be changed by the intimate experience, by the shared laughter, tears, and adventure. Their days will be woven together and sustained by the repetitive, rhythmic coming together around a shared story, with characters to identify with and to be inspired by. Their days will contain time for growing in empathy and for boundless travel, exploring the depths of humanity and the breadths of the world. And ultimately, their lives will be changed by the magical and transformative power of words - words that communicate truth and love and beauty and vision. Words that instill worth and dignity, hope and the gumption to create. Who knows...the cycle might just continue as your children grow up to be the next wordsmiths who change lives through their poetry and stories! Cheers to families that read aloud together!
"Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful written word; someone has to lead the way."