My parents didn’t raise us on books; we were more of a “Gilligan’s Island” and TV-dinner sort of family. Reading aloud to my children was a new concept. I saw my friends doing it, but it looked awfully time-consuming. They spent most of their evenings just tucking kids in. I thought, “How fun is that?” I figured it would really cut into my couch time with my husband.
But that’s what good parents do, right? So I began reading to my boys at bedtime when they were somewhere around four and six years old. We started with Pinocchio. Originally written as a series that was published weekly, each chapter is a story in itself that builds to a great ending. My boys never wanted it to end.
Then a whole new world opened up to me. I learned that I didn’t have to read at night.
Around that time, I discovered a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. I’m happy to say it’s now in its seventh printing. When I read it, I was hoping for some suggestions as to what to read to the kids. Instead, I found a wealth of knowledge. Not only what to read to my kids, but the all-important why I should read to them—to my rowdy boys in particular.
My Danny was not quite four when I read what Trelease wrote about the calming effects of reading aloud to children. It enhances their intellect, their vocabulary and can calm them down emotionally. Trelease also explained how even children with Down Syndrome advance when they are put on a “book diet,” which means reading aloud to them several times throughout the day.
I decided to try it. I put my rambunctious four-year-old on a book diet.
Several times throughout the day I would sit my boy down to read to him. When he got restless or started being whiny, we would pull out a book, even when he had lost the ability to play with his siblings, as kids sometimes do. Reading aloud was integrated into our daily routine.
Then one day, Danny was having a particularly bad day. He just couldn’t seem to play well with others. Hearing the argument in the other room, I called out to him in my “you-better-stop-it-and-get-in-here-now” tone of voice.
The boy came marching in with a furrowed brow and his chin tucked into his chest. With a heave and a sigh, he took a book off the shelf and threw it on the floor.
“I know,” he said, as he fell down next to it. Propping himself up on his elbows, he opened the book and began “reading” for the first time. By then, he knew the story well and could tell it to himself by turning the pages and soaking in the pictures.
Danny knew his life was out of control and reading became a safe and calming place for him to go. It gave his mind a place to roam and created an effective time-out that was a pleasure, not a punishment.