Monday, April 20, 2009

The Joys of Reading Aloud to Children

My daughter taking on the role of narrator, reading to her twin sisters

One of my favourite times of the day is when I sit down and read to my children. I have always read to my children from storybooks at bed-time but it wasn't until we set out on the journey of home education over ten years ago, that I began to read to them from longer, classic children's books.
I had a wriggly six year old son, would he be able to sit still long enough to listen to a chapter from 'Anne of Green Gables'? I decided to 'work with the wiggle'; he may have shuffled in his seat and tapped his fingers but he assured me he was listening and comprehending. His initial protests about the book being about a girl soon subsided and it didn't take long for him to become enthralled and immersed in the story, he loved hearing about the scrapes that Anne was forever getting into. Later, when he saw the movie on television he commented 'It wasn't at all like I imagined' - This is when I realized that reading to children takes them beyond the confines of passive watching, there were no pictures, just a few simple line drawings in the full unabridged edition I had chosen to read from. Therefore, my son had no choice but to imagine.

Modern adaptations not only dumb down the original writing, many times, they leave out important parts of the story, watering down its true message. 'Heidi' and 'Pocahontas' are two books that come to mind, that have suffered this injustice.
This is why I usually opt for the full unabridged editions and why I avoid the 'Disneyfied' ones. I want my children to be exposed to beautiful poetic writing and descriptive language that many 19th century writers used, such as this extract from ' Little Men' by Louisa May Alcott.

' Grandpa March cultivated the little mind with wisdom - not tasking it with long hard lessons, parrot-learned, but helping it to unfold as naturally and beautifully as sun and dew help roses bloom.'

Hearing passages such as this, has given my children an appreciation of good writing and correct grammar; it is influencing their own writing, furthermore, it stimulates their minds and provides sparks to set their imaginations alight!

Three of my children re- enacting the 'Swiss Family Robinson'!
OK I know they didn't have a cordless drill in the book!

They love to hear stories about real people (if they are fictional characters they become real characters in their minds) set in real periods of time; classic literature takes you to that time and place, it conveys to the reader and the listener, what it was truly like to be there, it brings history alive. We have learned about life during the American Civil War, discovered the harsh realities for pioneers on the Oregon Trail and experienced the Second World War through the eyes of a child and so much more ..... it is so much more exciting to hear a story than to read a dull textbook!

Good characters are vital to a story, the best ones become like friends, they can also be role models. 'Elsie Dinsmore' and 'Millie Keith' two of the characters created by Martha Finley in the 19th century have influenced my children most, they desire to have the same life of faith that these characters portrayed.

Today the libraries (both public and school) are stacked with modern children's literature, for example, 'Goosebumps' and ' The Babysitters Club'. We deliberately avoid such 'twaddle'. It is sad to see the minuscule classics section in bookshops tucked away at the back of the store. A few years ago, I was in a bookshop heading down towards the children's section. I couldn't reach it as two women were removing lots of books from the shelves and placing them into piles; at first I thought it was staff restocking the shelves but they were teachers choosing books to purchase for their school library. I heard one exclaim' Oh let's get the whole series, I know the kids will love them' What series of books do you suppose they were prepared to use their funding for? Which authors would educate and enrich the minds of the children at that school? C.S Lewis perhaps? Robert Louis Stevenson? I'm sorry, I wish I could even say it was a good modern day writer of children's books, no I'm sad to report that they had chosen the 'Mary Kate and Ashley' books - seriously!
I know some will say ' but at least they're reading something' - this is a bit like saying 'At least they are eating' when the diet consists mainly of junk food. What we are feed our children's minds is just as important. To develop an appetite for good healthy food you need to be introduced to it early in life; the same is true for books and incidentally what we read as adults also influences them - if they see us reading at all! - if they see us reading trashy novels, it is likely that they too, will be inclined to turn to this type of reading material when they are older.

By reading to your children and introducing them to good books you are developing an appreciation for good literature. Children who are read to become good readers and regular library patrons. Build up your own home library, you don't need to buy new editions, go to garage sales, search second-hand bookshops and visit Amazon.

Another 'sad but true' fact, is that today many family homes have DVD collections that far outnumber their book collections and more television screens than bookshelves. This is not to say it's wrong to watch the occasional cartoon (we are huge fans of the ABC Television's 'Shaun the Sheep - it's funny and creative with no need for dialogue! You will laugh your socks off!) Or go to see a movie that has been adapted from a book - we were thrilled when 'The Chronicles of Narnia' came to the big screen, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was outstanding and I loved 'Little Women' starring Winona Ryder, these movies are in our family DVD collection. We hired out 'Five Children and It' from the DVD store.... we'd read the book by E. Nesbit, author of 'The Railway Children' but have to say we were in agreement.... it wasn't as good as the book!

Reading aloud time is so special to me because I believe it creates memories that will last a lifetime. My children will always remember the times we snuggled on the couch to read books.
They haven't forgotten the time I cried when I read 'Charlotte's Web' to them, or the emotion that overflowed when I came to the scene in 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' where Aslan is bound to the stone table.
Another time, I could not stop laughing- I was laughing so much I could not read on! We were enjoying a tale from a 'Winnie the Pooh' storybook ' Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree'.
Pooh gorges himself on honey at rabbit's house and becomes wedged in the doorway. Rabbit eventually becomes tired of seeing Pooh's bottom and legs, so he puts a picture frame around Pooh and places a lace mat on Pooh's bottom and proclaims 'And now for a little dash of colour' and sets out a flowerpot, next he adds two branches that resemble antlers and draws a face onto Pooh's bottom and as a 'finishing touch' puts a board across Pooh's legs to make a shelf. My children had already started to giggle but it was the addition of the shelf that did it for me - I laughed so much I cried. My children were begging me to read on and finish the story but I would read another sentence and the image of Pooh being used as a shelf would pop into my mind and would set me off laughing again! I'm pleased to report that I did get to the end of the story. It's times like these that I treasure. If I had set them down in front of a 'Winnie the Pooh' video and left them to attend to housework, I would never have enjoyed this moment, it would not be entrenched in my memory as one of those wonderful 'crazy' memories of motherhood.

I still have this volume of 'Winnie the Pooh', it is a bit the worse for wear but today I was able to relive the memory when I read it to my three year old twins, the nine year old also listened in and found 'Gopher's' suggestion to use dynamite to solve the problem of Pooh's ' great tightness' according to 'Owl' just hilarious! 'Dynamite? Pooh said in a very small voice.' The girls loved the tale and insisted that I read another two of the stories in the book.

If you have young children start reading to them from classics such as 'Winnie the Pooh' and Beatrix Potter's ' Peter Rabbit books. When they are older you can move on to longer classics. If your children bring home from school, books that you do not consider to be the best literary 'fodder', supplement their diet! Read to them from good books in the evening. You may have to turn off the television but you will not live to regret this!

In my next post I will publish our 'Family Favourites for Reading Aloud'. There are so many good books out there but sometimes to find the gems you have to go on a treasure hunt! I hope that by sharing from our bounty you may make some new discoveries. What I do hope for, is that you too, will delight in reading to your children and that they will discover the joy of good books. They truly are treasures which every home should be in possession of.

Until then,
With love and joy,


A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Nice to hear that your kids too love books.
My kids have always adored being rad to,and just having access to books.
I once had a friend comment that she will not let her kids have books as they'll just rip them!!!!
I was agast!
SUre we have had a few torn books...Not many and the odd bit ofwriting but overall the kids respect theor books because they are one of their fav things.
We just read The waterhole by Graeme base.
And did alittle study on it's underlying messages.
And never anight goes by without a bedtime story.
Even if it is just a quick one.
Tonights was Thumper the rabbit...Even with my sore puffy and painful face:(

Farmgirl Cyn said...

Boy oh boy, does this bring me back in time! We used the "Charlotte Mason" method of homeschooling, and had many hours of wonderful read-alouds! It was some of my favorite times as a homeschool mom. Our son, now nearly 20, was also a squirmer, and we were told he needed Ritalin. Nope. Squirming did not bother me....he would be on the sofa, upside down, with his head on the floor and his legs over the back of the sofa, but he was still listening! What wonderful opportunities we have to shape our children through homeschooling!

The Vintage Rose said...

So glad to hear you celebrate reading and reading aloud. Great to see big sister reading to the younger ones too!

BookChook said...

We only had a few books when I was young, but Swiss Family Robinson was my very favourite! It made me so happy to think of your children building their tree house, and "being" the story in their play.

When I taught in schools, on playground duty, kids would come up to me and ask, "Can you make us a game?" They meant, give them a story to use in their play. I did it willingly, but wondered if some kids are losing the art of using their imaginations.

So glad to see that yours are not!

HomeGrownKids said...

Have you thought about joining the AussieHomeschool Blog Ring? You can see more here:

Make a Joyful Noise all ye Lands said...

Such a well written post. I came over from "Flowers in His Garden". The joy of reading I love to read and do hope the times we spend together reading outloud and homeschooling will be some of my childrens happiest memories.


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