I always knew that reading to the kids was important. It wasn’t simply about that cuddly time of a day and helping to establish that special bond between us by giving them attentive time and enjoying story. I knew it was an important part of their learning – although I have to admit, at that time, I didn’t know exactly why.
The book I recently blogged about ‘Proust and the Squid’ opened my eyes to what I’d intuitively guessed.
Maryanne Wolf, the author, explains just how much ‘extra’ children have to understand about reading as well as decoding letters and print. Real reading is so much more than simply understanding what words say. It’s also about understanding subtle things that the words don’t say, the inferences, the humour, intonation, what the writer’s getting at, the deeper understanding you get from chunks of text beyond the definition of the individual words. And children begin to understand all these subtle references in a text, which will help them learn to do it, simply by hearing you read. By you reading to them.
They learn that as well as the pleasure of a story or information, text also holds something else. It holds the power to evoke feeling and emotion, it tells us things about the way people interact and about society, stories help explain the way people behave. Print can make us laugh, help children understand how humour works, it can change moods, help them feel reassured, show other lives beyond their own and how we relate to them. Give them the power of information. But to get at all that, Wolf made me realise that being able to read involves skills beyond interpreting what the letters on the page say. Until kids can do that, they will not be able to usefully read.
Children (and us too) have to understand that reading is not only about deciphering letters. It’s much more than that. And it is by being read to that they learn that, most particularly by hearing their favourite stories over and over and watching you, listening to you, read them. It may be boring for you, but it teaches your kids so much about reading. It will eventually teach them how to read – properly – beyond decoding letters. In fact Maryanne says that it’s now been shown that being read to has a direct impact on how children will achieve at school in later life. Reading to them is a necessary part of their learning development.
But I would say that reading to them goes beyond being necessary for their learning. It is a necessary part of our parenting for their health and well being. And love. Our love and devotion can be expressed in many ways; reading to them is one of them. Even the simplest of books like the one in the picture.
It’s such a small thing that anyone can do for a child. But it’s something that can make such a huge, huge difference.