Jan 9, 2015

Adventures in Reading Aloud

I'm sure most of you have have had the joy of reading aloud a book to a small child, even a very young child. Children love to be read to and my two youngest grandchildren are no exception. They will both be two years old this spring, (cousins, about five weeks apart in age). Whenever they visit us they will invariably find one or more of our board books and climb up onto a lap for a story.

There are all sorts of studies asserting the importance of reading aloud to children. Some say you should even read aloud when baby is still in the womb! It is widely recognized that children who are read to have great advantages. Reading aloud encourages language development, cognitive skills, stimulates curiosity, exposes children to ideas, lays a foundation in so many areas for the formal schooling ahead. I could go on and on. Everyone knows it's important to read to children.

I'm not going to cite studies and try to convince you to read aloud to your family regardless of age. Instead I want to approach this from the perspective of relationship. 

A book shared with a child ranks high on my list of fun things to do. Something seems to happen between the reader and the listener when a book is shared together.

And not just for children either, but for adults too.

Years ago when my husband Bob and I were first married we lived in Augsburg, West Germany (Remember the Cold War? Remember a divided Germany?) where he was stationed with the US Army. That was quite an experience! We often joked that he took me (and my 3 little boys from a previous marriage) on a three year European honeymoon. Bob had no idea what he was getting himself into marrying a woman with 3 little children, an instant family. They were almost 7, 4, and 3 years old when we said, "I do." Within four months of the wedding we were all living together in another country, with another language, miles from home, and about eighteen months later our first daughter was born. Talk about changes!

Back in the late 1970's when we lived in Germany life was very different than it is now. Not only were there no personal computers, internet, or cell phones, we didn't even have a phone attached to a cord that was attached to the wall; not even a land line for us. The cost of a phone was way beyond Army enlisted pay. The neighbor across the hall would let us borrow their phone in an emergency and if we needed to contact family in the States we had to go downtown to the post office where there were special international operators who could connect you, for a hefty price. If I wanted to send a letter home to my parents or friends it was a good 2 weeks before I received a reply and that would only be true if the day they received my letter they responded immediately. No instant communication back in those days!

We only had one English language television station available to us; Armed Forces Network. We were grateful we had that but the first year we lived there the only programs available to us were reruns. It took awhile before we were watching "new" (to us) episodes of Little House on the Prairie or any other currently running American TV program. And of course VHS and DVD's were not an option in the late 1970's either. So what were we to do for entertainment?

Read aloud to each other!

I confess that in my younger days I did not read for pleasure. I barely read at all! I did read for knowledge as needed, but not for my own fun and entertainment. Sad, isn't it?  It was my husband, who is a lifelong voracious reader, who introduced me to books. Even today he always has a book going, at least one! He was astonished that I'd not only never read any books by J. R. R. Tolkien but that I'd never even heard of him. He had read all the books more than once before he graduated from high school. Well fortunately he still had his copies of the books and so began a reading adventure for the two of us.

In the evenings after the boys were all tucked in bed we would sit together and take turns reading. We started with The Hobbit. From page one I was hooked. We would read a chapter or two virtually every evening and worked our way through the entire series over the following months.

Some years later I reread the entire series but the pleasure of that second reading, although great,  doesn't compare to the enjoyment of when we read aloud together. Why was that? The shared experience of course! At the same time, the same moment, we were sharing all of Bilbo's adventures. It was as if we were following along with him, together. We would talk about the stories. When the book was closed I would ask questions but of course Bob wouldn't give anything away. I'd have to wait until the book was opened the next evening...unless I took the opportunity while he was at work to take a little peak into the next chapter. Once he got wind of my cheating he started taking the book to work with him!

Reading aloud is relational. It has the power to form connections between people. It can deepen relationships. It creates memories.

We've read aloud to our children too of course, not only when they were young but also when they were older, even in high school. A person is never too old to be read to. Never!

There were the "official" school books, many of which I read aloud that were part of the Ambleside Online curriculum which we followed while homeschooling; Robinson Crusoe, Burgess Animal Book, Understood Betsy, Pinocchio, Robin Hood, Children of the New Forest, just to name a few.

There were times especially in the afternoon (a good reason to do the vast majority of schooling in the mornings), when reading aloud some of the school books became quite challenging for me. In fact, there was one time when I actually fell asleep while reading out loud! I saw the words on the page one moment and the next moment I was falling asleep, which was especially funny to my girls as I slurred the words! They still remember exactly which book it was and what the storyline was at that moment when I nodded off even though it was more than 10 years ago! I wonder, has that ever happened to anyone else?

There have also been other books too, just for fun books, that we enjoyed together as well. Many of those books my husband read aloud in the evenings to the family; Cheaper By the Dozen, The Railway Children, Five Children and It, The Four Story Mistake, Gone Away Lake, and more.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit, was definitely one of the more memorable books Bob read aloud. There was one passage from the book that he could hardly read because he was laughing so hard. The tears were rolling down his face as he tried to get the words out...

"I suppose I shall HAVE to be married some day," said Peter, "but it will be an awful bother having her round all the time. I'd like to marry a lady who had trances, and only woke up once or twice a year."

And of course that made it all the funnier to the rest of us.

So go grab a book and someone you love and read aloud together. Make some memories!

Do you have any reading aloud stories you'd like to share? I'd love to hear them.


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