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Read to Your Children; It’s Good for You

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We have a children’s library in our home. Our children are grown and now it’s our grandchildren who enjoy it. Typically, last Chanukah as our family was sharing a festive evening of traditional song and holiday food, one ten-year-old granddaughter was conspicuously absent from the fun and games. I found her curled up and engrossed in a book. I told her mother to suggest to her that she might want to join the others when she finishes the chapter. I must admit though, that I thoroughly enjoyed the sight of her reading, oblivious to the world.

I’d love to wax poetic about all the wondrous benefits of teaching our children to learn to read for pleasure, but it’s all been written before and much better than I can express it. It has been said that to teach a child to enjoy books is to open a window to a world of wonder; to the past and to the imagined future. It is to give a child a lifelong gift.

At the earliest stages it means sitting an infant on your lap and flipping the pages of a picture book.I want to briefly discuss the virtues of reading out loud to our children. All of us can do it and we can be enriched by the process. Here is why. Some of the questions I am regularly asked by parents relate to encouraging and facilitating the learning process, others relate to developing healthy relationships. The common thread among them is universal, the desire to be effective parents. Young parents find out quickly that children don’t come with an instruction book and that good parenting is hard work. Your school officials, local shrink, your nosy friends, neighbors and your parents all want to share their sure-fire way to make you a better parent. I’d like to simply share an idea and not a new one at that.

I believe that parents need to spend time reading to their children. It is a wonderful experience for the children; it does wonders for the parent-child relationship and it is a heart warming experience for the parent/reader.

At the earliest stages it means sitting an infant on your lap and flipping the pages of a picture book. The parent can tell, or ask the child to explore the page. Regardless, for the child it is a time for special attention and a one-to-one quality experience with the parent.

As a child grows he will learn to equate the pleasure of reading with the pleasure of the special attention he receives from the parent. This pleasurable “transfer” experience is one the child will recall even much later in life.

As a child grows and is able to read, the experience may be done in reverse as well. Having a child read aloud with feeling and inflection, to the parent, will also become a cherished pleasurable experience. It can also be a wonderful family experience. I recall walking into the house of a close friend to find his family reading and acting out the recorded experiences of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, while he was in a Communist Russian jail. The eyes of the older children were brimming with tears as the younger ones sat open mouthed, taking it all in. I remember being so impressed by the uniqueness of the special moment.

The first message the child receives when he sits down in an easy chair with a relaxed mother or father is that he matters; he is important. Mommy/Daddy is setting all else aside to be with me. The parent, in turn will cherish the few focused minutes of pleasure with an attentive, receptive child. It’s not only the child who will be making memories, it’s the parent too.

Let me share a few helpful hints for reading to a younger child.

Relax. The child must experience a relaxed and interested parent. He must sense that all other concerns have been set aside and the parent is fully focused on him. Your body language will tell the child more than you can verbalize; a hug and a smile go a long way to conveying that he has your full and undivided attention. Sit somewhere you won’t be interrupted for the ten minutes you will spend together.

A hug and a smile convey that he has your full and undivided attention Keep it focused. Both of you will enjoy it more if you keep focused on the book or story. This should not become an all encompassing, sharing quality time; it should rather focus on the reading experience. Depending on the child’s age you may either read or tell the story from the pictures. Let the child follow your reading if he’s already reading, let him ask or tell what he thinks will happen next. Encourage him to get fully involved in the story.

Make a regular schedule. Do it every Sunday afternoon or free up some time in the regular workweek. A great time which works for many parents is a before bedtime (difficult though, if you have a brood). Let the child learn to look forward to the special time you have together. Never use the reading time as a hostage to good behavior and deny it as a punishment. This time is sacrosanct.

For older children:

Relax. It’s just as important for the older child to be impressed with your attention and to feel special. The responsiveness and the involvement of a child of, say, nine years of age can be much more stimulating to a parent than that of a preschooler. But the child needs to feel that he has the whole you in order to give you the whole him.

Let the child lead. Let him indicate if he wants to listen to you read, to read to you, to discuss what you have previously read, or for that matter to dramatize a passage. Nothing will sour this special time more quickly that a statement like “If you’re not interested in listening, I have better things to do.”

A family reading time is also a good idea. Mother, father, older and younger siblings, can enjoy reading out loud. Encourage dramatization and creativity and make sure everyone gets a chance. You may find that an introverted child may at first be reticent; don’t push too hard. When he is more comfortable he’ll contribute what he wants to the mix as well.

A stimulating passage will not only capture the magic of the page it will also capture the magic of the family.

By Nochum Kaplan

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