Monday, April 20, 2015

Hey, Will You Read to Me?

Years ago, a friend told me a story that I've never forgotten. Her mother was bedridden, in the final stages of Parkinson's disease, and had a woman who came in to care for her. On several occasions, my friend would arrive to find this woman reading to her mother. She was a horrible reader - stumbling over and mispronouncing words, laboriously agonizingly reading to her mother.

"How do you stand it, mother? Why do you want her to read to you?" my friend finally asked one day when they were alone.

"How else will she learn how to read?" was her mother's simple response.

She went on allowing this woman to "read" to her. It is sad to consider that this woman could have been enjoying reading with ease all her life if there had just been someone in the past who was as willing to let her practice and perfect the skill as my friend's sick mother was.

If you've ever taught a child to read, you may be familiar with the hour-long minutes that are required for a beginning reader to learn to articulate the words printed in the reading book. Possibly you can recall your own early struggle to see, translate, and orally pronounce the written word. My friend's story reminded me that listening to someone "learn" to read is a tangible, life-lasting gift to give. The arduous decoding and translating of marks to meaning in the brain is a complex process. It takes time to build competency.

All too often, once the new independent reader is somewhat comfortable reading, we graduate them to silent reading and breathe a sigh of relief. Oral reading and silent reading, I suggest, are not really the same skill. We all know what it is to get "rusty" if it's been awhile since we last read aloud. Reading aloud obviously corrects pronunciation, enhances diction, and builds security in speaking aloud, among other verbal benefits. It also slows the reading process down. When we slow down, we see and understand things we don't catch when we are skimming along on our own. That slower oral reading can boost comprehension, even when we do read silently to ourselves.

Keeping your child reading aloud, whether to you or younger siblings, whether in taking a turn in family reading, or simply being asked to share an interesting or funny passage with you makes them aware of words they might otherwise have skipped past. It also deepens understanding because they are not omitting dull or tedious portions they would pass over when reading alone. Ultimately, this builds a more intimate connection with literature. I fear many children lose interest in reading altogether because they are simply passing time with books and not really deeply engaging in the text, thus missing the ideas of the author or building strong reading experiences.

Usually, most parents do find that reading to young children is important to help introduce them to stories and the idea of reading. Yet, it is not as common for parents to continue to spend time reading aloud as long as the children are in the house. Sometimes kids resist this practice because of a mistaken perception that it is something only "little" kids do. Perhaps the proliferation of TV and other electronic entertainments do usurp time that could be spent in reading aloud to one another - doubtless, they do - but, if this is true, our families are losing a precious means of deepening and strengthening our relationships. My husband and I still read to one another, a pleasure we have had since dating days, and as our children grow into independent readers, we encourage them to read to us and to one another. It's a great way to have company when you're in the depths of dishes or laundry. The shared experiences and emotions found in telling stories to one another are permanent ties. It trains us to read and it trains us to listen.

Taking time to let a child read aloud to you not only teaches him how to read, but ensures a life-long preference for literature. If we leave our children to read on their own, surely other competing pastimes will eventually crowd out reading. If we have bookworms in the house who love to seclude themselves with a book, we can also help them into a lifetime habit of sharing that love with others by reading aloud to them and encouraging them to be sociable. For the child who seems disinterested in reading, a simple invitation to read aloud together will not only put a new spark into your relationship, but will probably relight their interest in books, too.

In a time of busyness, of independent involvement with personal electronics, and a time in history when reading is fast falling out of fashion, think how simply we could regain something precious that has been lost in the old practice of reading aloud - not just to preschoolers, or early readers, but family members of all ages. Some day, when these children have their own homes, our voices will still be near them, right along with all the stories that have been permanently buried in their hearts because we read aloud to one another.

For the joy of reading,

Liz

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