Before we begin, let me introduce my littles! If you’re new here, or didn’t catch the last post, I am giving my kiddos new blog names today, as the old ones were basic, and kind of confusing. And because, as a writer, I need to love my characters’ names! So, after stressing about this for a week, here they are:
Plum (formerly known as A) is a sweet, flouncy, clever, newly-turned 3-year-old. She typically dresses monochromatically, and loves pretend play with characters from books and shows (Plum Pudding, from Strawberry Shortcake, is a particular favorite). She especially enjoys twirling and spinning while wearing dresses. She has a habit of interjecting big words or phrases into situations that make absolutely no sense at all, but is cute as heck. (“Sure do!” she says when I express how brave she was to ride the elevator. “49 cents and two pieces” she says as we pour a teaspoon of cinnamon into our muffin batter. What?!? 😀 )
Little Bear, or Bear, (formerly Baby J) is rapidly growing at 9 months old. His new blog name is partly inspired by this lovely children’s book character (of course), but also because he’s my bumbling, big-pawed bear cub! He loves making loud noises, babbling, and showing off his tongue to any who will admire him. Nearly crawling, and nearly always delightful, he has the best smile ever! He can no longer wear one-piece “feety” pajamas because he wiggles and curls up like a hedgehog when he sleeps, so much so that he wakes up with both legs stuck in one pant leg!
Last week I mentioned starting a new series called Intentional, to share some simple changes we’ve made to turn good intentions into good habits. I’m especially excited to share this first post with you. It’s about reading!
One of the things you may know about me is that I am a bookish person. I love books. From my earliest years when I sat on the kitchen floor in front of the heat vent and “read” (recited) The Gingerbread Man while my Mom prepared dinner, books gave me a sense of wonder, belonging, and inspiration. Any place with a collection of books was an honored sanctuary (the library, my grandparents’ spare bedroom, a bookstore). I’d engulf myself in fairy tales and beautiful stories. Caps For Sale. The Giving Tree. The Six Swans.
“Give us a house furnished with books rather than furniture! Both, if you can, but books at any rate!….Books are the windows through which the soul looks out. A house without books is like a room without windows….Children learn to read by being in the presence of books. The love of knowledge comes with reading and grows upon it.” -Harry Ward Beecher, Eyes and Ears
I have joyous memories of being read to, even after I knew how to read. The nightly Bible story with one of my parents. A Wrinkle in Time with my aunt and brothers. My fifth grade teacher read aloud The Great Gilly Hopkins. A family friend, Pilgrim’s Progress. Being read aloud to wasn’t just about a great story, but about the connection with the other people. The shared experience and enjoyment. A growing bond.
I couldn’t have been more than eleven years old when I took it upon myself to read aloud to my younger brother. The BFG. The Mouse and the Motorcycle. He was seven or eight years old. We’d droop across the floor or on the bed with our feet on the wall and our heads hanging off the side, the book in my out-stretched arms overhead so we could both see the illustrations. We’d shift and shuffle and slide into different spots, all over the room, as I continued reading until one of us tired of the whole thing. We’d put it aside until the next day. At least that’s how I remember it.
My husband was also a voracious reader as a child, reading Robinson Crusoe as a first grader! His Nana bought him classics for Christmas, and instilled the value of a good book before bed (with a glass of water, of course).
As adults, we continue to devour books. My preferences are more for literary fiction, historical biography, poetry, and education/parenting books. His interests lie heavily in theology, world religions, science fiction, and (of course) comics. When we were a young married couple we read aloud to each other, a chapter or so a night, from C.S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When Plum was only three weeks old, I read aloud to her from Pride and Prejudice (I couldn’t wait to get started)!
So, it’s not so surprising that we want to instill the love of reading in our children. Aside from the pure joy of a good story and snuggling next to your little one, reading aloud to young children – and even so to older children – goes a long way in preparing them and spurring them on academically (think vocab building, phonetic awareness, knowledge connections, attention spans) and morally (compassion, empathy, reasoning, inspiration). When only 25% of American high school graduates still read for pleasure while 100% of kids entering kindergarten love reading, it should send up red flags to all parents and teachers to combat this huge gap (statistic from The Read-Aloud Handbook, which is a fantastic resource if anyone needs convincing about the innumerable benefits of reading).
Our intention as a family is to build a home culture of loving books. Here are some simple, but effective things we have implemented since the start of the year.
- Book baskets. All over the house. Instead of a large bookcase where all our books reside, we have chosen precious books scattered throughout the house. The living room. The dining room cubbies. The kids’ room and our room. The playroom. To encourage book reading at any given moment. And, we’ve been using all of them.
“To a genuine lover of books no house is completely furnished which has not a good many of them, not arranged formally in one room, but scattered all over the house.” -Margaret E. Sangster
- Intentional Selection and Book Lists. Not all books are created equal. As I want to encourage reading and selecting one’s own books, there will inevitably be books we read that aren’t that great. But for the majority of our book diet, I want to give my children quality literature.
If we begin by choosing the tried and true, the best of literature, we will give the child a love of excellence and the really “good.” As we go on reading he will find that there are distressing happenings, stories which need discussion. Literature can help children think about what life is like before they live it as adults. -Susan Schaeffer Macauley
I now take a few minutes the night before library day and jot down titles/authors to find when we get there. Or, if I’m really ahead of the game, I go online and reserve them to pick up that day. Depending on your library, they’ll hold a stack of books for you for several days. Which eliminates the need to have six eyes and ten arms when trying to wrangle multiple littles and look for quality books! I have also befriended the librarian, and will often ask her help in finding a few gems. Here are a few great book lists (and a podcast) to check out:
- Reading Up. It might be because of my excitement to return to some much-loved children’s stories from my own childhood, but I will select a more challenging read for Plum every couple weeks. Books that have longer text, larger vocab, and slightly above her head. I am fascinated by the story (from The Read-Aloud Handbook) of a preschool teacher in Groton, Massachussettes who reads chapter books with her students (as well as picture books)! And the kids are engaged and listening! This is a trained skill, a focusing of attention and imagination-stretching that needs fostering. And that is my aim. This year my intention is to introduce Beatrix Potter’s work, and read as much as Plum enjoys. So far, she loves The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. (“You be Mr. McGregor, and I’m Peter,” Plum says on a fairly regular basis. After a bit of chasing, “Peter” comes and helps “Mr. McGregor” garden and plant apple, pear, and lemon trees.)
- Reading Down. Now, I don’t really think that any good book is beneath any level of reader. Reading picture books to a high school student, reading children’s chapter books as an adult…if the book is quality, it has something to offer to those of the older set. Ever read something as an adult that you did as a kid? You pick up different details, your understanding of the story has evolved, and the way you engage with the story is different because of what is going on in your life.
“A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.” -C.S. Lewis, from On Stories
There are a lot of great picture books that have been adapted to board books for babies, and instead of forgetting about them and moving “ahead” too quickly, oftentimes Plum and I will pick one up and read it afresh. The good ones captivate through story, beautiful illustrations, and oftentimes we discover something new in them with each reading. (A great example would be Goodnight, Gorilla, a nearly wordless book with tons of details to discover in the illustrations!) The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Goodnight Moon. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
- Model Reading. Ever hear your child repeat a phrase you always say? My husband and I joke that we have a parrot in the house as Plum walks around spouting off phrases from our recent conversation! And they don’t just repeat what you say, they do what you do! (No pressure…actually, yes, there is a lot of pressure! Ha!). I’ve instituted reading time. It’s not so structured as to time of day, but will be when Little Bear is napping and usually after I’ve played and read solo with Plum for a bit. It’s my reading time. She can play by herself (though usually tries to interrupt me). But I will try to get 20 minutes of solid reading from my own book. It is glorious (with a cup of coffee)! And Plum sees that reading is important and pleasurable to me. I heard a great idea of keeping a book in the kitchen, to pick up while there’s a few minutes of downtime in cooking. I have yet to try this, though this might work for some too. You take what you can get some days.
- Read Aloud Every Day. This one is easy for us, and isn’t really new but when Little Bear came along the amount of time spent reading was drastically cut. It was challenging to even read one picture book to Plum before bed. Now that things (and Bear) have settled down a bit, we read multiple times throughout the day. When Bear naps. While he is playing on the floor. To both Bear and Plum. To just Bear (who at this age, really just wants to eat the book or rip the flaps). If a day is especially busy and not much reading occurs, bedtime begins 10-20 minutes earlier (because Plum doesn’t really notice) and we’ll read for a good 30 minutes before bed.
- Have Three Books Going At Once. Earlier last year it was challenging for me to keep up with only one book, let alone three (Again, new baby). But typically I enjoy reading many books at a time. One literary novel. A few nonfiction. One children’s chapter book. I’m inspired by a podcast I listened to recently that quoted Charlotte Mason encouraging mothers of young children to read three books at a time: one hard, one moderately easy, and one novel. And to pick the one you feel most able to handle. The inspiration being to always try and grow (your mind, your spirit, your imagination) as an adult and a mother. As a mother it better ables you to grow your children. This comes fairly natural to me, to read multiple books at a time. I totally understand if it’s just not your cup of tea. I think as long as you have at least one thing to read that sparks your mind, you’re good.
- Read Aloud with your Spouse. My hubby and I did this early on in marriage and it was really nice. We also watched a few tv series together, so maybe that is why it eventually stopped (Netflix binging, anyone?). But we have committed to reading aloud together once again, in the evenings after the kids are asleep. Some days it’ll only be for ten minutes, other days we can spend more time. It’s a nice way to connect with each other and share common interest together.
Phew! This was a longer post than normal, so thanks for sticking with me! I hope you’ll stop by next week as I continue the Intentional series: turning good intentions into good habits.
What I am reading this week:
What Plum is reading this week:
What Little Bear is reading (eating) this week: