Building a Family Reading Culture Part I: Why We Read
Earlier this summer, I read The Enchanted Hour:The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, by Meghan Cox Gurdon. It was one of those rare books that both affirm everything you already expect to be true and completely change the way you look at an area of your life.
I had the same experience almost a decade ago when I read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Both books lay out a vision of childhood that looks very different from what many of our children experience.
The Enchanted Hour operates as a hybrid of personal narrative and “how to” book. The author shares how she built an hour-long read-aloud routine into her family's daily schedule and how she maintained it through all the normal obstacles parents face (crowded evenings, age gaps, at times less than enthusiastic kids, etc).
The book is also packed with research about the benefits of reading aloud to people of all ages and the ancient traditions of sharing stories with people we love. It’s a quick and easy read and would make a great book club option for a mom’s group or PTA.
I’ve thought a lot about The Enchanted Hour throughout the summer and felt a little vindicated for all the work I've done over the last decade building reading into my own children's lives. Because the author makes clear what we all already know: reading matters.
Every trip to the library, every time I reread Bear Scouts for the hundredth time, every time I chased a pre-teen off the computer to “go read’, every time I made sure a book was packed before a trip….
It wasn’t because I’m a superior parent (definitely not), or because I was calculating the future academic benefits or boost in reading Lexile. All my efforts to build a reading culture within my family have been because, reading matters. It’s one of the few gifts we can give our children that can be taken away or cast aside latter.
But here’s the thing, I didn’t give much thought to how I was building a reading culture. As a teacher, whose closest "parent friends" are mostly other teachers, academics, homeschooling moms and social workers, the whole reading thing was baked in the cake. We talked about what we were reading, what our kids were reading, peer-reviewed articles on child development and NPR stories about education.
And to be clear, it's not a self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual thing, it's a nerd thing. My people are mostly bookish. Nerds to the end.
But, that was my personal life. In my professional life, I saw something very different. As a teacher, many of my student's parents were struggling to build reading into their child's routine. There were apology notes scribbled onto reading logs explaining why the reading assignment the night before wasn't done (travel soccer, late-night, book left at dad’s house). There was the mom who at a parent conference worried that all her son ever read was graphic novels and the dad who worried that his daughter only read the Warriors series. Mostly, what I saw were kids who clearly felt the reading was something that only happened at school.
As my group of mom friends expanded, I saw struggle there too. Friends who had gotten dozens of books at a baby shower, but now that their child was a toddler, didn’t really know what to do with them. Or, friends that knew the benefits of reading to a child and dutifully read for 30 minutes every night until kindergarten and then passed off the “reading thing” to their child’s teacher.
It seems to me that there are many parents out there who know they why (the many and lasting benefits of reading), but get stuck on the how. I’ve decided to run a little series here at Wait…Where Was I to explain the how.
We're going to talk book organization and storage, the role that audiobooks can play, how to balance leisure reading with required reading for school, what to do with reluctant readers, and more.
In the meantime, before we get to the how, a reminder from Meghan Cox Gurdon about the why:
“No child is an island. They come from families. They are the newest braids in that cord of humanity, and it is right and beautiful that they should know something of what their parents and grandparents value, while at the same time having access to the classic works of human imagination that we all own in common. Contemporary culture will take care of itself. It's lively and loud and most children's lives are full of it. When parents read long-beloved classics with them and share stories that convey what we want them to know about the world, we can help them discover powerful narratives and pictures they will never find on PBS Kids or Instagram.”