No matter what’s on the busy parenting calendar, reading aloud to our children is a satisfying indulgence moms and dads should never feel guilty about.
It’s good for kids — and parents. Children’s author and Newbury Medalist Kate Camillo says, “I do think that people, in the rush and clamor and get-things-done-ness of daily life, need to be reminded about what reading aloud can do.”
Wall Street Journal children’s book critic, Megan Cox Gurdon agrees. “To curl up with children and a good book” she writes, “has long been one of the great civilizing practices of domestic life, an almost magical means of cultivating warm fellow feeling, shared in-jokes and a common cultural understanding.”
Reading aloud draws us together with the child, or children, we are reading to. “Unlike tech devices,” writes Megan Cox Gurdon, “which atomize the family by drawing each member into his own virtual reality, great stories pull people of different ages toward one another, emotionally and physically.”
Reading aloud to children encourages children to be readers of more sophisticated literature when they are older. But Mrs. Gurdon says it’s a shame to let the reading times stop when children learn to read by themselves. In her recent Journal piece, “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud,” she points out that, “The evident pleasure of hearing a story read aloud is not confined to the young. Even teenagers (and husbands) will listen if the writing is good.”
The practice of regularly reading aloud to children is being replaced earlier and earlier in kids’ lives by electronic entertainment. Screens are ubiquitous and their use bleeds from schoolwork, to socializing, to information-gathering, to shopping. Megan Gurdon calls this “online-ism” and says it makes it harder to draw lines regarding screen time. She points to studies of media consumption which show that, for many kids, “if the choice is between a book and the Internet, the Internet wins.”
If we allow that, our children miss out because a painless — really joyful — cultivation of the discipline of attentiveness naturally arises from listening to stories. Megan Gurdon writes of a film producer who reads regularly to her four kids, saying hearing stories read aloud prods us to create worlds in our heads in a way screen entertainment cannot. This producer says, “Kids are now being spoon-fed the visual story-telling, so there’s no reason for them to close their eyes and imagine a world…”
Reading to my kids was one of the great joys of parenthood. So, I smiled as I walked into the room my daughter prepared for her first baby and spied a bookshelf filled with books she has carefully chosen plus some dog-eared favorites from childhood. Her friends even threw her a baby shower at which every guest was instructed to include a children’s book with their gift.
Reading aloud to our children — and grandchildren — provides a good connection point with them and a lot of fun.