a child’s fighting chance

Today has me feeling introspective, melancholy, and a little sentimental. I have been trying to get around to writing another post here for a few days, but my unemployed life seems to fill up with random things to do a lot faster than you’d think it would. I’m thankful for that in one way, but in another, it’s bloody annoying.

Today’s post is all about reading. Reading is ridiculously important, and encouraging a love and appreciation for reading in children is something I feel particularly passionate about.

A couple of days ago Emily Kenny wrote a blog entry, one part of which discussed the importance of good parenting where a child’s ability to read, and enjoyment of reading, is concerned.

Anyone who knows me is aware that for someone who never wants to procreate, I have some pretty strong opinions on parenting. I am continually amazed at how little people read, because they’ve never developed the habit. The entire time I was growing up, I had my head in a book. Before I could read, I memorized from my parents’ reading. Despite the failures of my education system, reading is how I managed to develop any grasp of the English language. Kids need to read. Giving grammar lessons when the concepts are not being understood on an active level is pointless. Michael Rosen claims that the issue is that kids are being taught to read, but not to enjoy, books. I think that in a lot of cases they’re not being taught either, but I also think that the two go hand in hand. If kids are exposed to reading, and are put in positions where they have to, they will learn to enjoy. If for no other reason than they’ll actually know what’s going on.

Emily and I had a conversation about this particular issue as well, and it seems to me that reading books is seriously losing its appeal for kids, these days. Because of technology and the inevitable trap that is the internet, kids are also being left in front of screens a lot more because they serve as a parenting surrogate of sorts. I know a lot of conscientious parents, but there are a lot of parents out there who will take advantage of being able to leave their little ones in front of a TV in order that they might get things done. The kids may benefit from good TV programming to a certain extent, and there are a lot of programs for toddlers and pre-schoolers that are geared toward getting them to read and think critically, but that really is nothing compared to being able to sit down with mom, or dad, or grandma, or whomever, and just read a book. Beside being an enjoyable and enriching experience, it’s also time spent with one another, which comes all too infrequently, sometimes.

Thinking about this sort of thing reminds me of how things were when I was young, and how my mother and father would read to me. One of the things I remember most fondly about growing up is the amount of poetry that would just be hanging around the house. My mother might be the biggest fan of poetry that I know, and she had at least one book of poetry for every season, every occasion, and every reason. I attribute my love for, and proclivity to write, poetry to her enjoyment of it. She impressed that love upon me simply by reading it aloud around the house, sometimes when no one in particular was listening. I think this goes to show that it doesn’t necessarily mean that parents need to sit down and read with their children all the time to show that it can be an enjoyable experience. Just the simple act of reading where your children can see you doing it is sometimes enough to spark interest.

Making reading a chore is the surest way to make a child hate it, and if a parent sees it as a chore, then there’s not much hope of either parent or child getting much out of the experience. And yet, of course, there are parents who wonder why their children don’t do as well with reading in school when they only need look to themselves and their treatment of reading at home, most times. As with everything, there are exceptions to this rule. Some children pick up books and just don’t stop reading, while some are not so inclined — even when encouraged. My point is, I suppose, that I think parents should give their children a fighting chance with reading. A love of reading goes hand-in-hand with a love of stories, a love of culture, a love of information. I would wish that upon any child, or any person.

I had a memorable conversation with some academics a few months ago. Around a table, at a pub, with nachos and pints, we talked of school and life and such. The conversation turned to the reasons why we’d gotten into the study of English Literature and the arts in general, and the consensus was that we’d had literate parents who encouraged us and led by example. Of course, the teachers in our formative years had a significant amount of influence, but I think we agreed that it was influences at home that ultimately made the difference for us all. As difficult as it may be to be an academic sometimes, it is more joy than it is trouble, and I think it all begins with reading, no matter what field you’re in.

My final thought on this brings me back to a night a few weeks ago. I was looking after my cousin’s little girls for the night, and I was just getting the eldest to bed. Normally, we read at least one book before bed, but it’s generally two, and sometimes three. This particular night, she particularly wanted to read one of her new books, and as we sat on the bed and settled ourselves, I readied myself to read to her. This time, though, she took the book in hand and read to me. Slowly, steadily, and with just a little bit of hesitation, she got through the entire book with minimal help from me. I was absolutely floored by the whole experience, and made sure to let her know how well she’d done. She hugged me and said goodnight and, as I walked down the stairs, I smiled so big that I had to laugh. She’s got more than a fighting chance, this one. And I couldn’t be more proud.

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