“I didn’t teach my kids how to read. I figured that was the school’s job!”
She was serious. She didn’t flinch when she said it. Normally, I make it a habit not to judge parenting decisions. This particular choice was a little tougher to silence that overwhelming disapproval I felt in my heart. My senses were on hyper-drive. It took every bit of willpower for me to keep my cynicism to myself. After all, this wasn’t a mommy I met on the playground. She wasn’t some random woman at a grocery store. This, my friends, was an “academic coach” at the high school.
The very woman that had been hired to encourage teachers with new curriculum was the same woman who “refused” to teach her children to read.
What was even more frustrating about this particular conversation with said academic coach was that it occurred after we had lamented the plight of the sweet babies in a lower income school. “If only their parents could advocate for their children’s education; if only they had the tools to help them succeed; if only these parents had the time to sit down and read to their children; if only they knew the language well enough to read to their kids…”
And then the academic coach uttered those fateful words, “I refused,” and I, admittedly, judged her in my heart.
I am no expert…oh wait. I suppose I am. After spending four years in the English classroom, I suppose I can speak with some authority when I say read to your babies. Read every day; read everything; read as soon as they can hear. Don’t stop reading.
Many may wonder why I am so emphatic about reading to infants. Infants can’t understand books, can they? When I read little Bear books like Jane Eyre or The Hobbit, he doesn’t understand the complexities of a story. He doesn’t know what a prequel is, or the typical pattern of a bildungsroman. He only understands hunger, sleepiness, and the world as far as he can see it, right?
Perhaps; but I can guarantee you that infants will only learn the words that they hear.
Recent studies suggest that by the time a student reaches kindergarten, students that come from a lower income district hear 30 million fewer words than students from rivaling higher income districts. This “word gap” leads to decreased literacy and lower performances on standardized testing. Not to mention, these students are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to having command of the intricacies of this complicated English language.
What’s worse is CNN reports:
Often, (Students) can’t catch up when it comes to academic readiness and long-term achievement, studies have found.
Here’s the deal; I didn’t need studies to tell me that reading aloud to my son is beneficial. Does he know the alphabet? No. Is my son a child prodigy? Absolutely not. But he is hearing words that he wouldn’t if I didn’t take the time to read to him. We get to snuggle up and flip through pages of different authors. Sometimes, it is an illustrated children’s book; sometimes it is a few pages from a chapter book.
Reading with my little bear has reinforced a few things.
1. He is important to me. Reading together provides a time when you are completely focused on each other. You baby is focused on the sound of your voice and interpreting language. You are completely attuned to the needs of your child, outside of the pressures of working, keeping up the home, or different screens that vie for your attention. When you read to your child, you assure them that there is nothing else that matters but time together.
2. His education is important to me. Instead of waiting for teachers to give him lessons in phonics and vocabulary, I have become his first teacher. I am reading books with different tones in my voice. I am reading words that I wouldn’t normally use. I am spending time and allowing him to expand his understanding of the English language. Before he gets to school, we will spend time attempting to teach him individual reading skills. When he gets to school, he will know that reading is important because it is something that we have done together every day since we got the privilege to bring him home.
3. Reading is fun. Instead of using reading as a punishment, we read to little Bear during his favorite time of day (bath time) and before each nap time. Reading is not an optional activity in our home; it is a part of our every day routine and it is something we love to do together. As he understands it now, he gets in some extra time being held and snuggled, which is coincidentally another one of his favorite activities.
Do I want little Bennett to be a bookworm? Am I pushing an agenda on him? I don’t know; I don’t think so.
I guess I want my son to be a little like Malcom Mitchell, an athlete who happens to have a passion for reading. Whether he is an athlete, artist, businessman, or soldier, I want him to find an opportunity to learn in even the most mundane of situations. Above all else, I want him to have every advantage to succeed…so we will read.
That rhymes. But seriously, read to your kids. You don’t know how much of a difference it makes.