Friday, February 5, 2010

Reading to our Babies

When I look back at nearly 17 years of parenting, and 23 years of teaching, I find that the best choice I made, other than to be a Wife and Mom in the first place, was to spend time reading to my children and to nearly every other child who ever entered my life.

Babies are never too young to read to. At first you snuggle that baby on your shoulder and you can read anything out loud. The baby is getting the bonding comfort of your voice and while you are reading, you too, are bonding with your child in moments of heaven you will never forget. You think the book is what you are sharing and obviously the baby can't understand it, so why bother? What you are really sharing is time and contact, and while you read the book, your baby is reading the book of your face. Every expression and glance from you is where that babies eyes will be focused.

Then as the baby grows, the book will catch his attention, then you go for simple board books with big, contrasting images, repetitive wording and interesting sounds. At this point my baby loved "Goodnight Moon" and an animal book that made me moo and oink, and the three little kittens where I meowed and said "Hush Hush." I also made our own 8 page board books with family Photographs and laminated them and sent them to daycare with the boys so they could always have a bit of home with them.

A little later we snuggled side by side on a bed or sofa and read picture books, still repeating a lot, and Dr. Seuss and Jan Brett and Patricia Polacco filled my book shelves. We loved the old "Look out for Pirates" with its tricky and clever manipulation of the bad guys. One son was "Captain Jim" for almost 6 months.

As they grew and started reading to me, we used to take long road trips. All our family members lived close to a thousand miles away. We read all the Lioness books from Tamora Pierce, all the Harry Potter and Narnia and Little house books while on the road. I wrote my own novel about a boy who has CP and survives a school shooting and ends up in another world trying to get back to his sister who was shot. Maybe "Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog" will never be read by wide audiences, but I read it to my boys as we travelled through Idaho and Wyoming and their enthusiasm was one of the highlights of my life. Later I read it to a class of 7th grade students who begged for more.

Now one of my boys is a reader and the other one will tell you he's not. Still, when I find the rare book that catches his attention he stays up all night to finish it, usually a C. J. Box book or a true outdoor story. The one who is never without a book is into the Harry Dresden series for his third time through.

Still, a reader or not, both boys have impressive vocabularies, both are great travelers, and both have experienced a lot of closeness with their Father and I as we shared the stories and adventures in the books.

I realize that my love of books began on my own parents laps, and snuggling in beside my grandmother, demanding the 100th repetition of "Chicken Little." Still caressing the pages of that book brings back the sound and feeling of my Grandmother's presence. I can hope that long after my boys are grown and away from home, when they remember Mom, it will be with the knowledge that I loved them enough to spend hours reading to them.

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