Reading aloud has always been part of our daily routine. However, this summer I have spent a lot of time researching children's literature as well as the benefits of selecting quality pieces to read to young children. With my own children, many books that I had not considered reading to them before have really captured their attention and have sparked so much imaginative play with Ewan. Collections such as the classic Aesop's Fables, stories by Hans Christian Anderson, original Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm, Beatrix Potter's collection of The Story of Peter Rabbit, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh as well as many classic story books have filled our afternoons.
The importance of reading aloud to children of all ages cannot be overstated. Encouraging a love of reading really is the best way to open a world of endless learning opportunities. When listening to stories the words stimulate the child to create the images in their own mind and these images can continue into play afterwards with only the child's creativity to limit them. Both Kim John Payne and Rahima Baldwin Dancy, the author of the book 'You are your child's first teacher', emphasize that when watching television or a movie, children will typically only play out what they have seen as the images become fixed in their mind. Another benefit is the vocabulary that children will learn from being exposed to new words and phrases. They are, in fact, learning from some of the best english teachers in the world when you read classics. When exposed to well written sentences and grammar children will inevitably become better writers. Reading quality literature also provides children with a way of role playing what will happen in various scenarios without having to do it in real life. They are essentially learning morals and lessons from another's experience. And most importantly, reading together at any age, helps to strengthen family bonds. Cuddling up together on the couch or in bed is the perfect cool down when things are going rough, a great way to extend meals (my children will at least eat more when I am reading to them) and the perfect way to end the day.
With thousands of children's books published every year, it can be difficult to sort through and find quality stories that offer lessons, morals and beautifully written language. Many of these books are longer but they offer a richer story that will draw in the reader and listener - making reading aloud more enjoyable for the whole family. Ewan, Isla and I have dabbled with each of the collections listed above and we have enjoyed the types of stories and language that each offer. Although I have been wary of Fairy Tales because of some of the violence, much research has shown that is not the part of the story that children focus on. Children tend to take out the message that good wins and evil is punished and the children can identify with the hero which can be reassuring to the child. This has been true of the stories that Ewan and I have shared this summer and is also why Fairy Tales can span such a large age range since as the children grow they will begin to take in more details of the story and the complexity of some of the characters.
We have also updated our collection of story books with classics such as The Little Engine That Could, Blueberries for Sal, Madeline, The Giving Tree, Harold and the Purple Crayon (Ewan's favourite so far), The Little House, and Make Way for Ducklings to name a few. Each have been wonderful additions to our library. There are many lists of 'best books' available online that can help you find some great additions to your library.
Reading poetry over lunch has also become a habit that both kids love. For instance, today when I was setting lunch on the table I turned to get our poetry book and Ewan said 'Don't worry mommy, I already got the book for you! We are ready!'. The kid's have really enjoyed the books by Dennis Lee and really laugh at all of the silly rhymes and have even memorized many of the poems. We are just about to begin the poetry book 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' by Shel Silverstein.
I, personally, love studying children's literature and how children learn to read. It has been amazing to watch Ewan fall in love with so many beautifully written books and the creativity that has come from these books. He uses his farm animals to further play out stories from Beatrix Potter and his woodland animals for Winnie the Pooh. Ewan has also started making books and having me write out his story for him to copy onto the pages. As a teacher, instilling a love of reading and an appreciation of books is one of my goals for both my kids and my students.
What are your favourite books to read to your children?