The Gift is in the Book

The Gift is in the Book
reading to your kids
reading to your kids

I love when I know the answer to a question. I can’t even help but to blurt it out sometimes, even when no one’s asked me! Yes, I was the kid in class who raised their arm and begged, “Pick me, pick me, pick me!” How smart I felt when I got to show off what I knew!

This must be how a toddler feels when you point to the triangle in the book you’ve read a million times and ask, “What color is this?”

“Wed!” she shouts with a great big smile.

“Yes, red!” you say, smiling back. “And what shape is it?”

“Twiango!”

“Yay!” you cheer, clapping your hands.

“Yay!” she repeats, clapping hers.

When you read to your children you aren’t just making them smart, you’re building them up. If confidence and trust and self-respect are the building blocks of life (and they are), you’re building them one strong, love-filled foundation! And who doesn’t want their kids to live in a structure filled with all things good?

This is something I had to keep reminding myself when I was either too tired to read to my kids or bored with the book they wanted to read yet again.

“I am giving them a gift,” I’d silently chant as we got comfortable on one of their beds. “I am giving them the gift of mental stimulation.”

Of course there have been many studies to show the incredible benefits of reading to your kids. Not only does it stimulate their language and critical thinking skills, it builds motivation, curiosity and memory. Also, kids who are read to have better social and listening skills, and (this is my favorite) it fosters their imaginations. Like the great Albert Einstein once said, “Logic will get you from A to Z. Imagination will take you everywhere.” I’m not going to argue with that guy, are you?

In short, early readers do better at school, at work and in life.

Not to play victim here, because I am way too old and wise to blame the blameless, but neither of my parent’s read to me as a child. But I wonder, if they had, would I have had an easier time in Kindergarten? There was no pre-school back then so this was my first experience with school, and I hated it. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by my peers while the teacher taught a lesson, feeling bored out of my mind! When I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d raise my hand and ask to go to the bathroom, then stay there until someone knocked. I literally chose the toilet over learning!

At the age of five and three quarters (when I entered Kindergarten) I couldn’t spell my name, tell a triangle from a square, or tie my shoes. I was so shy I was afraid to talk to anyone and I don’t remember having one friend. But I didn’t care! All I wanted was to go home and watch television, something I did often back then. TV was my sanctuary. I felt safe in front of it. I liked being an observer—it’s what I was used to. I wasn’t used to being asked to participate in my life, like they were trying to make me do at school. All the questions! All the expectations! Oh, the stress of it all!

Thank God for Sesame Street though. Anyone remember that show? It was the first thing that peaked my interest in reading. I would watch words floating across the screen and want to know what they meant, so I’d beg my older sister to tell me.

When I finally learned how to read, there was no stopping me. Throughout my childhood, I think I read every book in every library I could get to. Mysteries, comedies, horror…I even read classics without knowing they were classics! Mark Twain, George Elliot, Charles Dickens. Half the time I couldn’t understand what I was reading, but I didn’t care. I kept a dictionary next to me and plowed on. Books were the key I used to unlock my mind. I became very curious about the world through reading. I wanted to know things. I wanted to experience things. I wanted to live.

So, when my kids were born, I had books waiting for them. Loads of books. As soon as they stopped wanting to eat them we began reading, and continued to do so (almost) every night until they were reading to me! The last book my youngest child and I read together was “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by Jeff Kinney. After that, he was into Young Adult books and wanted to read independently, which is understandable. Have you read any YA books lately? I’m not sure how comfortable we’d be reading those together. You wouldn’t find that stuff on Sesame Street, let me tell you!

How could I know how much I’d miss reading to my kids. Yes, it felt like a chore sometimes but I ask you—what could be better than snuggling in bed at night with your freshly bathed child, hearing his thoughts and ideas while his damp head rests on your arm, watching his little, intense face change with each emotion, chatting with him about life, using scenarios from the book as an opportunity to coach and mentor?

If you start reading with your children early, you create a safe place for your kids to learn and to explore life. You become their first educator and in doing so, their most trusted confidant.

Today, my kids are better students, writers and thinkers than I’ll ever be, and that’s fine by me. I actually learned something from them; I learned that the gift you give is the gift you get back. So, make it a good one and read to your kids!

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