As a single mother, I was often exhausted after a day spent teaching my students. However, my four-year-old son knew that story time came before bedtime, and he demanded his books if ever I suggested skipping them. I’d like to think I was devoted to being a good parent, but the truth is, I was mostly too tired to argue.
Because I was tired, and because I believed so strongly in his being able to see the words I read aloud, we would often lie on my bed for our stories. I’d hold the book between us, and struggle to keep my eyes open, while I read with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
One night, after teaching kids to play tunnel ball that afternoon, my arms were limp spaghetti. I passed the book to Tim, fresh-as-a-daisy after his nap at the babysitters, and asked him to hold it. He took it from me, and began to read aloud from the page.
My jaw fell open. I stared at him, eyes bugging out. “Why didn’t you tell me you could read?”
“But you always hold the book,” he said. To Tim, he’d now taken on the holding role, and the reading just came naturally.
I never set out to teach my son to read. Honestly, I didn’t have time! I did set out to surround him with books, share my love of reading, point out the delight and humour of language, and read aloud to him every single day of his life. I chuckled to myself when I realised that Tim learnt to read almost by osmosis. The building blocks of reading were there, and one day, with no fanfare or announcement, he began to read.
Not every child learns to read that way. Some kids struggle with the reading process. But I’ve yet to hear of daily story time doing any harm. Developing the reading aloud habit has huge benefits. It’s an opportunity for one-on-one quiet time between people who love each other. It helps create winding down and a ready-for-sleep habit. It’s good old-fashioned fun and enjoyment. It can lead to opportunities for discussion and reflection, not always available in our fast-paced lives.
And if you’re tired, and really don’t feel like reading aloud, encourage your child to hold the book – you never know where that might lead! (Image credit, Cornell University Library)