Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “The Great Gift of Reading Aloud,” in which author Meghan Gurdon reflects on how she implemented family reading time in her household.
Gurdon describes read-aloud time as “one of the great joys of our family life” which has brought extreme benefits to herself, her husband, and her five children.
Some of these benefits include the following:
Family Togetherness – Reading books, Gurdon notes, gives families a common interest and causes them to fill a common space – not only physically, but mentally as well. This in turn creates bonds which many modern families seem to be missing.
“Certainly in the modern era there is something quaint about a grown-up and a child or two sitting in a silence broken only by the sound of a single human voice. Yet how cozy, how impossibly lovely it is! Unlike tech devices, which atomize the family by drawing each member into his own virtual reality, great stories pull people of different ages toward one another, emotionally and physically. When my children were small, I would often read with my eldest daughter tucked in by my side, the boy draped like a panther half across my shoulders and half across the back of the sofa, a tiny daughter on either knee, and the baby in my lap. If we happened to be on one of our cycles through ‘Treasure Island,’ Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling classic, my husband would come to listen, too, and stretch out on the floor in his suit and tie and shush the children when they started to act out the exciting bits.”
Building Vocabulary and Comprehension – According to Gurdon, the personal interaction, explanations, laughter, and repetition which stem from family reading sessions can create a level of understanding which no other electronic or audio book can replicate.
“IPads and audio books have their virtues, but they don’t have warm arms, they can’t share a joke, and they haven’t any knowledge of, or interest in, a particular child. In the case of recorded stories, they can’t answer questions or observe a child’s puzzlement and know to pause and explain what, say, a ‘charabanc’ is. They most certainly won’t re-read Mr. Toad’s brilliant insults for a listener who wants to memorize them. (One of my happiest moments as a mother was overhearing one daughter cheerily denounce another as a ‘common, low, fat barge-woman,’ a triumphant vindication of reading Kenneth Grahame to them.)”
Allowing Adults to Unwind – Family reading not only benefits children, it also benefits the parents as well. As Gurdon implies, such a practice has often allowed her husband to unwind and relax after work, while also enabling both of them to relive and refresh their memories of stories read in their own youth. Doing so offers fresh and simple insight into the struggles of the adult world.
“What’s more, reading to children provides a return ticket back through the gateway—to stories that adults may otherwise seldom revisit: fairy tales and Norse mythology, the heroic sagas of Odysseus and Beowulf, even the unexpectedly disconcerting adventures of the children who found themselves with Mary Poppins as a nanny. (Walt Disney left a lot out of the movie.)”
As Gurdon acknowledges, reading to children gets increasingly more difficult in an age of movies, internet, and hectic schedules. But fighting against these constraints and picking up a book with your children is well worth the effort, for even a few minutes here and there gives both parent and child “an irreplaceable gift.”
Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout.