For the kids

Families - February 21st, 1992

by Teresa Cowan

I’m a bibliophile by nature and a librarian by trade. So it was only fitting I would impose a hefty emphasis on books and reading in our family. In fact, my daughter Natasha was exposed to the writ­ten word just after birth. While she suckled content­edly, my nose sank deeper and deeper into the ever-mounting pile of parenting books. My eyes sped through umpteen indexes and tables of contents!

In those early days I searched relentlessly for answers to three questions: Why was my child cry­ing? Why had she stopped crying? Why was I then crying? Those books became my security blanket.

If my daughter sneezed or didn’t burp or even so much as looked at me sideways, my hands grasped for a book. It seemed as if I couldn’t make a responsible decision without written consent. No sooner had we figured out all the ramifications un­derlying her screaming fits than we embarked on an indepth study of sleep. More precisely, why wouldn’t she please, please sleep?

I again turned to those guidance counsellors of the parenting scene and read far into the night. When I became bored of reading myself, I read aloud to Natasha. However, it was akin to reciting numbers from a telephone directory.

It was then I began reading aloud children’s books. I was convinced that my voice would lull her to sleep. Ha! Silly me. Hadn’t I retained anything from those dog-eared compendiums strewn across the house?

Babies are stimulated by stories. They thrive on the sing-song pattern of repetition, exaggerated stresses and elongated pauses.  I only discovered much later that the constant drone of a vacuum cleaner is a far better sedative than the rich sounds inherent in the human voice.

Nevertheless, we continued to read every night without fail. This ritual has metamorphasized into a snugly warm blanket which cocoons myself and my kids from that rat race called modern existence. And as Dorothy Butler states in her book, Babies Need Books, “Parents and children who share books come to share the same frame of reference.”

These shared experiences spill over into every­day life. Where else can you read about Mickey Mouse on Monday and then actually visit him on Tuesday? More significantly, reading together broad­ens everyone’s horizon and creates a forum for dis­cussion. Enter that magical world of reading with your child.

Below are a few suggestions I hope will serve you in good stead:

• Begin reading as soon as possible.

• Set aside at least one quiet time a day for a story (preferably the same time each day).

• Create a comfortable setting with good lighting (the same location creates a sense of continuity).

• Allow your listeners some time to settle down before you begin.

• Make allowances for discussion during and after the story, but don’t turn it into an exam situation.

• Use plenty of expression.

• Relate the story to daily life.

• Set a good example. Let kids see you reading; children are superb mimics.

• Select something you care to read.

• Read a variety of genres; poetry, prose. Don’t forget factual materials such as how-to-do books, magazines, etc.

• Be responsive. Sense when a child wishes to linger over a page or is bored.

• Let the child help turn the pages.

• Point to things in the pictures.

• Don’t discourage a child’s selection; their tastes needn’t be dictated.

• Store the books in a special place of the child’s own.

• Reading should be associated with pleasure. I personally leave reading out of any disciplinary measure.

• Take them to the library. Tokyo has approxi­mately 260 municipal libraries with foreign language collections. Check with your ward office for loca­tions which also house children’s books.

• Tell familiar stories orally. A great diversion while waiting for the bus, doctor, etc.

• Remember to read for the love of it.