Family

Reading to a Young Reader

How this practice brings rich rewards for families

We all know the statistics. If you don’t read to your kids every night for at least 20 minutes, you are dooming them to a lifetime of intellectual mediocrity.

OK, so it’s not quite that bad — but if you have kids, you know that their reading aloud to you has value beyond the time you spend together.

Reading helps children acquire speech, and promotes learning and logical thinking. Name the element of intellectual growth — reading helps kids develop it. There’s no downside.

I decided that if my son wouldn’t read these more complex books on his own, maybe I could jumpstart him with a few of my favorites as a kid.

But who does the reading in your house? If it’s Mom, that’s OK. My wife and daughter are deep into the second Harry Potter book as I write. While I do take up the book from time to time — and do a much better English accent — our little girl asks for Mom, and I’m usually happy to listen, or sing her to sleep.

But I tried something new this week. Our son just hit 10. He reads like lighting, and can crash through a “Big Nate” or “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or “Calvin and Hobbes” in an hinfo-booksour.

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He has read them, reread them, reads them while walking to school and into trees, and loves them in the same way that I loved “Dennis the Menace” when I was a kid. I still remember my favorite strip — Dennis rushing into his parents’ room in the middle of the night screaming, “Mom, Dad stand up, they’re playing the ‘Star Scrambled Bammer’ on TV.” Comic genius.

My boy’s comic reading — sorry, “graphic novel” — has given him a great feel for the absurd, and nearly perfect comic timing. But as literature goes, well, let’s just say Herman Melville would not be impressed. The problem is that he’s just not interested in expanding into the deeper stuff that is just as fun and might move beyond the exploits of eternally precocious middle schoolers.

Related: Gin Up the Joy of Reading

I decided that if he wouldn’t read these books on his own, maybe I could jumpstart him with a few of my favorites as a kid. So, we’ve started reading together.

My first choice was Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising.” That book still hits me as near perfection in the world of young adult literature, and I reread it every couple of years around Christmas just because it gets me in the spirit in as powerful as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” does.

If you haven’t read it, treat yourself. It’s the story of young Will Stanton, who learns on his 11th birthday that he is an old soul destined to be a focal player in the universal war between light and darkness. It introduces the concept of the eternal warrior, and the universal, never-ending struggle.

Related: Cool Way to Cut Illiteracy

My boy has had the series for years, but has never been interested. I asked him if he’d like me to read to him at night, like Mom reads to our youngest. He was all for it, and honestly happy to shuffle off the mantle of big boy to just have Dad to himself, which doesn’t happen nearly enough.

I am learning that reading to your kids just might be a way to get them interested in the books they might not seek out for themselves.

Every night we enter Susan Cooper’s magical version of late 1960s semi-rural England, and it’s fun. On our first night, when we were done, I asked him what he thought, and he said, without any smart-aleckiness, “It was awesome.” He then proceeded to recall everything we had read with a clarity I found startling. A big parenting win!

Reading to your kids is always good, but I always thought of it as a necessary element of teaching. But I am learning that it just might be a way to get my kids interested in the books they might not seek out for themselves. If I want my kids to meet Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Laura Ingalls, or Lyra Belacqua, maybe I’m going to have to introduce them. Maybe they’ll strike up friendships with these folks as strong as the ones I, to this day, still enjoy.

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