Friday, June 19, 2009

Why You Should Read to Your Children

The Read Aloud Miracle Starts at Home

For those of you who don’t know I was, in my life before writing, a teacher, both here and in HK and the USA. And I mostly taught the little ones; those under six years of age. I would watch as parents crossed their fingers, eagerly anticipating that ‘magic first year' when their child would learn to read. Then they waited while we teachers worked our miracles.

But I am about the explode the myth. If parents have not started the reading aloud process before they send their children to school, it is almost too late. As shocking as it seems, teachers are not magicians. Honestly. We try. We definitely appear to be pulling rabbits out of our hats and if you have even been in a prep classroom you know that we weave wonders that make teachers of upper school stand in awe and parents take their hats off. We have tricks up our sleeves like getting a class to line up and walk to library without losing anyone. If that doesn’t sound remarkable then you have never attempted this with a bunch of highly excitable four and five year olds. But here's the thing, the read aloud miracle MUST start at home.

How NOT to Have a 'Bob'

One year I taught this child, we'll call him ‘Bob’, because I have never actually taught a Bob. Bob was an ‘energetic’ young man, who seemed more interested in the colour of the walls and picking at the carpet than focusing in class. Despite my best efforts by the end of term two, Bob could not recognise any letters of the alphabet. 

I referred him for learning support and further testing. Results indicated that Bob did indeed have a few learning difficulties. I arranged for ongoing support for Bob and a meeting with Mrs Bob's Mummy. My first question to her was, ‘What books does Bob like to read?’ This may seem a strange first question, but bare with me.

Her answer astounded me. “Oh, we don't read to Bob. He’d prefers to play football.” 

"Not at all?" I asked aghast.

“No, I never really had time for reading and he’s not interested.”

To cut short what ended up being a very long conversation between me, the open-mouthed teacher, and Mrs Bob’s Mummy, Bob’s house contained no children’s picture books.

None. Nadda. Zip. Not one.

Mrs. Bob's Mummy vaguely remembered reading to him once or twice. Suddenly Bob’s reluctance to read and his preference for carpet picking, wall staring and football was becoming decidedly clear.

Bob had never known the sheer joy of being curled up beside the adventures of wild bears nor had he ever been lulled to sleep by the comforting nature of rhythmic language. He had never known the pleasure of giggling about dogs that fly or the hold-your-breath giddiness of going on a bear hunt. He had not cried wonderful tears over grandma pig’s passing or felt the plight of Augustus' search for his smile. And he had certainly never had the pleasure of meeting farmer brown and his cows that type.

Reading was work. School work. Reading was full of letters that didn’t make sense. Reading was practice with Mum when he could be playing football. No wonder this child picked up books like they were foreign objects.

Obviously, Bob had other things working against his ability to learn to read. But honestly, I could have slapped his mother up side the head.

What can you do?

Parents, I cannot say this loud enough. Read to your children. Often. All the time. Whenever you can.

You don't need to be a teacher. In fact, don't try to be a teacher. Just enjoy. Laugh. Cry. Muse. Think. Question. And then, laugh some more.

Children who arrive at school with no love of reading, no desire to curl up with books, no understanding of the patterns of the English language, rhythms in text or the shape and look of words are going to struggle. BIG TIME.

We teachers are mere mortals. Not magicians. Parents are the ones who start the reading miracle. Life long readers are learners who are likely to be successful members of society. Reading aloud matters. A. WHOLE. LOT.

Besides you just might meet Eddie’s teddy or discover how dinosaurs say goodnight!

For a list of books that I highly recommended as both a teacher and a mother please see my side bar.


  1. I am so encouraged to read to my kids more and more now. Gives you a wake up call how important reading to your kids is. Thanks for that I need a slap in the face...

  2. I read to mine. I don;'t understand people who don't have any books in their house!