Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Negotiating Read-Alouds

I think reading stories aloud is one of the very most important things you can do for your children, ever. That said, it's not always an easy thing, and I don't just mean "getting around to it," but simply negotiating between the different children (particularly the littles) to cooperate, listen and not make so much of an unearthly racket that you have to shout yourself hoarse just to be heard.

Now, I have to admit that Ria has always loved a read-aloud. When she was quite small, she would sit through chapter books such as the Little House books like no other child I've ever seen. (This doesn't by any means indicate that she was an angelic child - she was also the only one of my children that seemed to resent - at least for a while - the arrival of a younger sibling). But when Gus came along, things got a little trickier. When he got to be about 2 years old or so, there was nothing that would get him more noisy and upset than when I tried to sit down and read a story aloud to Ria. He would babble and complain like anything and it seemed there wasn't a whole lot I could do. I was pretty stubborn too and wouldn't let him win the day, I'd at least finish reading the chapter I was on, even if I had to be quite loud and deliberate about it. At that time he wasn't very interested even in picture books for some reason - probably had gotten fed up with all the chapter books I read to Ria.

One day, though, I found just the right book for him at the right time. It was Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack. We had found a lovely old hardcover copy at our library book sale and he loved it immediately. The language is simple, but charming. He loved the dog and the duck noises were very funny. It's interesting how certain books have become major milestones for us in our child-raising. This one we will always appreciate because it's the book that helped Gus start to like books.

Anyway, negotiating read-alouds has been an often complex part of our lives. Usually we divide and conquer. The baby and/or the toddler hang(s) out with one parent while the other reads something interesting enough to engage the 3 or 4 year old on up. Our current four-year-old can get pretty tricky herself sometimes. It's been especially tricky this week since John was out of town. One night I read aloud to everyone in the master bedroom quite loudly while our toddler ran in circles around the room singing at the top of his lungs. Tonight he went to bed early, so "negotiations" looked very simple, until Kate declared that she didn't want Francie on the Run, and that it was her turn to pick (which was funny because the "turns" the kids have set up don't usually include the night-time read-aloud). Well, I just happened to have a stash of picture books I wanted to read still sitting on the mantle from the library. I ran downstairs and grabbed three of them, brought them back up and handed them to Kate. The biggest smile appeared on her face as she carefully lay the three choices side by side on her lap. It was as if she had received the greatest gift ever - to pick the story! She looked at me with a face filled with awe and asked, "Do they all have words?"

Negotiations continue as usual, but these little moments are such a joy - to see your children appreciate the gift of a story and to blessedly find just the right book at just the right time to help your children start to become the people you hope they will someday be.

cross-posted from Studeo

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