One of the best things you can do for your child is…

by Penny on July 19, 2010 · 1 comment

Read books. Books have always been the one constant in my life. I am a voracious reader. Over the years, books have even gotten me into trouble. I have missed deadlines because of books, I have missed trains and planes because of books, and I have even, during my college years, found myself in debt because of books.

I blame my parents. They were voracious readers, and always had several books on the go at any one time. My dad liked historical and political fiction, mixed in with some westerns and police procedurals. My mum loved sweeping family sagas, historical epics, mysteries and biographies. They both loved the classics and more recent literary fiction.

I cannot remember a time when my parents did not read. To this day their home is stuffed to the gills with books. In their retirement they now live in a smallish condo, and on last count there were 21 bookcases!

Because my parents read, my brother, sister and I read. It was as natural a part of our day as showering in the morning, or eating dinner in the evening. We read solo and as a family. Books were valued in our home – for fun, for adventure, for knowledge.

As a child, books opened up a world to me in ways I couldn’t have imagined possible. Whilst I loved series like Enid Blyton’s,  The Famous Four, I also read and loved books that took me away to new places, or which taught me about times past, or which opened me up to adventure and exploration. It was books that gave me the wanderlust that took me overseas to teach in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe.

My parents weren’t big on TV, but they would occasionally let us watch a drama series such as Last of the Mohicans or Treasure Island, or Mill on the Floss – but only if we read the book first! Sometimes this was done as a read-aloud family activity; sometimes we slogged through the books on our own. The language was sometimes difficult, the vocabulary new and challenging, but the adventure, and the excitement of faraway places and times always made the work worthwhile.

During the summers, books to be read came from trips that we took. A trip to the natural history museum might lead to a story set in Egypt and the time of the pharaohs, a visit to a castle would lead to historical fiction around Henry the Eighth, or The Wars of the Roses, and one trip around Europe’s battlefields eventually led me to the novel I Am David.  As a teen, after a trip to Ireland, the Across the Barricades series introduced my sister and I to the romance between Kevin and Sadie and to how such a good human experience could be threatened because of the tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. These books challenged us, but also encouraged us to not just observe the world, but to try to know it better and in some small way begin to understand it.

I am always suspicious when I enter a home with no books. I am even more suspicious of people who tell me they never read. Case in point: a relative of mine, a young mother of two, gets by happily on a diet of magazines, usually of the Hello and Us genre. It is a gulf between us, a large chasm that I have to carefully negotiate my way around every time we are together. How, I wonder, will her kids become readers? How will they develop a love of, or even an interest in reading, if it isn’t something they see modeled in the home?

Research shows quite clearly that one of the most developmentally beneficial things we can do for our kids in the early years is to read to them.  But something not talked about so much is what sort influence our on-going reading habits have on our kids. Not only when they are young, but through their tweenie years and into young adulthood.  I am always astonished that many of the parents I talk to don’t read. Not even magazines. Yet they fret and worry about why their children don’t read or don’t enjoy books. After over twenty years of teaching and working with children, one thing of which I am sure is that if you don’t read, your children won’t read. The biggest long-term influence we have on our children is not what we tell them to do, but what they see us do.

Great classics to read to your child:

Wind in the Willows

Watership Down

Ballet Shoes

Swallows and Amazons


Treasure Island

Swiss Family Robinson

Robinson Crusoe

James and the Giant Peach (or anything by Roald Dahl)

Coral Island

Robin Hood (many excellent versions of these ballads exist)

Wickham and the Armada, (anything by Henry Treece for boys!)

Johnny Tremain

Peter Pan

Gulliver’s Travels

Huckleberry Finn

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Myshkin July 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is also a fabulous resource on this topic. Lots of interesting data on the benefits of reading to children and modelling reading at home. And some wonderful read aloud recommendations. Ahh books, they are delightful.

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