In the days that unfold
Up your sleeve,
Kept in trust
Since times old?
For The Daily Post
In the days that unfold
Up your sleeve,
Kept in trust
Since times old?
For The Daily Post
Flap immature wings
In my mind,
I don’t yet
Like the leaves
From a still tight closed bud –
For the growth
For The Daily Post
Spill the beans
On what is
Share the stories
Find the balance
And the tender joys
To be had
For The Daily Post
The stories told
The sound of small feet
In a princess nightgown
By other clothing
Under a small awning
And a plant.
Be a quill to the story you tell
Let it pen
Let it write
As your life
For The Daily Post
Oh so true … that a child who reads will be an adult who thinks. Reading opens doors, windows, paths, and secret passages to all manner of worlds and imaginations, language and vocabulary, expression and understanding.
A reading child is also preceded by a child who is being read to and is spoken to and with, and who experiences being part of conversations and experiences, narrative and the day to day stories of life lived and happenings that happen …
A child who is read to will be a child who listens, imagines, thinks, wonders, comprehends and symbolizes… A child more likely to read and enjoy reading …
A child who is talked to, who participates in conversation and discussion, is a child who knows to ask questions and answer queries, offer opinion and listen to that of others, be curious about others’ experience and tolerant of differences, ideas, and views… A child more likely to read and enjoy variety in what they read …
A child who is listened to–and is shown how to reciprocate and take one’s turn in listening–is a child who can relate and remember, reminisce and realize, teach and learn, listen, comprehend and think… A child more likely to read and find books a place for expanding understanding and relating …
Did you open a book today? Did you tell a story? Make a story together? The story of going to the store, of cleaning up the room together, of salad making and laundry folding, of visiting the park and counting dogs with spots and kids in strollers, of the rainbow of colors in the produce aisle and the funny thing that silly dances do to your feet and heart and smile …
Go tell some stories. We’re never too old or too young!
People ask me, “Why do you write?” and my inner retort often feels like: “Why do you not?”
I don’t usually reply this aloud, however. I realize that such deflection is far from giving an answer, and that there are probably as many reasons to write as there are not to. Belonging to the former group, I cannot imagine life without words put down on paper and/or screen, even if I know it is not the only way to live. So it stands to reason that there would be those from the latter group who find in quite confounding to imagine why one would want to type letters onto screens for recreation.
Why then, do I write?
Beyond the obvious to me “because I do …”, my answer varies, but it often returns to “because it feels as natural as breathing and just as necessary.” Writing is essential to me. It feels like home. It is the place of flow, even if not always of comfort. Writing takes me places that I never knew I would be visiting, into mind-nooks and crannies I’ve forgotten I had known and some that I never owned and yet somehow remember. Writing deepens how I think, what I comprehend, how I understand it. It plumbs my heart for meaning and compassion, it weaves my thoughts so that they make a tapestry from smallish bits of living. Words offer vistas that lie hidden under the everyday, patiently (and not so patiently) waiting to be breathed onto page and screen.
To me writing is often fun. The best kind of delight, when I am immersed and floating down creative currents. Though some parts of writing can be tedious, they are to me never boring. Words paint pictures within me. They have me revisit. They bring alive people and places. They animate thoughts, realities, events, suspense and resolution. More than anything, writing surprises me. It is as if stories unfold and I am naught but the typist of their unveiling, a tool for their formation.
I write because I can, and because it seems impossible not to.
As Miller said, “writing is, like life, a voyage of discovery” and it is one to which I do not want to say good-bye.
If you, reading this, write: would you share why?
“Are trees sad when people cut them?” The little boy came out of a week of school focus on earth, nature, resources, deforestation, and endangered animals.
“What do you think?” I returned the question. He has a reason for asking, after all.
“Yeah,” the seven-year-old sobered. “I think trees get sad because then they die and they can’t make leaves and flowers and acorns anymore.”
I nodded, sensing he has not quite finished and wanting to give him time to find the words.
A quiet moment passed, then his right eyebrow shot up the way it does when he gets an idea. Ideas for mischief, yes; but also for an answer that eluded him or a solution he did not see before. He touched the top of the table with his fingertips, and his eyes wandered over the floor, the bookcase, the closet door.
“You think maybe the trees are also not so sad,” he continued, “if people make stuff from them and then they get to be other things?”
“Um…hmm …” I noted in agreement, letting him work this through.
“Like if the tree gets to be a table or a chair or even a book then it is still important, right? But …” his young face wrinkled in too-old-for-his-age consternation, “but … maybe the trees are sad if they get burnt in the fire or something … because then they’re gone and can’t be anything anymore?”
“I see what you mean,” I offered, “but what if burning the wood helps keep people warm in the winter or cook their food?”
He brightened. “Yeah! I think maybe then the trees don’t get so sad … because they kind of make the food … ” His face got transformed once more, this time to seriously didactic, “But … but people still have to be very careful to not cut too many trees, right?”
“Right … ”
“… because the trees want to grow and be happy and also the squirrels and the birds need trees and monkeys and other things. Bugs, even. Some animals live on trees,” he instructed me, “That’s where they build their home. So people have to be careful because it is not fair to break all the animal homes and chop off all the trees to make things …” he paused. “And anyway, you can make tables from other things, too. Like plastic. Or maybe even a rock … I think …”
He quieted for a moment, his eyes wandered again around the room and rested on my bookshelves, on the National Geographic magazines on the side table, and the paper-packed folder with his work peeking out of the backpack on the wooden floor.
“I think trees really don’t mind if they get to be books, though” he added, satisfied. “Because then they can tell stories even if they can’t talk. I love trees and I love books.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Many of the kids I see do not like reading. They find reading hard. They find it challenging. The words are too new or too many or too complicated. The letters transpose and the spelling’s tricky. They don’t like answering questions. Summaries give them stomach aches and rashes. They choose books not by topic but by least page number, thinnest spine, biggest font, and most page-gobbling illustrations. They become experts as word-counting and can pick the shortest paragraph in a glance. They often complain that they hate all books. That no genre speaks to them. For them, reading equals schoolwork, books are naught but tedious demand, and stories are equated with comprehension tests and loathsome reading responses.
Granted, the children who require Speech Therapy are often predisposed to some difficulty. They struggle with language/learning issues, they may have dyslexia, dysgraphia, learning disorders, language delay, word retrieval issues, auditory processing problems, hearing loss, attention deficit, difficulties with identifying, understanding and responding to social demands.
It would make sense that they would not like reading, concentrating as it often does all of those needed skills into a neatly typed package of condensed language. It would make sense that books would feel intimidating, crowded with small-font letters, complicated words and confusing expressions and metaphors.
All true. Yet truth remains that many children who are not language/learning disabled hate books. Maybe your child does, too. Maybe you have tried cajoling, bribing, promising, charting, stars, stickers, brownie points … and they still prefer cod liver oil to reading. Don’t despair–it does not have to be this way.
We can change that. You can change that. Here’s how:
All too often we confuse books and stories with reading. Teachers and parents clump together the child’s reading level with their interest level and language level, though those are not always compatible. Also, we stop reading TO the children and ask them to read aloud to us instead. It is good practice, we are told, we believe. It “counts” toward the 20-minutes-a-day requirement from school and catches two birds with one stone–story time and reading homework. Done. In addition, it makes us feel good to “keep tabs” on the child’s progress, and unwittingly, we make every page a test of skill, every story a piece of work. When the child resists, some parents are told to strike a compromise: “take turns reading,” they are told. It makes the book move faster, yes. It also pulls the child out of whatever listening and imagining the story they might otherwise manage, and thrusts them into the arduous task of deciphering and vocalizing. No wonder they become masters of paragraph word counting.
Children’s reading level may be far below that of the language they should and can enjoy listening to. This is true not only in First Grade, but through the elementary and middle school years. Focus on reading at the child’s reading level only, and the child is bored. Focus on reading age-appropriate books only, and the child is constantly failing to keep up as she struggles to decipher, loses track, loses interest, sees books as “too hard!”
Reading is a world onto itself. It is a skill, but also a place for wandering in a dream and conjuring up pictures from a story. It is where the association between book and pleasure can come in.
Have a child who is reading reluctant? First and foremost, divorce the reading task from the world of stories. Take upon yourself to read TO the child. Find a childhood book you loved or a story that is of interest for the child (and no, you don’t have to start with David Copperfield, the Iliad, or Huckleberry Finn…). Read it to them. This is for pleasure. Not for tallying pages for a log or counting down the minutes for homework. Not for testing, either. No demands from the child but to relax and listen. No turn taking. No asking questions to reassure yourself how much the child understood. No queries about vocabulary words you “think the child should know” unless the child stops you to ask. Let the child absorb whatever their heart lets in, even if they daydreamed half-way into the story–there is no test at the end of this one, no requirement to keep on track. You, too, relax into the book with them and read awhile. You are not wasting time but investing in the child’s internal imagery and listening. You are building book-love.
Stop before the child tires of listening. Even better, leave the reading at a cliff-hanger till the next evening. It works for TV episodes and a good mystery. It works for children, too. It gives a taste of ‘more’.
For the child’s own reading–offer books that are almost too easy but not quite. Don’t over-reach. Don’t urge them to “try something harder for a change”–one or two words that are difficult to read in every page are more than enough. Don’t push them to read “this book because I have read this and loved it when I was your age.” Don’t urge on them the book another child in class “already read a year ago.” Reading is not about just getting through the page. It is not about struggling so much to read each sentence that you must re-read it to know what it meant. Reading is about success and flow, words that string together into sentences with little effort and almost no breaks. More than the story itself, you want the child to have a sense of mastery over reading. A sense that they can read and are not exhausted by it. Make it fun. Be enthusiastic but not cloying (children have a super sensitive bull-detector for such stuff, as you know).
Keep at it. Especially keep at reading TO the child. Children who are read to through 8th Grade have bigger and more flexible vocabularies than children who are not being read to. Reading to children fosters richer imaginations and creativity. It helps with predicting and inferences, at understanding nuance, satire, metaphor, and humor. All that said–remember–the stories you read TO the child are not a platform for testing them for knowledge or comprehension. After all, when you pick up a bestseller or a favorite novel, you don’t have to write a narrative about it later … you are not made to answer formal questions about vocabulary, who did what to whom when why or where, or to find examples of simile and metaphor …
Keep at it. Soon enough you’d find yourself leaving the book (cliff hanger dangling) someplace within the child’s reach, and catch a little nose stuck in it when you aren’t looking. An insider’s hint: this works even better with a flashlight within reach and a off-handed story about how your aunt or uncle or second-cousin got into trouble reading under the covers after lights were officially to be out …
Have fun, and may the reading fairies smile.
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