The Read-Aloud Family – Post 2 (by Kim Jansen)

When my teenage daughter was in third grade, she brought home the most nauseating series of books from the school library – “Rainbow Magic Fairies.” Every story involved best buddies Kirsty and Rachel helping fairies of various colors outsmart the mean Jack Frost. The adventures seemed contrived and all ended with a big “group hug.” (Ok, so I’m over-generalizing just a little bit.)

Clearly these books drove me nuts! I was frustrated to see my developing reader gobbling up “eye-candy” instead of developing a taste for more “nourishing” fare – like Where the Red Fern Grows or The Chronicles of Narnia. However, when I stumbled upon The Read Aloud Family, Sarah Mackenzie’s next “myth buster” put me in my place.

Myth #3: Light Books Don’t Count.

“If we cringe when our kids devour series books or gravitate toward the lighter, fluffier books that are so prolific in our local libraries and bookshops, we’re missing something important,” she says. “That moment of transformation when we progress from being a child who doesn’t read much to one who reads voraciously – usually happens with lighter fare.”

When Mackenzie asked listeners of her podcast to reveal books that “turned them into readers,” the following titles hit the top of the list: Cam Jansen, The Babysitters Club and collections of Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield. In Mackenzie’s own family, her daughter now reaches for classics written by Louisa May Alcott or Jane Austen, but “reading piles of easy books [when her daughter was young] didn’t hurt her. In fact, it helped her identify as a real reader.”

Myth #4: My kids should be sitting still while I read aloud to them.

“Studies show that for many children, actively engaging in something with their hands helps them listen better,” Mackenzie says. “Give them something to do with their hands, and their brains are suddenly free to focus and learn.”

She writes that her own children are almost always playing with Play-Doh, drawing, building with LEGOs, crocheting, etc., during read-aloud time. The final chapters of the book include additional age-based activity suggestions, which I have found helpful.

Myth #5: If it doesn’t look the way I imagined it would, I must be doing something wrong.

“Even when kids are grumbling, complaining, and don’t seem to be listening, [reading aloud] works.”

“Even when it’s noisy, messy and more chaotic than you’d like it to be, it works.”

Mackenzie encourages parents to shut down the images of perfect Instagram posts, “because when you’re reading aloud…you are going all in. And you’ll never regret it.”

I appreciate Mackenzie’s encouragement to keep “stepping out in faith,” believing that it really matters. In fact, she lists many benefits of reading aloud (nurturing empathy & compassion, inspiring virtue, and preparing for academic success, to name a few).

My favorite benefit, however, is learning to be present in the moment and to connect with my kids in the mundane, ordinary moments of life. The following excerpt shows how it works:

“Most days I am overwhelmed by the demands of raising a family. There are endless tasks – laundry, dinner, doctor appointments, sibling squabbles, disciplining, cleaning, organizing, planning, listening…

When the days are long and my energy (not to mention my patience) is running low, I don’t have a lot of extra to give. But isn’t extra what I need?…so I can make those meaningful and lasting connections with my kids that will stand the test of time.”

“It is on days like these when the power of reading aloud really shines. It requires so very little of me other than sitting down and reading words on a page…The stories we read together act as a bridge when we can’t seem to find another way to connect (emphasis mine).”

Mackenzie describes the experience of being transported together to another time and place as a “little spark” that fuels the fire of deeper connection. I’ve experienced this spark myself in recent weeks.

When I’m trying to wrap up a task (like writing this post) and a little person is melting down, it is so tempting to give her a cookie or turn on a show. Of course, there is a time and a place for these “breaks,” but I would prefer to dole them out proactively instead of reactively.

Instead of sending the child away so I can “get something done,” we both feel so much better when I stop what I’m doing, grab a picture book and pull the child up on my lap. It is calming for parent & child, and only takes a few minutes.

“Reading aloud, as simple and quiet and insignificant as it may seem, is a way for us to pause, enjoy and delight in these kids, in this day…” Mackenzie writes. “These moments will live on in our children’s hearts even when our kids no longer live in our homes.”

This is one of my greatest hopes, and I’ll bet it’s near the top of your list too. Let’s give it a try!

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