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According to an article yesterday in the UK’s DailyMail, declining attention spans in children are doing away with bedtime reading in some homes.
Technology is destroying the ability of children to concentrate for any length of time. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. I sat in a doctor’s waiting room alone where the TV set had been left on. Some cartoon channel was on, top volume. There is no other way to describe it but as an aural and visual assault. The scene changes were so fast I do not know how any child could even keep up with the nonsense going on. Screaming, pounding music, bizarrely drawn cartoon characters. It looked like something Franz Kafka would have come up with for television.
Attention span? None required. That is not to mention the iPhone use, the tablets for tots, TV, the DVD’s and YouTube videos. Kids are pointing and clicking and touch-screening their way into a digital hell where no thought is allowed to linger for more than a second.
I despise what this is doing to children. According to several published studies, it is changing the actual wiring of their brains. How do you undo this damage once it occurs?
I was blessed to be raised with a mother who valued books. She read to us from the time we were small. There was no TV in the house when we were little. Any ability I have to concentrate was fostered in those early years of story time and discussion about what we had read. We didn’t read trash, either. The classic children’s stories beginning with books like The Little Engine that Could opened up not only language, but character concepts like perseverance, kindness, empathy, and so forth.
Reading to children has to begin early. Having watched all six of my children, two of which came from orphanages in Eastern Europe, I can say that if a child is not read to early, a window will close in their minds. Our daughter from a Romanian orphanage came as a toddler, and she loved nothing more than sitting in her jammies with her brother William, one on each side of me, as we read and read and read. The pictures stimulated her mind, and her new language, English, was developed through hearing it. I believe that reading time together each night helped her tremendously to adapt to English. She did so well that she learned to read at age 5 on the exact same track as our biological son, William.
It’s a commitment to read. Years later, I am reading to our little 3-year-old daughter the same classic children’s books all over again.. We are currently reading the series of Edith and Little Bear books. She adores these stories. Dare Wright, a photographer, took a doll and 2 stuffed bears and posed them doing all kinds of things, and then wrote stories around those beautiful black and white photos. Edith and Little Bear have all kinds of adventures. The stories teach forgiveness, consequences for not obeying, kindness and many other things in the context of the stories. Published in the late 50′s and early 60′s, they are great books for little ones! Many libraries still have them. I bought some used copies online in case they go out of print.
Some nights I am nearly too tired to read at all. But having Emmy’s sweet-scented head under my chin as she eagerly turns the page is such a precious time that I make every effort to do so.
Our Bible stories are the most important. Emily is learning foundational things about God. Her Aunt Marilyn gave her a Bible story book from Concordia Publishing with gorgeous illustrations. We are really just beginning the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s love for us. Reading time is also a teaching time. I can’t afford to miss that with our little girl.
I don’t intend to buy technology any time soon for Emily Frances. I don’t care about computer tablets and such for her. She will use technology fast enough. As Will said, the more advanced technology gets, the more user friendly and easier it becomes to learn. She will pick up what she needs later, just as William and Mary have done. For now, she is developing the priceless ability to think deeply. She needs to be able to appraise the worth of ideas. She needs an imagination. She needs internal quiet to grow emotionally and spiritually. Reading time each night, I believe, is a crucial part of making that happen.
Emmy is only now becoming really interested in books. She’s nearing the age of 3, and with language development on track and with her growing mind full of questions, she is now able to follow a plot line as she scrutinizes every picture.
Last night after her teeth were brushed and her pj’s were on, I told her I had some books I wanted to show her. I went downstairs and found my hardbound copy of Velveteen Rabbit, Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and a couple others.
She was waiting for me in our reading chair in my bedroom, blanket over her knees. “Whatcha got, Mama?” she asked eagerly when I came in the room.
One glimpse of the Velveteen Rabbit immediately drew her in. “Read it to me, Mama?” she asked.
She knew I would. We also started on page one of A Child’s Garden of Verses. The copy I have has the adorable, color illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa. (There are so many beautiful editions of this book with great illustrators that it’s hard to pick the one I love best, but Jessie Wilcox Smith is another one of my favorite illustrators, and not just for A Child’s Garden of Verses!)
So we read Windy Nights, Bed in Summer, Whole Duty of Children, and At the Seaside. At this age, reading is sometimes slow going, as children have so many questions. I remember back with Charlie and Sammy on each side of me, and then years later, Will and Mary on each side that even a short book would take a long time to get through – why, what is that, what’s he gonna do, Mama? All of these questions need an answer when you’re 3!
The most popular book right now at our home is The Three Little Pigs, or as Emmy calls it, “The Big Red Wolf.” I’m not sure where the “red” came from, but she can’t read that one enough. She is outraged, every time, when the “big red wolf” huffs and puffs and blows the houses down. She spends time lamenting the ruined little houses and that naughty wolf’s destruction. I softened the story line somewhat so that the little pigs didn’t get eaten up. I figure there’s time enough for reality. But I did not go so far as one liberal version of the book from the library where the Big Bad Wolf ends up hopping out of the stew pot and running off, presumably to terrorize other little pigs down the road. (What a perfect example of liberal thinking. Let the murderous guy loose, don’t put an end to him. Let some other community deal with him! But I digress.)
I just tell Emily that the wolf falls into the hot and boiling pot and “that’s the end of him.” No elaboration is needed at this stage. It’s enough to satisfy the basic justice instincts in the heart of a 3-year-old. The Bad Wolf needed stopping, and he got stopped. (Children are basically conservatives…)
I want to tell you about a beautiful gift Emily received from Tom’s Aunt Marilyn. When Aunt Kris was here, she brought the most beautiful Bible story book I have yet seen. I had just been thinking about buying a new one, as the old edition of Egermeier’s Bible Stories from my own childhood has lost its cover, suffers from a cracked binding, and the illustrations are very faded. Kris brought this beautiful new book on her last visit, and I was so glad to receive it.
It’s called, The Story Bible, and it’s published by Concordia Publishing House. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. I still remember the illustrations from childhood in Egermeier’s when they were new and vibrantly colored. I can still see Daniel in the Lion’s Den in his golden robe and the fierce looking lions whose mouths were closed by an angel.
I’m looking forward to many hours with Emily reading the Story of all stories, the account of God’s sovereign hand down through history, the story of His love.
There is no more happy place in this world for me than my reading chair with a child’s sweet smelling head under my chin, exploring the beautiful books of childhood. I have a dining room bookcase full of books that I hope Emily will love as much as I did!