Thursday, 8 September 2011

reading with infants (not!)

Ok so here's a deep dark secret. Literacy advocates and experts are going to hate me....

We didn't read to our children from birth.

There. Are you shocked?

And I still don't think it's all that important to read to your babies. I don't think it makes that much difference in the long run.

Of course I only have a very small sample size.... not like all the studies which must have thousands in order to be statistically significant... and I'm not an expert. Which is just as well, as you probably shouldn't listen to this.

When they couldn't move, in the dream-days before five or six months, I just didn't get the point. They couldn't understand what I was saying. If it was just the sound of my voice that they liked... well I talked to them and I sang to them. And we spent plenty of time together. I did read to them every now and then, but it wasn't the every night kind of thing that is recommended.

And then from six months until they were 18 months to two years old (depending on the child), it just wasn't worth reading to them because they weren't interested. They wanted to eat the book. Or turn the pages (backwards). Or stick their fingers up my nose. And they just wouldn't sit still.

And then from 18 months we had to employ stealth tactics to read with them. We'd have to have a pile of books ready, as any gap in proceedings and we'd've lost them off across the other side of the bed and under the mosquito net. We'd give them one book to hold while we read another. We kept a pile of touchy-feely or flap books for that purpose. And we had to turn the pages quickly, more than ten words on a page was out of the question.

So we didn't read to them from birth.

And do you know what? The first two can't keep their head out of books, now. It doesn't seem to have made any difference. And the third keeps a pile of his favourites under his pillow. Sometimes I'm surprised he can sleep as his neck is at such an angle.

I think (my humble opinion) that a far greater factor for literacy is whether or not they see their parents reading and enjoying books. Are their books in the house? Are they on the floor? Are they in the living area, or tucked away in an office so as not to be messy? Do they see you snuggled up on the couch, reading? Do they ever have to drag you kicking and screaming away from a book in order to cook them dinner? Or is reading just something the teachers make them do at school?

Do they see their Dad reading?

A second factor would be that they have access to stage-appropriate books: access to books for play, exploration, browsing, looking and then, eventually, reading. Are they in their room? Can they reach them? Or are they afraid to touch them for fear that they'll get in trouble for tearing a page? Is the local library a familiar (and friendly) place?

So now for the moral of this story. Do you read to your baby every night? Great! Don't stop. It is wonderful time together. Do you feel overwhelmed by all the things the early childhood nurse has laid at your feet? Don't panic. Your child won't be illiterate because you missed a few nights reading in the early months. But when your child does begin to show interest (in our experience from about 18 months), then it's time to read, read, read and not give up.


Anonymous said...

Alison said...
Hear! Hear!
I wonder if the idea of playing music to your child in-utero is somewhat similar?

It seems to me it's more about learning to relate to others, then acquiring reading skills. It's about creating an environment for little children where they learn to relate and interact well with others, and see relationships and godly interactions modelled.
In the early years, that could be by eye contact, human physical contact and play (like cuddles, and rough and tumble) singing, talking, being read to, playing with them, drawing with them, just being nearby, watching and hearing others in the family relating together. I'm sure that our Peter loved being read to as a child more for the cuddles than for the book!

So what you do with, or in front of, your child will depend on your personal interests and passions. For me it might be reading together but for someone else it might be singing and music, or having a bath together.

I think it's also about children learning how to occupy themselves by watching what others do on their own - whether seeing siblings and parents reading a book, listening to music, drawing, playing with Lego or a collection of little cars - or watching TV or playing computer games!

And once they start to become interested in books, then it's time to read with them, let them read to you, sharing and talking about what they're reading, so they learn to be reflective readers, learn to express what they're thinking and feeling about what they've read, asking and answering questions, learning to put the content of their reading through the sieve of the Scriptures. Same applies to their TV/video/computer viewing/music listening habits!

Heather McInnes said...

This post has been hovering around in my mind since I read it last year. I count myself as a literacy advocate and I found it interesting to read a parent's perspective. My take on it is that expert advice is just that, advice. We are passionate about books and reading and have conducted/read studies around this. Obviously it depends on the family and children involved. Hear the main message behind what we're saying.

There are some babies and toddlers who love books and being read to and sit still to listen to them. Others do not. For me, the important factor is that the child grows up in an environment where books and reading is valued, where they see their parents reading and they have easy access to books. We're saying to parents that children are never too young to be read to, why not try from birth? You say you talked and sang to your kids when they were babies which is wonderful. It's sad to think that not all parents do this. It's sad that a lot of children grow up in homes without books, where their parents never read to them.

You might be interested in this blog post:

Hope that clarifies a little where the literacy advocates are coming from :)

Heather xx

Rachael said...

Hi Heather,

Thanks for your comment.

I am all for parents reading to their children (we still spend up to an hour each day reading to ours). I am all for literacy.

I am perfectly happy for parents to read to their children from birth if
1. They and their children enjoy it.
2. They don't think they have to in order for their children to learn to read.

I am just questioning the link between reading from birth and literacy. I think there are other factors that are much bigger. And, interestingly, the factors I mentioned were very similar to the three findings in the post you linked to.

If however, there are homes in which such factors are absent, then encouraging parents to read to their children from birth could be a way of forming good habits.

Encourage away.

Rachael said...

Another way of looking at it.

There is point at which reading aloud to your children becomes a very crucial factor for their development of literacy.

I am simply saying that I doubt that this point is birth. The study you linked to found it is crucial by 4-5. Maybe it could be earlier.

I think that parents of newborns have enough to worry about without the burden of having to read to them for "literacy's" sake. Read for pleasure, read for time together. But I think the burden of reading for literacy is too much.