|Gemma-Rose’s turn to read. My turn to listen.|
When I was an eleven year old student, our teacher got out her tape recorder and played us a current affairs radio program. It was a hot summer’s afternoon, late in the day, and I felt sleepy. I didn’t even try to concentrate on the program. I spent the half hour I should have been listening, day dreaming instead. Apparently almost all my fellow students did the same thing. And the teacher must have suspected that our minds were not on world news but far away in dreamland. Once she’d turned off the recording, she looked sternly at us and then gave us an impromptu quiz. I had absolutely no idea about the answers. It was a horrifying moment. I’d been caught out completely.
I think about listening skills. I don’t ever remember, as a child, listening with enjoyment while someone read out loud to me. Oh I certainly liked to read to myself, but I don’t think I had many opportunities to concentrate my full attention, in a non-threatening way, on the skill of listening. By contrast, my girls look forward to listening to me reading out loud every day. We have at least four books ‘on the go’ at once. That’s a lot of reading-out-loud time. Our reading times are certainly the highlight of our day.
I have been musing over a few questions:
Should we read out loud to our children? Can we encourage them to listen? What are the good things about listening to a story together? And is anyone ever too old to listen?
As I am reading to my children, I glance up every now and then and watch them. I can see they are completely absorbed in the story. Gemma-Rose sits on the edge of her seat during the exciting parts; she smiles with delight at a funny remark; she draws back and looks frightened when danger approaches; she even begs me not to read any more when the climax is near… but I reassure her everything will turn out well in the end and soon she is once again smiling… It doesn’t seem like my children’s minds wander at all. I don’t have to quiz them like my old teacher did to know they hear every word. Is this because I choose stories that are exciting and that capture their imagination? Perhaps. But I’m also sure they are good at concentrating for long periods of time. I suppose they are used to sitting still and listening.
I love sharing books with the girls. Because we are all listening to the same story, we can discuss it as we go along. I also think that a pleasure shared is definitely a pleasure multiplied. Someone only has to quote a line or two and we are all transported back into a scene from the book.
Regularly Sophie brings me a book and asks, “Can I read something to you, Mum?” She likes climbing into the reader’s chair and having an audience. She tries hard to change the pace of her sentences; she emphasises certain words; she uses different character voices.… Sophie is in fact following Andy’s and my example. She’s becoming a good reader in her own right. Listening is actually teaching her how to read out loud skilfully. And if she mispronounces a word, I have the opportunity to share the correct way to say it. (It’s amazing the number of words I had to learn how to pronounce as an adult. I read them in books as a child, but never actually heard them said out loud!)
I have strewed a number of books under Sophie’s and Gemma-Rose’s noses and they have shown no interest in them at all. One example is Anne of Green Gables. Perhaps they opened the book and looked at all the long sentences and paragraphs and were put off. So I decided to read the Anne series out loud and now the girls are really enjoying these books. We have almost finished Anne of Windy Willows and their interest shows no sign of letting up. So I guess reading out loud introduces our children to stories that might be just a little too difficult for them to read on their own.
I have no doubt that when we finally make it to the end of the Anne series, the girls will whisk the books away to some private corner and read them all over again. They will no longer seem a too formidable challenge for individual reading. I have seen them do this time and again with other read aloud books.
Do children get too old for listening? The other day Sophie asked Andy, “Dad will you please read The Lord of the Rings to us? We were too young to listen the last time you read them out loud.” Andy has agreed and the girls are getting excited. They are anticipating some cosy evenings sitting together in the family room, while Andy brings Tolkien’s books alive for them in his own special way. I bet the older children join the younger ones, even though they are already very familiar with the stories. Too old for listening? Never!
There is more than one way of listening. Parents can read out loud. So can siblings. But children can also listen to audio books and podcasts. Recently I found a website called Kids Learn Out Loud:
Kids.LearnOutLoud.com is your destination for educational audio & video content for kids & teens. Here you’ll find Kids Audio Books, Free Learning Resources, MP3 Audio Book Downloads, and Podcasts for Kids.
PS: Although I see lots of benefits to reading books out loud, I know some children just don’t like sitting still and listening. Perhaps this is okay. We don’t all have to be the same, do we?