Make a difference, read aloud to your children

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Sitting around the dinner table in the fall of 1999, our first born, Jacob was all excited about a character in a book his fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hall, was reading in the classroom.

Connie and I wondered who this “Snape” character was.

Next month it will be 23 years since J.K. Rowling introduced the world to Hogwarts with her first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

I don’t know about your household, but everyone in our family are big readers, and Harry Potter was a big hit.

I wonder, do teachers still read aloud to their students? As a young child I remember my third-grade teacher, Shelba Knight reading the Boxcar Children series to our class. The boxcar series includes over 150 titles.

When Connie and I moved back to Owensville in 1987, Connie was hired as a third-grade teacher in Owensville. It so happens that she took over Ms. Knight’s class after her retirement. Connie inherited Shelba’s collection of Boxcar Children books.

I loved those books.

A teacher’s job does not stop when school lets out. Most classroom teachers take papers home every night to grade, sort and record. One of my regular evening duties, when our children were young, was reading to them at bedtime while Connie graded papers.

Some of the books I remember reading aloud to our three included any Dr. Seuss story, children stories from the Bible and Sheep In a Jeep. One of my favorites to read to the kids was the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Now that Jacob’s teacher introduced us to Snape and Harry Potter, Rowling’s first book was added to the Warden library. Even though Jacob had already had the book read to him once, he didn’t mind hearing it again plus our other two children — Ethan and Abigail — were excited to hear the story.

That original paperback book has been read so many times it is falling apart. But then again it is over 20 years old.

Study after study confirms the benefits of reading aloud to your children. Early reading, starting at birth, helps children learn to speak, interact, bond with parents, and read early themselves.

At birth it doesn’t matter what you read to your child or grandchild. You can even read a newspaper column. At that point it’s the sound of your voice that is important.

As they grow and understand what you are reading you want to read stories that entertain, stories they like.

Ask any teacher, a student who loves to read is a student who does well in school.

Developing a passion for reading is crucial, according to Jim Trelease, author of the best-seller, The Read-Aloud Handbook. “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain,” he writes in the “Handbook.” “You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.”

It took Jacob a while to find his passion for reading. It happened sometime in middle school when he discovered Star Wars the Expanded Universe. These are books written by various authors. He still has a shelf full of these books.

Our youngest, Abigail, caught the reading bug when she was young, reading the Harry Potter stories when she was in second grade. She read all through school, preferring a good book to TV.

Our house probably contains over 500 books. A little over 16 years ago Connie decided to leave the classroom and become a librarian — I mean academic information coordinator.

As a high school librarian — before her retirement — Connie was constantly reading young adult novels so she could make recommendations.

Reading aloud is, according to the landmark 1985 report Becoming a Nation of Readers, “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.”

The sad truth is that children who live in low-income families are less likely to have books read to them. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, only 48 percent of families below the poverty level read to their preschoolers each day, compared with 64 percent of families whose incomes were at or above the poverty level.

Make a difference in your child’s life. Read to them.

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