Friday, May 9, 2014

Literacy and Motherhood

Since Mother's Day is this weekend, we're taking a break from "Out of the Garden" for a tribute to mothers and literacy.

Reading is a relatively new skill set for humans. But mothers have always been the language teachers. Is that why we talk so much? And now reading...

I confess, I had no intentions of creating geniuses by reading copiously to our two sons. I liked the closeness of their warm little bodies and playing word games with the texts. Later, when I went through teacher training, I discovered those "games" were literacy activities. And let me be perfectly honest, I loved the stories--the illustrations, the absolute humanity of picture books. They are the best of who we are. When Matt came along, it soon became apparent that I would know everything there was to know about dinosaurs. He's a factoid kind of person, loves nonfiction. He's now an entomologist, still using his taxonomy skills developed by reading about dinosaurs all those years ago. Geoff designs smart phones. I'm sure reading "Saggy Baggy Elephant" several times a day has something to do with that. I'm anxious to hear them read to their own children. (I'm already buying books, but please don't tell. No pressure!)


My kids are still kids, 13 and 11, and the memories of reading with them are still being made. Both my children love to read and I like to think my husband and I had something to do with instilling that love into them. Both of us read to the children when they were babies, too young to understand.
Recently, we were editing the contents of our home and spent the better part of an afternoon going through the books my children had out grown and wished to give away. All three of us gravitated to the books we knew we'd keep forever. Two stood out: a preschool book about a firefighter that included a little firefighter that you could pry out of the book and play with. That was a favourite because every few sentences that firefighter was pried out of his nook and sent flying across the room, screaming the whole way. Peels of laughter. The second was a sweet rewrite of the song Hush Little Baby, a mother bunny sang about nature and love to her baby bunny. Precious, but I didn't sing it that way. Instead, I would sing the line, then make crazy voices/sound effects/noises in stark contrast to the gentle nature of the book. Sang that book to them every night for years. They read to me, now. Share passages, summarize complex novels, predict plot, even point out errors. That afternoon, going through the old books, the three of us found ourselves pressed together, laughing, singing, remembering.
My daughter put her head on my shoulder and said, "Reading is fun."

My mother was an avid reader, but she also worked many hours a week, working nights, so there was very little time for her to read to my sisters and me. But I do remember teachers from my early elementary school years reading to the class, holding us spellbound with stories of spinster women who traveled to space, and animals who talked, and on and on. I loved checking books out of the school library. Then when I got older and began taking literature classes in high school, my love of reading intensified. I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read. When my children came along I read to them, and took them to the library where they could check out books to their hearts' desire. During the summer in '81 or '82, when I was off from my job at the school I worked at, and when they were off for summer vacation, I read The Chronicles of Narnia to them. We were all enthralled. I am a voracious reader, and am proud to say my children are too. Some of my grandchildren are, and I hold out hope for the rest. I recently visited my baby sister in another state. One of the questions she asked me was how many books I read in a year. My answer is that I read upwards of 60 books a year. I wish I had time to read more. She said she is fortunate if she reads 3 fictional books a year. She works a lot of hours and has a busy life outside of work. But, oh my, I can't imagine a world in which I didn't make time for reading, even if it was just on my lunch hour. Bonnie's daughter is so right: READING IS FUN!

One day when I was four or five, a package came to my house and inside was my first Dr. Seuss book. My mother had enrolled me in a book club, which was the only way to get his books at that time.  One came every month or so, and she patiently read Put Me in the Zoo, Go Dog Go, and One Fish Two Fish until we could recite them by heart.  If she was ever sorry to see a package in the mail, she never let on. Soon after, I got my first library card.  I particularly remember reading the books of Elizabeth George Speare.  Later, as a preschool teacher, I collected picture books and wrote lesson plans celebrating them.  What a joy it is to introduce children to stories!  My own children progressed through Dr. Seuss to newer classics and into more challenging books.  My (grown) son credits me with introducing them to the Lord of the Rings by reading aloud from the Hobbit, but I've read the books so many times that I frankly don't remember.  My kids are suggesting titles for me now, and broadening my horizons. 


Susie Finkbeiner said...

My parents read to us a whole lot. They were both dramatic readers and very good at giving each character a distinct voice. I think memories of being read to are among my very favorite snapshots of my childhood.

I've been reading to my kids since I found out I was pregnant for them. The last few summers moved to chapter books. Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan, and all things Kate DiCamillo. This summer we're planning to go through some of the Oz books.

My boys are still learning how to read, which is lots of fun. Listening to them sound out the words I point to is like magic. My daughter has been reading since she was 4 (smarty) and would rather read than do anything else. She's the kind of reader that will go up into a headstand while keeping her eyes glued to the page. I don't understand it...but she seems to enjoy it.

Patti Hill said...

Susie: I remember the first chapter books I read to my sons, Beverly Cleary's Ralph S.Mouse books. Coming to the end of a chapter was pure torture--in a delightful way. And the begging for one more chapter commenced. I need a grandchild! The Oz books were my first read-aloud novels. My third grade teacher read to us after lunch as we cooled down. Oh, the magic.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

In my early childhood my grandmother read to me because my mother had dyslexia. She eventually learned to read with my younger siblings. Due to continent hopping I did not read until Grade 4 but once begun I have swallowed whole days with reading. I read to my daughter with sound effects and voices like Bonnie. At the age of 2 she had Cat in the Hat memorised and by 4 she was reading things to me. And independent soul, she soon pushed me off the bed without looking up from her page.
I believe my grandmother had a unique cadence to her reading, especially her favourite, Winnie the Pooh. My mum has it and I have traces. I want to record us reading the same story and compare.