My mom read to me as a child. Lots and lots and lots. She was an English major, so maybe that had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, my mom always loved books, and reading is what she did for fun. And it showed in her parenting–she demonstrated that reading was a form of entertainment and a way to learn. She taught us to read to each other for fun. However, I believe the most important reading my mom did was to read to us above our reading level. She gave us access to stories and prose that we couldn’t read on our own and encouraged us to press forward so we could access it for ourselves.
Reading to your children and imbuing them with a love of reading is a gradual process, and the rewards don’t truly come for years, except in tiny brief shining moments along the way. Heck, notwithstanding her excellent example, my mom had to pay me one cent per page in first grade to read. But it worked. I read 500 books that year, and haven’t had to be paid to read since. The rewards do come, just perhaps not immediately.
This was reaffirmed to me just a couple of years ago when I took the GRE before applying to graduate school. Another close friend of mine was planning to take the GRE around the same time and since we were going to be in the same place for the summer, we committed to checking up on each other and motivating one another to continue to study. We were studying about a comparable amount for the math sections, but where a clear distinction emerged was among the reading sections. She’d ask me if I knew what a word meant, and for the life of me I couldn’t give her a definition, but I could intuitively tell what the answer should be most of the time. I noticed that I understood the general meaning of the word in context. As we experienced this phenomenon more and more often, we started chatting in our studying breaks about what made the difference. We were both smart, bright young ladies going to good colleges and getting good grades.
What it boiled down to was this: her mother hadn’t read to her very often as a child, and while she’d read a decent amount of independent reading, it was rarely books that were pushing the boundaries of her reading level.
No one should be feeling guilty right now, that’s not what this is about. At all. My study partner had to work a little harder than I did, but she still got into an Ivy League school. She’s not scarred for life. Not one bit. Some parents are busy earning a living for their families, or taking care of too many children to have a lot of time to devote to each child individually. It makes sense, we live in a busy world. But you should be feeling encouraged. Because doing something as simple as reading to your child can make a real difference in their lives, many years down the road. It can empower and enable them, and give them memories and perspective that will make them want to read to their own children. It’s a legacy that can be passed on through the generations.