Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Reading aloud

I read a chapter or two of a chosen book (often chosen by me, admittedly) to my child, aged 10, every night. I really enjoy this time for winding down at the end of the day. It's a chance to introduce him to books he might not otherwise think of trying. I was much read to as a child myself, well into my teens. It was a family tradition: my grandfather, who did not have the advantage of a university education but was nevertheless widely read, loved reading the works of Dickens aloud (doing all the voices). I didn't benefit much from that as he died when I was quite young, but the habit persisted. It is probably the way I encountered quite a few of the classics. Good writing stands up well to being read aloud: in fact, whether something sounds good read aloud is one yardstick for measuring good writing, I think.

It is several years since I first had the surprised comment from another parent, "Oh, are you still reading to him? Can't he read yet then?" Even a relative who is a retired teacher has said something along the lines of "I don't remember anyone ever reading to me, but of course I could read by the time I was 3". It seems a pity that reading aloud should be seen as something you only do for those who can't read for themselves. You can read books which may be a bit beyond a child's own reading age: that's how you can expand their vocabulary, and that's how they pick up the rhythms of the language (or, in our case, two languages). It's also a chance to share and enjoy both old and new favourites together. I have only one child, so I don't have to juggle different ages/reading ages/bedtimes, which must make the whole bedtime-reading venture a bit more complicated.

Choosing the right moment to introduce a book can be a bit of an imprecise art. I've abandoned one or two temporarily and returned to them later with more success. We have many (old) books at home, and I am greatly enjoying revisiting some childhood favourites, but we also benefit hugely from having the wonderfully refurbished Cathays Library within walking distance to provide new authors to stretch our horizons and to fill the gaps where something from the past has escaped the net. Recent successes include "The secret garden", which I loved in childhood and which my son also enjoyed, and Dodie Smith's "101 dalmatians", which somehow passed me by as a child so that was new for both of us (I didn't even know it was a Christmas story, so that was an added bonus!). At the moment we are reading "The borrowers afield", having read the first book some time ago and then having recently enjoyed the rather different TV adaptation with Stephen Fry at Christmas.

I doubt whether many children today (with honourable exceptions, of course) are ever likely to be the natural readers my generation was, as we had fewer other options for entertaining ourselves. That makes shared reading all the more important, in my view. I hope to fit quite a few more good books in before it's deemed to be "not cool".

1 comment:

  1. How lovely that you do this! I enjoy an audio book of an evening, which doesn't have the advantage you provide of automatically stopping when I fall asleep ;)

    I wonder whether parents with languages steeped in an oral literary tradition, as is Welsh, are more likely to read aloud to their children? This aside, I can see real pedagogic advantage in hearing both languages read aloud... Welsh being sonorous and highly alliterative and English with its bizarre and arbitrary stress patterns.