The Wolf and I have been a bit negligent about reading with our Little Lion to date. When he was just out of the womb, I spent the first few weeks of life reading through “Our Oriental Heritage” from the Story of Civilization series, while the Little Lion and the Wolf breastfed to sleep. We made a lot of progress– we got through all of Ancient Egypt and most of the Mesopotamian cultures, through to Persia. I think we stopped right around Ancient India.
Many things got in the way when we set the book down and forgot to come back to it, not just one thing. But the most important reason in my mind is that it seemed like our Little Lion developing his other skills and capabilities was more important than trying to read every day. Eating, sleeping, walking (me + stroller + doge), rolling and crawling, etc. Reading was one more thing that seemed to have limited benefit on a relative basis.
I know all Good Parents read to their kids everyday, even when they’re not paying attention or can’t sit still on their lap. I also know all Good Parents do Tummy Time. We didn’t do Tummy Time. And we didn’t read to our Little Lion every day. So we might not be Good Parents. We’ll see.
One thing we do with our Little Lion is we talk a lot. We listen to music. We have adult conversations with one another, using adult words, and with our Little Lion, using adult words. We talk about our emotions and we don’t hide from him when we aren’t getting along with ourselves, each other or other people. His home is partially bilingual (trilingual… but I can’t seem to catch a break on getting that third language spoken more frequently than the second!) so our Little Lion is getting a lot of exposure to language.
The Wolf and I are big readers. Even if we’ve been negligent so far with our Little Lion, he will have no questions about whether he’s living in a literary household. Some day he’ll read our reviews on this blog, and hopefully contribute his own! He will see the Lion and the Wolf reading all kinds of things, nearly every day, often for long stretches of time. If he grows up hating books, I don’t think it will be because we didn’t do a lot of story time for the first ten months of his life.
That being said, our Little Lion seems like he’s able to get some benefit from being read to now and seems like he can actually enjoy the interaction actively. So we’re diving in a bit on this one now, reviewing potential titles to add to his library. We’re also thinking about principles for selecting books for reading and principles for how to benefit from reading together. Here is what we have thought about so far.
Principles for Selecting Books
- Avoiding fantasy themes until much older; no books that depict characters or events which could not possibly be witnessed in real life
- Emphasizing characters, events, animals, natural environments, that our Little Lion has a good chance of experiencing in his present location; there is plenty of time, as he develops and over the course of his reading career, to explore places and things beyond “home”
- Emphasizing people, emotions and simple story lines with vivid images (real, or highly realistic is fine)
- Action emphasized over values and meanings, though values and meanings we agree with are okay (things we’re not okay with: PC culture, sharing is caring, collective inclusion and individual exclusion, embedded authoritarian messaging)
- Baby-centric narratives are okay for now, but modeling relationships and older people is okay, too
- Questionable– “fairy tale” type stories like Aesop’s Fables. The Fables characters are animals, who usually talk, the emphasis is on the lesson and the action, not the talking animal, but the animals could easily be retold as people to make the stories useful
- You can’t know if every book is appropriate ahead of time, it might take flipping through a copy at a book store or actually trying to read it after buying it to figure out it’s a joke
Principles for Enjoying Reading Time Together
- Try it when everyone is well rested
- Okay to read “the same thing” over and over, especially if baby chooses to do so; it’s new to them!
- There’s more to story time than being read to or following the story; touching, looking, making noises, tasting, etc. are all part of the experience
- If baby doesn’t want to sit on the lap and read actively, he can be read to “passively” while he plays, crawls, etc. in a safe space nearby
- The adults can read “children’s books”, or read their own books that fall within these guidelines (actually much more likely with an “adult” book), whatever they’ll be interested to read with the child
- Act it out and get animated if you like; tell a good story!
- Use the book as a prop to tell a different story if you like, especially if it has limited text and can be easily modified
- Talk ABOUT the book as much as you READ the book; discuss what’s going on, see what baby is reacting to, ask baby questions about the story; as baby gets older, you can both evaluate what you read afterward, and do critical reviews of “joke” books you’re sorry you read
- Read baby history and the classics when desired (we’ll be working our way back through the Story of Civilization, and through some Shakespeare as well)
- Don’t feel compelled to finish any book you start or to stop baby from “interrupting”, let baby do what they will and work with it; if it’s too distracting, try story time another day; the goal is to be together, not to “read” together
- Understand that reading to “passive” baby is a specific activity and shouldn’t replace actively observing baby’s playtime or come to dominate such interactions
Beyond this, we’ll be treating it like a science experiment and expecting a lot of learning from failure!