Read. Read with your kids. Read to your kids. You can’t start kids early enough. And why stop one of the most creative family activities on the planet when your kids can read on their own? One more thing: it doesn’t matter what they read!
Too often in education reading seems punitive. I’m not enthusiastic about school mandated summer reading in its present form. What could be one of the greatest adventures for kids (or anyone!) becomes an onerous task for too many kids. The summer before I entered 9th grade, I remember having to read an 800 page Dickens novel. Did you do your hour of reading my parents asked daily? Yes I did. Sort of. And I also learned about Cliff’s notes and Spark’s notes. I never finished the novel….
But something very special happened that summer.
A Hollywood screenwriter had rented the summer cottage next door to us. The lights were on in that house all night as music played and funny smelling smoke filled the air as visitors from LA stopped in – Felix from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Shelly Winters swimming nude in the moonlight. Much to my parents disapproval, I went over there. All the time. And I saw grown-ups reading books. Reading on their own and aloud to their kids. At all hours of the day and night. One night as I reluctantly headed home, the screenwriter handed me Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and said, “Let me know what you think.”
I got home and read. All night. The book frightened me – the images were terrifying and beautiful and I couldn’t stop reading. The next day he came over and wanted to know what I thought of the story. My parents listened to us. They had never heard me so passionate about anything I had read. Afterwards the screenwriter told my parents, “Just let him read. It doesn’t matter what he reads – as long as he reads.”
My wife and I read books at home at all hours. My daughter, like all children, watches and studies her parents. One Friday night when she was six or seven years old, she climbed into bed between us with a book and asked, “Can I stay up and read with you?”
Natalie is ten years-old now and reading together has become a family activity that we all enjoy. We ask each other about what we’re reading and share passages and images and ideas that amaze us as well as things we don’t understand. The opinion of what we’re reading is as valued as what we’re reading. When she asked her brother for a subscription to the teen magazine Tiger Beat (People magazine for juniors) (http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Beat/dp/B00AZ9P6O6), we gave it our okay. We weren’t thrilled that she wanted to know the latest “news” about 1D, but we tried to discuss with her why so much attention is showered on celebrities.
On the other hand when she came home one day and asked me to buy her the wondrous book Monsterology, I ordered it immediately. A friend of hers had told her about it. When it arrived we both went over it page by amazing page. With its pull-out passport to adventure and scientist-like tactile slides of: “hairs from the hide of a unicorn (12 years); skin from tail of a sea serpent (age unknown); and a sample of the yeti fur (white winter coat) presented by the monks of Dragon Mountain.”
If you don’t know this book – check it out:
One of the best ways to nurture creativity at home is through reading with and to you your kids. Reading will ignite your kid’s curiosity. Tell your kids what you like about what you’re reading. One night as we were all reading in bed, Natalie asked me about a book I was reading. Saint-Exupery’s Wind Sand and Stars. “It’s an adventure story,” I told her, “pilots flying in unchartered territory – almost 100 years ago – trying to discover safe routes to deliver the mail – through mountain passes – over deserts – across oceans – in planes that sometimes fell apart in mid-air!” Natalie took the book from me and curiously stared at its cover with a photograph of an old single prop plane. She opened the book and started to read…
There are some rules we have about reading. During the school year, she has a set bedtime. But on Friday and Saturday nights she can read as late as she wants as long as she isn’t grumpy in the morning. I have my good friend Bill Gosselin to thank for that insight into teaching kids to take responsibility for their actions. Play by the rules and she can read into the night. Wake up grumpy and no more late nights. Natalie loves the independence of reading late. And even better, she has begun to learn why we set those rules as well as her own limits.
We just came back from Martha’s Vineyard where my cousin has a small cottage in Oak Bluffs. After a full day of fishing, swimming and hiking (and eating plates of local oysters dockside at http://www.larsensfishmarket.com/index.shtml) we returned to the cottage. It was close to 11pm and bedtime. I looked across the small room that we shared and saw this: