Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeper of Your Children's Dreams: Celebrating Literacy is A Key


Today's blog is a time for reflection - take a deep breath, listen carefully and you can feel that same emotion, that same pride you first felt on that first day you met your new little one. Whether you are a parent (or a grandparent or other relative), I believe every one present at the first moments of life has this great rush of dreams and love for that baby.  The start of a new life is inspiring to us all.  But sometimes the whirlwind of life, the pressures and worries, can drive that feeling away or at least bury it a bit. 


Reading with your child can help you recapture that understanding that every possibility is open; every life a new chance for the world to be a better place.  I love the words from Nancy Tillman's On The Night You Were Born, "So whenever you doubt just how special you are and you wonder who loves you, how much and how far, listen for geese honking high in the sky (they're singing a song to remember you by): . . .   They take us back to those singular, life-affirming moments that are the core of our relationship with our child.

Whether you have a newborn, a toddler or a preschool child, think back to that time and those feelings and use them as motivational fuel.  One of the truest, most satisfying ways we as parents (grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, etc.) can keep those dreams alive is by creating a rich literacy environment for that young child.


Have that feeling close to your heart?  Here's the next step (no academic hothouse).   Learning how our language works can be a natural, relationship-enriching experience for both child and family.  Sitting down for just two or three minutes can rekindle that connection we had from the very beginning and remind us of what is most important in life. Look at the outside of a book together.  See if you can guess together what it might be about.  It's that simple to begin.


I was personally reminded of just those connections when I spoke last week with Graham Scharf, father, educator, entrepenuer and co-founder of, a great place for parents to find resources for understanding and nurturing their child's growth, an inspirational place to connect with the joys of parenting.

Graham and I were talking about how easy and rewarding it is to create a literacy-rich home environment for your child.  To the left you'll see he and his lovely wife with their two little "readers".  We talked about finding the most delicious books for sharing like Mem Fox's Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes and The Little Red Caboose, books with my three R's of books for young children

Rhyme and

These kinds of books are easy to find in your local library or at the bookstore down the street or at the mall.

We also talked about how important it is for children to hear lots of conversations (not only for their language development but also for their emotional and social development).  It is so empowering to a child when they know they are loved and when several someones in their life often say that to them and show them their care with a listening ear.  My mom loved to talk with our son when he was small (here's one of my favorite pictures of them talking about a single thing, a toy squirrel)


One of the last highlights of the conversation with Graham last week was the idea of consistency.  I don't want any parent to think that you have to be the Martha Stewart of mothers or the Mr. Rogers of dads.  I do want you to know that you are the single most important influence in your child's life and that you are the most powerful, natural teacher you child will ever have. Learning doesn't just happen at school.  Think about what you have already taught your child to do (sit up, make raspberries with their lips, walk, talk, hug, empathize).

If you don't read with your children now, just try doing it once a week to begin with.  Set aside a few minutes before you tuck your child in for a quick read.  Remember, at this age, it doesn't have to be more than 2-3 minutes long.  You have time for that; it's less than a coffeebreak and you know (when you think back to those early emotions) that your child is worth the effort to give that little bit of time wholeheartedly to him.

Once you begin to enjoy the story with your child (no correcting and directing), you'll want to add more reading times and you'll be motivated to carve out those times because you see how much it means to your child and to you.  Reading aloud with your child is also a "destressor " for you both when you simply enjoy it together rather than making it an academic exercise.


Once you've broken the ice with the routine, try adding just one more night - go for a few weeks at that level and don't beat yourself up if you miss one as you are setting the new habit.  Stay on target and try again.   If you read twice a week, aim for three times (researchers tell us that at least three times a week is the minimum we eventually need to make a consistent impact). 


Listen to more tips and ideas from the conversation between Graham and me at his podcast of the event on  You can also learn more about the power of conversation, reading with your child and playing with the language through my new book, Anytime Reading Readiness, available now through Maupin House Publishing.


Terry Doherty said...

I LOVE On the Night You Were Born. I wish I'd known about it when Catherine was born...but we still enjoyed it at 5. When Mem was at BEA 2008, she signed a copy of 10 Little Fingers, 10 Little Toes for Catherine ... for the day she heads to college! "Put it under her pillow that morning." *sigh* I want to go BACK 8 years, not forward 10!

max said...

Appreciate your comment on my Books for Boys blog

Max Elliot Anderson

billkirkwrites said...

Hi, Cathy. Very nice blog site. I'll share it with our neighbor who has established a group for parents to read to their children. I felt fortunate to be invited to the kickoff to read my children's books and others one evening.

It was fun to watch the group dynamics shift as parents left their folding chairs and joined us, sitting cross-legged on the bare floor reading aloud to their kids.

First one voice then another and another could be heard in small groups of two or three. Reluctant at first, the parents, many of whom were struggling in their adult lives with addictions and with finding employment to provide for their families, one by one simply picked up a book and started to read. For a brief time, the stories in the books became their reality. It was a good night.

Dorothy Rimson said...

Hmm....nice pose