My first born, sweet little Will, loved to hear me read the same story over and over...and over. The book would occasionally change - Brown Bear, In the Night Kitchen, Where the Wild Things Are - but what ever the book of the day/week/month was, he wanted to hear it multiple times. The first 5 or 6 times were fun as I tried out different character voices, or asked him thoughtful questions about the story, or waited for him to fill in the next word as he became familiar with the text. But after the tenth or fourteenth reading, I was ready for something new.
One of his very favorite books was Barn Dance by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. Barn Dance is 27 pages long and has 481 words. It's about a boy who sneaks to the barn in the night and catches all the barn animals having a hoe-down. It has wonderful imagery, and delightful rhythm and rhyme...
Full moon shinin', shinin' big an' bright
Pushin' back the shadows, holdin' back the night.
After reading it to Will multiple times, he began reading it with me. And before long, he could "read" the whole book! All 481 words. Now, he was a tiny tike and of course he wasn't really reading the words. But he had the words memorized. He knew when to turn the pages and would deliver the words with perfect timing.
I was a Middle Grades teacher and I had learned about children learning to read, but I hadn't really witnessed a child learning to read. It was amazing. I was convinced that he would eventually figure out that the letters F-u-l-l spelled out the first word of the story and he would learn to read the word Full. And that probably was partly how he learned to read
Then came my beautiful, creative baby girl. Hendley never wanted to listen to a story more than once, and often she wouldn't even sit still for a whole book. Nope, she was more likely to grab the book out of my hands and say, "I read it, Mommy"! And I would listen as she turned the pages and told me about the pictures on the pages - sometimes in real words and sometimes in baby-gibberish. I was convinced that she would NEVER LEARN TO READ! I was really a bit panicked. She was nothing like Will! How could she learn to read when she wouldn't even listen to a whole story?
Skip ahead a few years, and Hendley was not only reading, but for fun wrote a story about our family visiting the zoo when she was 5 years old. Skip ahead 20 years and she's an English and Journalism major in college and will be interning with a magazine in New York this summer.
She DID learn to read! She just went about it in her own way. The lesson learned is that the books made the difference. Both children had books in their room from the day they were born. Board books to chew on, books to look at, books to have read to them while they cuddled in Mommy's lap or wandered around the room. Books and words were a part of their lives from birth.
So, not every child will respond to books or learn to read in the same way. Some will listen quietly when read to, and some will not. But having books at home, having books read aloud to them, and hearing Mommy and Daddy and Grandma talk to them about the child's world is what will give a child a good foundation for school success.