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Reading and the Child
Reading and the Child

by Denise Merkel, Director of Education

Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.Dr. Maria Montessori

And what better way to keep that light burning than by spending time together sharing a book! For most of us, books are a part of our everyday lives and a heritage that we wish to pass along to our children. Books are, of course, packed with information and knowledge and, significantly, insights into life - the lessons of our culture, our traditions, love, and the lessons of morality. They stimulate imagination, provoke curiosity, and provide reflection and appreciation through good story-telling and beautiful illustrations. Most importantly, sitting down with a book provides our children with a time for quiet calmness and an opportunity to bond with us. Such richness abounds in every moment.

We read to our babies even though they don't understand exactly what we're saying. They do, however, hear our voices, feel our emotions, and begin to become aware of intonation and inflection. They become interested in the book as an object with hinges and delight in "turning" the pages. A Toddler recognizes pictures as representations of what they've experienced. That's why, for this age group, books with single, simple, real, accurate photographs or drawings are essential for their visual and language development. Isn't it so sweet to witness a two year old sitting with a book with a serious expression on their face? Bring on the pipe, dog and slippers.

The capacity to be enthralled by the narrative of a book evolves with repetition, exposure, and age - and usually crystallizes around three or four. That's why - though it may be a little annoying to us - a child wants to hear the same book every night, over and over and over again. Indulge them in this practice; it is necessary for their growing brains, exponentially expanding vocabulary and sense of routine and order. Read to your child the books you loved as a child. They will feel the fondness you bring to the chair or the bed.

Primary children start their path to reading first by writing with the Movable Alphabet, as it is easier to read one's own thoughts than it is to interpret those of another. They are supported by extensive work with Phonograms and Puzzle Words, which gives them the most often encountered sets of words in our language, and with Sentence Analysis and Grammar Games (like this work, from Aidan this month) to help them with syntax.

As five- to six-year-old children begin to read words or little snippets on their own, we should be careful to support their work with effusive encouragement and no constant correction on how to pronounce a word or an enforcement to sound it out. Where's the joy in that? Taking turns reading short passages should bring smiles and not frustration. Feel free to leave the teaching to the teachers.

Surround your family with reading materials. Do you have books in every room of your house? A few in the car? Maybe one or two small ones in your child's backpack? Keep them around, in sight. Pick them up yourself and model the enjoyment you find in reading. Give your child the time to dream through the pictures and characters they encounter in books.

Remember it is the warmth of your closeness that is the ultimate reward. What a thrill it is when they say, "Let me read it to you."