As I approach the end of my first year teaching in the Red Oak Community here at Aidan Montessori School, I cannot help but to sit back and fondly reflect on the school year and the many rituals that when combined make up so much of the time our community spent together. Some of the customs that brought our little 6 to 9 crew closer and helped us build a feeling of family included sharing work we were proud of at the end of a week, gathering to read affirmations on Fridays or sometimes Mondays if Mr. Isaza forgot, making lists of songs to listen to during lunch, and going on walks to look at leaves, trees, flowers, and bugs. And while all of these practices are dear to me, none of them was as consistent or created such a sense of togetherness as did our daily read aloud time. Whether the day was going smoothly or the ship was rocking and we felt a bit out of sorts, once the bell rang and the beginning of read-aloud was announced a feeling of calm overtook the class. Children began gathering their hand work or art supplies, found a comfortable place on the rug or at a table, and settled in to listen to the story. We were together.
Many of us have had the pleasure of being read aloud to at one time or another in our lives and I am no exception. When I was a child, one of my fondest memories was of my mother sitting with me on the floor of my bedroom at the end of the day and reading to me before I went to sleep. How my mother didn’t “lose” our copy of Ferdinand the Bull after reading it 500 times I will never know.
It is only now, as an adult, that I fully see what a gift she was giving me. My mother was a teacher and now that I have followed her footsteps I understand that ours is a profession where the to-do list is endless. Time is precious and the fact that she decided to routinely carve out some of it for my benefit is something for which I am grateful.
Today, more than ever, pulling away from our work and our digitally connected world is such a challenge. So, when we decide to read out loud to children, we are making a conscious decision to feed both them and ourselves by being present and connected in a way that is harder to come by than it was a generation ago. Years down the road, our relationship with those to whom we read and those who have read to us will be richer for it.
“The act of reading together secures people to one another, creating order and connection, as if we were quilt squares tacked together with threads made of stories. That's not just another metaphor, as a team of neuroscientists at Princeton has discovered. Even as reader and listener are enjoying their bouquet of neurochemicals ... their brain activity is synchronizing, creating literal order and connection in a process known as neural coupling.” - Meghan Cox Gurdon
Aside from being present and connecting, there are countless reasons why reading out loud to children is a practice all of us who care about the well-being of children should continue. Since there are too many to list in this blog post, I will limit myself to just a couple of examples.
When we gather a group of children for a read aloud we are creating a space free of distraction where they are able to fully listen to the words we are reading off the page. We give them the space and time to create images in their minds as the story unfolds in a way that movies and touch screens do not.
For many of my young students it is difficult for them to be still for 30 minutes or more, so they have the option to draw or do handwork as I read. Sometimes I wonder if these activities are taking away from their focus, but almost without fail, whenever I pause to discuss something I just read, they jump right in with lots of commentary and thoughtful insights. As is so often the case, my fears about the children not attending to our tale are unfounded. In these moments it is easy to see the degree to which they are truly concentrating.
“The first essential for the child's development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” - Maria Montessori
There are many studies that have been done about how children who are read out loud to at a young age have a leg up when they become school-aged. Many of the parents in this and other school communities I have been a part of are aware of these benefits and do a great job of reading to their young children. However, it is also often the case that once a child is capable of reading independently the reading alouds ceases. This is understandable, like I said before, time is precious, and the list of things we all have to do never seems to get any shorter. But the benefits of reading out loud to children even after they are able to read without us are also extremely valuable. Most of us read at a much higher level than they do and this being the case, we have the opportunity to help them access texts that they would not be able to on their own. We can also pick up books they never would and explore and select topics and genres they might not even be aware exist. The opening of these doors is quite a magnificent gift we can give the children we love.
“The joy of reading with our children doesn’t stop as they, and we, get older; it simply changes.” - Paul Kropp
I consider myself one of the lucky ones whose job it is to commune with and guide children on a daily basis and reading out loud is one of the perks of the job. Books that would never make their way into my home find their way into my hands when I am in the classroom. I know that the lives of the students I am charged with teaching are more abundant because of the time they spend being read to. But I also know that mine is too.
So, as the weather warms, vacations approach, and family gatherings become once again common, maybe trade in a movie night or two for a family read aloud. Who knows, you might enjoy it so much the habit just may stick!
Red Oak Lead Teacher