It started when she was about 6 months old. My daughter and I would curl up on what we dubbed “The Snuggle Chair” and I’d read her some books before bedtime. It was my favorite part of the day, having her warm little body nestled in my lap, clutching her bottle, while I read.
They were mostly picture books with a few words in those first months. Some of my favorites included "GoodNight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown, "On the Night You Were Born," by Nancy Tillman, and the Eric Carle assortment of classics like "The Grouchy Ladybug," "The Very Busy Spider" and "The Foolish Tortoise."
We read the same books night after night and to keep myself from falling asleep or getting bored, I’d start to make it game. I’d tell my daughter to point to different letters and she’d run her small fingers around O’s and J’s. I’d show her all the letters that were in her name and have her point to objects in the book. We’d look at things like a house and I’d ask her to count the numbers of windows, or have her tell me the number of bears she sees. She’d identify animal and I’d ask her to make their sounds.
As she grew, we graduated to Mo Williems books like the Gerald and Piggie series. My husband does an excellent Piggie voice and so he would join in and the three of us would role play. Through this she learned differences in dialogue and inflection. It was really amusing when she started to pick up on this and join in, doing the voices herself.
As she entered kindergarten, she learned basic Spanish and all the Dora the Explorer books we never touched were now her favorite. I would muddle through with my pathetic accent, using Google and You Tube to help me correctly pronounce words. We didn’t focus on the Spanish words so much as we did the others, which she was learning to read in school.
We would take turns reading words and then lines. I’d run my finger over each word and read slowly. We stopped at words I knew she wouldn’t understand and discussed their meaning. And when she couldn’t put them together we’d break it down by syllable. We read this way all through that academic year, and finished so many books from me and my husband’s childhood like “ The Monster At The End of This Book” Sesame Street Series by Jon Park and the entire collection of “Where The Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein.
Our bedtime ritual always consisted of no more than three or four books. They could not be of the pop-up art variety or those with music or buttons for sound. We would read the same ones for a while and then switch in at least one or two at her request.
My husband likes to remind me of how all of those bedtime rituals have helped her become the excellent reader she is now, at the head of her first grade class, reading chapter books like “Junie B. Jones” by Barbara Park and “Ready Freddy” by Abby Klein. While she is a great reader, there are also many other skills she picked up along the way. Skills that will help her as she grows.
She is has become extremely creative, jumping right away to her crayons and paper after reading a story or seeing a movie to create her own interpretation. She has learned how to think critically, questioning everything, and tries to come up with potential solutions to mystery books we read.
We also find ourselves talking a lot about lessons of kindness, emotions, cause and effect, and different personalities. We sometimes discuss situations at school and experiences on the playground like bullying. She’ll refer back to stories we have read and say something like, “Yeah Maddy acted like Junie B. Jones the other day.”
But the most important lesson she has learned is confidence and how reading stories and storytelling can build relationships. She now reads to her little sister, either while she is learning to use the potty, on the couch and or at bedtime. After we tuck my little one in, my older daughter jumps into my bed and requests to read her chapter book to me.
I cuddle up to her under the covers and am reminded of one of our favorite stories, “The Very Quiet Cricket” by Eric Carle. This tiny male cricket tries so hard throughout the story to make a sound with his little legs to communicate with his friends. At the end of the story he comes across another very quiet female cricket and rubs his legs together one final time. Drifting off to sleep as my daughter reads, just like that other female cricket, I hear the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.
Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues, which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.