Monday, December 13, 2004

The love for words is learned

When my son was born I took for granted that he would love reading as much as his father and I do. I didn't read aloud to him in utero, but I did read to him from my books as he nursed, and we were both sure to let him see us reading newspapers, books, magazines. One of my earliest memories is of learning to read using The Hobbit, my father pointing out words to me as we went along and using the maps on the covers' insides to illustrate the story. I was reading Nancy Drew books by the first grade.

I was horrified when, at the tender age of six months, he showed zero interest in a bedtime story (bedtime is about nursies, Mommy, don't you get it?) and seemed to think books were far more appropriate for teething (most of his board books have been gummed to pieces). Horror stories my husband had told me, of high-school students who had no books in their homes and who wrote essays about "2Fast 2Furious" being the movie that most influenced their lives, rose up in my mind. I should have been reading to my son since birth.

Instead we continued to do what we'd been doing. When my son weaned himself at 13 months following a nursing strike, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to replace one form of comfort with another. I cracked a book. He loved it. He now gets as excited about stories as he did about nursies; moreover, he seeks out books on his own, and lately has even taken to arranging his foam bath letters and refrigerator letters in orders we don't understand.

This relieves me more than I can express. What my husband, a high-school social studies teacher, tells me about the waning literacy in his classrooms concerns me deeply. Blogging about so-called "trends" in the book business, writer-editor Clint Gaige offered this opinion: "Fewer and fewer people read every year. Our school systems are not building reading programs, they are pumping out and graduating students based on classroom size. Who cares if they appreciate books!" I'd add to his opinion that it's not so much classroom size as it is dependence on standardized state assessments, thanks to No Child Left Behind. In the meantime, a recent Gallup poll shows that teens are more likely to watch TV than they are to read books or newspapers, and that girls are more likely to read than boys, who prefer video games.

I can see that the odds are already stacked against my son. So even though he shows signs of being a kinesthetic, rather than a visual or auditory learner, I intend to do as much as I can to nurture his love of stories. It's not just that the more people read, the more people keep us writers in business. Reading is fundamental to free thinking - Gutenberg knew this when he first used his printing press to distribute the Bible to the people - and we just don't live in a world anymore where either literacy or free thinking can be taken for granted.


Blogger Holly said...

Yeah. That's why we homeschool. My husband's father is a teacher, and has been unenthusiastic, but at the ripe old age of seven, my son can read large sections of Harry Potter by himself.

We always called them 'mums', incidentally. We did poetry and mums together, since for a long time the kidlet had the attention span of a hummingbird on speed. It took us until he was four to actually switch to books.

But he has the bug now.

13/12/04 11:57 AM  
Blogger Christa M. Miller said...

You know, we've considered homeschooling. I'm not 100% convinced it's the answer for us, because my son is such an extrovert, but we're keeping our options open.

My husband is completely disillusioned with public education - sad because he's such a great teacher. He keeps telling me to sell books so he can stay home. I keep telling him we need health insurance. So far it's a standoff. ;)

Hummingbird on speed - now there's an image!

13/12/04 12:56 PM  

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