I’m genuinely interested in people’s views on how they present books and reading in their own homes, because I find myself conflicted about the best approach to take with C and H.
Obviously when children are very young (I’m talking about the can’t-hold-their-own-head-up stage through to the wow-I-can-kind-of-sort-of-roll stage) they are not often holding the books themselves. If they are, the books are likely to be of the robust, pretty much indestructible board / cloth / bath book variety, which are great for getting very little ones interested in books and used to some of the techniques involved in reading them, i.e., how to turn pages, where to hold them so you can see the pictures,etc. Although at the time, reading with C and H during this phase felt like a game more than anything else, I can definitely see the benefits of them having been able to handle books from such a young age.
I can also now see that those were the halcyon days, which presented no greater mental challenge to me then the gentle encouragement not to force wax crayons through the holes in ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’.
Because NOW we have a whole new set of issues.
Firstly, H (at nearly two) insists on dragging his favourite books around everywhere, but often leaves them on the floor. He’s not doing this to be naughty (well, not most of the time) but simply because he gets distracted and moves on to something else. The books might then get accidentally trodden upon as we tear around putting out pretend fires, or they might try to use them as a road when we get out our impressive fleet of toy cars. Obviously I emphasise to the boys that this is not how we treat books, but I’m worried about swinging too far in the other direction and leaving them thinking that books are sooooooooooo delicate and precious that we must never touch them or get them out.
Secondly, C likes to ‘read’ (at three and a half, he’s not officially reading, but he tells himself full stories using the pictures as prompts and can (and often does!) recite his favourite books off by heart) EVERYWHERE. He takes books to bed at night (we now have to select his ‘keeping’ books and his ‘reading’ books from the bookcase each night), he reads in the car and he also reads at the table. To be fair to him, he is usually very careful with the books. However, I still have my beloved grandpa’s voice in the back of my mind, telling me that meals are a time for ‘bright and helpful conversation’ and not for solitary activities like enjoying a story by yourself, so I ask C to put the books away. As a compromise, I often read the boys a story or two while they eat (my husband and I eat later) but I do appreciate that this isn’t the same as C getting to peruse a story by himself. I also want the boys to feel that not only is reading immensely pleasurable, but that it’s also like eating and breathing – necessary for their very survival! Maybe I shouldn’t stop them reading whenever or wherever the mood takes them?
Thirdly, and this is the one I wrestle with the most, whether to treat bedtime stories as an inalienable right or as something that can be taken away as a punishment. Throughout the day, the boys have time-outs (for the number of minutes that corresponds to their age in years) when their behaviour isn’t quite what it should be. We then talk about what went wrong, how we could make it better and then they say sorry and we have a cuddle and move on. During the final half hour of the day this isn’t always possible, what with baths to be had, teeth to be cleaned and pyjamas to be wriggled on. C in particular seems to find the bedtime routine ‘tricky’ sometimes and will push and push and push and do his level best to ensure we all get as wound up as possible. Clearly we don’t to send him to bed feeling sad or grumpy, but equally we feel that he needs to be aware that some behaviour isn’t acceptable even if you’re tired and weary and he’s still too young to understand us carrying a punishment over to the next day (which seems quite a negative way to start a day anyway!).
So, occasionally, we have told him that if he doesn’t start playing along he’ll lose a bedtime story (he usually has three). Only once has he got down to having no stories and in that case we gave him the chance to do something good (from memory it was to carry H’s toothbrush over to him, or something equally minor) so that he could ‘earn’ a story back. He was devastated to consider the possibility of having NO stories, so it was an effective sanction, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Shouldn’t he be getting stories anyway, regardless of anything else? We do read during the day, but nothing beats snuggling up just before you go to sleep and having someone there to give you a big cuddle and read to you.
I’m sure, as always, that the answer lies in moderation and consistency, which is pretty much the path we’re following. But I don’t want the boys to feel ‘moderately’ interested in reading – I want them to be as passionate about it as I am! For those of you who live with, or work with, very young children – what do you do? This is an issue I’ll need to get my head around for Story Seekers if I’m hoping to offer the sessions to babies and toddlers (as well as older children) and therefore your opinions will be very gratefully received!