In March of 2011, at our annual h/schooler's conference, I listened to the keynote speaker talk about the importance of parents reading aloud to their children. Duh, I thought. But the rest of his talk struck a real chord with me.
He told a story about one of his daughters, who was about nine years old when the event happened that he referred to. He had always been very impressed with how many books his daughter read; volume after volume of novels, most of them several hundred pages in length, that she whipped through in a matter of days. Then one evening, he decided to read aloud to her one of the books that she had been reading to herself. As he read to her, he was shocked when she continually asked him to skip over the 'boring' paragraphs and get to the more interesting stuff. He realized how she was able to 'read' so quickly, and this observation was the beginning of years of study on his part into the language development of children.
Amongst other things that he said, he noted that children need to be read aloud to precisely because they can't skip words or paragraphs and because, in order to build a child's language, they need to hear it all. He encouraged parents to read to their children at a level slightly above the child's comprehension level. Then, shocker of all shockers, he said that the ideal amount of time to read aloud to a child for language development and comprehension was about two hours a day.
I blanched at that number. Two hours a day?? Who's he kidding?? At the time, I was certainly reading aloud every day to Matthew, often for a lengthy period of time...but two hours?? That seemed terribly unrealistic.
But then one comment helped me to breathe again: Reading aloud, from this speaker's perspective, absolutely included audio books.
Whew, I thought, knowing that Matthew was crazy about audio books. In fact, he's been listening to audio books since he was four years old. For his fifth birthday he received a CD player for his birthday gift and the audio book obsession flourished. For his eighth birthday this spring, his gift from Geoff and me was an ipod nano; my parents' gift was a docking station so that he could listen to his ipod on speaker. Audio books are the only things loaded onto his ipod.
Matthew has listened to hundreds of audio books. It consistently remains one of his favourite things to do. Often during the day, always before sleeping, usually while lying on his belly on his bed and drawing or colouring or crafting or doing word search puzzles, he listens and listens and listens. It was also an indescribable help for me during the first year that Seth and Lizzie were home; when things were really hard with Seth, and when Matthew was losing it, being able to curl up in his own little world of audio books for an hour here or there was a lifesaver for him, and helped to remove him from some of the worst of the multi-hour screaming sessions that we all endured with Seth. Even now, if Matt's having a hard day or having a hard time managing himself with his siblings, it's always a calming thing for him to be able to sit in the library or on his bed for even fifteen minutes listening to a book while relaxing his body and brain.
Along with my h/school plans for this year, I developed out-loud reading lists for each of the kids. Many of the books I chose for Matthew can be found in audio book form, notably Newbery award winners and most top-100 books. And so I signed up for audible.com, picked through our public library selections to see which of the books on his list could be listened to via ipod or CD player, and put in more big orders from amazon and Chrisianbook.com when I saw sales.
In the past three weeks alone, Matthew has listened to: two, 4-CD volumes of Adventures in Odyssey stories; the first three volumes of The Boxcar Children; Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief; the first volume of Donald Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown; and he is about an hour from completing the 8.5 hour story of The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall. That totals approx. 35 hours of listening time...plus what he's hearing from Geoff and me!
Waiting in the wings (in my iTunes library, ready for download to his ipod) I have: Bridge to Terabithia; the next two volumes of The Boxcar Children; and The Secret Garden. I have 40+ kids' audio books chosen on my audible.com wish list just waiting to get moved over to my cart!
In addition, I'm reading the first of the Little House on the Prairie books to all three kids, and various short stories.
It's utterly amazing to me how much reading can be done via careful selections of books, audio and otherwise. There's no doubt that Matthew is being read aloud to a minimum of two hours/day, between me and his audio book selection, and I am thrilled that this is such a big love for him.
Another delightful aspect of this is that Seth is beginning to catch the obsession, too. He wants to be like his big brother and this is one way I see it evidenced in a really positive way. For his birthday this summer, Seth received his first CD player and a number of stories and books on CD. At first he thought it was "pretty good" and I never forced it. But in the past month or so, I've noticed a definite inclination to copy what Matthew does and so I often find the boys lying on one of their beds, both on their stomachs, both drawing or colouring and both listening to whatever story happens to be playing. They are the picture of companionable silence when they're like this! Yesterday I happened to check in on them as Matthew was asking Seth to 'help' him with his word search puzzle; I was pretty impressed by Matthew's request given that he knows how hard Seth has to work at anything letter-related. But the audio book listening has been a bonding experience for them of late and when Seth agreed to try to help with the word search, I couldn't help but notice and be a little wowed by Matthew's unusual degree of patience with Seth's attempts.
Last week, Seth completed the first four Magic Treehouse audio books and this week started listening to them again. I have encouraged him to listen to his books two or three times, simply because his comprehension increases so much on the second or third listen. Today he came to me to ask for more...music to my ears! It just so happens that I have more audio books waiting in the wings for him too!
Next up: Lizzie!