Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reading Out Loud - Part 1

On Tuesday, for the first time since bringing the kids home almost twenty months ago, as I watched Seth order together the letters of the alphabet and mutter under his breath many of the sounds they make, I could envision in my mind's eye a day coming when Seth will be able to read.  It was an awesome mental picture that I can hardly wait to see transformed, some day when he's ready, into reality!

I can tell, these days, how much more comfortable Seth is becoming with letters and it seems lately as if he's starting to understand their relevance to his life.  His interest is growing, and it seems like the pertinent parts of his brain are starting to work together to coordinate efforts and make sense of things.

Seth has begun to ask me to read out loud and, lately, he almost never wants me to quit's really a big change from the boy who, a year ago, was restless and impatient when we'd all sit down in the library to read out loud.

I've been quite stunned by the turnaround, to be honest.  A year ago I wasn't able to read aloud to the three of them for nearly as long as I am now; Seth, in particular, would sigh heavily when we would sit down to read, and he was restless and easily distracted.  At least part of the issue clearly was that his language wasn't good enough then to be able to make sense of what I was reading, so I could hardly blame him for being restless.

In those days, in particular to give the younger kids a little more control of the situation, all three kids took turns choosing the books I read - and I had them choose books from the shelves that hold only the very simple, short stories that take five minutes or less to read through.  Because that was pretty basic for Matthew's interests, I would end our reading sessions by allowing him to have last pick; invariably he would choose from the stories that were a little longer and more complex, and that seemed to help him.

I also let the kids bring lego or some other hand-occupying creative toy into the library during our reading times and simply asked that they be sitting down while I was reading.  My hope was that if they (particularly Seth) had something to occupy their hands maybe my reading would reach their ears.  I made sure that there were always cozy blankets available in the library because who doesn't like to listen to stories while wrapped up in something comfy??  And at some point I bought each of them a clipboard and little marker boxes so that they could bring in blank paper to draw on while they listened - that went over really well and I was very glad on the day when I could put the more disruptive lego boxes back into the basement!

For Matthew and Lizzie, reading out loud has always been easy.  I've been reading out loud to Matthew since the day he came home from the hospital, on day 5 of his life.  I've been reading to Lizzie (and Seth) from the day we became a forever family and she has loved it...even when she couldn't understand a thing and even when the books were baby board books meant to introduce her to basic vocabulary.  Reading is one of her favourite things to do and she is always ready to head to the library to pull out a book.  She is also very proud now that she can now read the word and...she loves to find it and sound it out on whatever page I'm reading!

Seth has been a little more of a mix from the first day.  He was ok with the baby board books that helped him learn many basic English words.  But when I began to mix in short stories, he often grew restless very quickly and had very little comprehension of the story I'd just read.  His most common refrain, in that plaintive little voice that children worldwide have mastered, was:  "We done yet?"

But we have persisted and our reading sessions have steadily grown longer and far more enjoyable!  These days, as I've mentioned before, we not only read aloud as a foursome (regularly for up to 90 minutes), but I try my best to spend 15-20 daytime minutes reading privately to each child while the other two play or listen to audio books.  We have at least seven or eight books sitting on the library table that we are currently in the midst of.  They all love it now when I read and we are able to get through larger chapter books together - most recently the first few Little House on the Prairie books.

Although on some days the kids still love to doodle with paper and clipboard while I read, more often than not these days, we sit in one of the big library chairs; I usually have one child on my lap, and the other two sit perched on the fat arms of the chair while leaning on my shoulders.

Another change I've noticed is how much greater the younger kids' comprehension is - particularly Seth's.  I truly believe that his language comprehension has been vastly improved by our read aloud times.  When I ask him (comprehension) questions about what I've read, he still struggles to form (ie. express) complicated sentences on his own, but it is clear to me that he is understanding most of what I read now, and he often surprises me with little nuances that I would not have thought he would understand yet.

The part that has, perhaps, been most amazing about Seth's change, however, is what he's doing while I'm reading.  My hard-to-give-and-receive-love-and-affection little boy loves to sit on the arm of that chair beside me and play with my hair!  He leans on me, often brings a comb to the library, and happily plays with my hair for an hour or more.  I have to say in all honesty that I haven't always enjoyed his ministrations:  Months ago when he began to do this, he would pull and twist it in a way that was often quite painful and he was rather oblivious to my experience of it.  But now, despite the fact that I generally walk away from our reading times with greasy, limp hair, it's become an amazing bonding thing.  He just leans against me and spends an hour or more in physical contact with me as he plays gently with my hair and attempts various interesting styling techniques - that's huge!

(to be continued)

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