“You must trust me. I am telling you a story.”
When working with little ones, trust is so important. Being not only an educator and a book lover, but also a Child Development major, I have learned that if a child does not trust you, forget trying to get them to pay attention, follow directions, or participate in groups.
—Here’s a little Child Development class lesson. Free of charge.—
Erik Erikson (yes that is his name!) was a psychologist who worked a lot on child development. He created a psychosocial theory that is still applied to a lot of curriculum and educational philosophies. He found that a person goes through different stages of development and needs to meet certain goals at each stage in order to become a healthy developing human being. The first of these stages is from birth to twenty-four months and is called Trust vs. Mistrust. Basically the idea is that an infant needs to learn to trust his caretakers or he will learn to mistrust them and others. It is the job of all parents and caretakers to build this trust through warmly meeting the child’s needs in a loving and welcoming demeanor.
Now, you’re probably wondering: what does this have to do with reading to kids? EVERYTHING!
When children are very little, a parent or caretaker needs to establish a trusting relationship with the child. One way to do this is through reading together. Let your kids sit in your lap. Sit on the floor or in a comfy chair together. Getting down to their level is important. Sitting above them or standing up while reading is good for allowing a large group of kids see the pictures in the book, but it won’t help you with building one-on-one trust with children. Let the child know through your body language and placement that reading is a relationship building activity. Reading together should be a time of love, care and safety for all members involved.
When I first started working for my center, I was the toddler teacher assistant. (That is ages fifteen months to twenty-four months.) Those little ones love to cuddle, sit in laps and read books together. Some days, we could sit and read books together for as long as twenty or thirty minutes without stopping. For those who don’t know, that is a long time for a toddler to pay attention to anything!
Reading should be a comforting time for children. It should not be forced but encouraged through adult modeling. But the reader needs to be consistent. There is a big difference between reading with and reading at children.
Let’s look at the difference:
Reading at a child is done when the reader simply reads the printed words, rarely stops, and asks the child to sit still and listen while he or she flips through the pages in a hurry to finish the book.
— Now, you may think that you would never do this, but be honest, we all are guilty of being a distracted reader from time to time. —
Make note: Every reading experience should be a fun and invested experience.
Reading with a child is so much more than reading the printed words. There should be a conversation happening on every page! Take breaks to talk about what they think will happen next, or what they think the characters are feeling on the page. All attention should be on the child and the book. This is what reading with a child is all about! (I will go more into this in future posts)
Now, it is okay to tell a child that you are not ready to read with them. There are plenty of times throughout my preschoolers’ day when I tell a student that I cannot read with her at the moment, and it is not because I don’t want to, it is because I know I would not be invested in the experience. If you find yourself in a situation like this: maybe you’re cooking dinner, filing taxes, or over-sighting a classroom, simply tell your child or student that you cannot read with her right now, but you will find time to read with her later.
But remember, follow through with your promise. This is also part of building trust with a child. Children remember a lot, and they will hold you to it! Try your best to not let them down. They take these little things very personally.
Here’s the takeaway:
A distracted reader is a detrimental reader.
Make reading times an investment, rather than a chore.
To bring this back to my titled topic, “Stories are Light:” If stories are light, then those reading them hold the flame. We don’t play with fire, we take great care in carrying it!
Want tips on how to enhance your reading experiences with children? Leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And stay tuned for my next blog post!
For now, I leave you all with these wise words:
“I would like it very much if you thought of me as a mouse telling you a story…with the whole of my heart, whispering it in your ear in order to save myself from the darkness, and to save you from the darkness too.”