by Dawn Cranston, Head of School
An Issue of Importance: Reading at Home
In 1983, the U.S. Department of Education created its first Commission on Reading to explore the reading decline. The commission’s 1985 report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, included the statement: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
That statement was made in 1985. I first started teaching kindergarten in a public school about 10 years later, in 1994, and saw firsthand that the research was true. The majority of students who learned to read easily were read to at home on a regular basis before they ever entered school. At that time, the large majority of my students came from homes where they were read to regularly. Typically, the exception to that rule were students from low income homes where families were struggling just to make ends meet. They didn’t have much time left over to spend with their children and the little time they did have was usually not spent reading.
I taught for a few years, then began a family and stayed home with my girls while they were young. When I went back into teaching, this time in a private Christian school, it was in 2004 – about 10 years later. Right away I noticed a difference in my students’ reading abilities and observed that only about half of the students in my classes were read to at home. And this time there was no differentiating between the halves. It wasn’t just the lower income families that weren’t reading.
Reading at Home – A Culture Shift
About 10 more years have passed between now and then and I am stunned by where we are today; our preschool, kindergarten and first grade teachers are reporting that what I experienced when I first began teaching is almost the opposite of what they are witnessing in their classrooms now. Today, the large majority of the students they have in class are not being read to at home. In fact, when the teachers send home reading logs asking parents to read each night and record it on the log, many of the students say they don’t have books at home and have never been to the library.
I can’t say how we got from there to here. However, I do recognize that it happened slowly – like it always happens when culture shifts. It’s slow so that no one really notices what’s happening and no one does anything to stop it. Good things slowly fade away before we realize they are gone.
Beyond the Academics
It’s true, reading at home affects learning at school. The research supports this assertion and my own classroom experiences prove it. But, beyond the academics, my heart breaks for all of the missed moments. When a momma snuggles a little one on her lap and reads a story, the little one learns that stories are made up of words and words are made up of letters. There are spaces between words and the words start on the left and move to the right. When the little one looks at a picture of a ball and the word ball they understand that the letters b-a-l-l represent the toy that they have fun holding and bouncing. They also understand that ” b” makes the sound that’s at the beginning of the word ball. These are all examples of print and phonemic awareness and they are some of the many pre-reading skills that develop in the little ones’ brains when they sit on momma’s lap and listen to a story.
As much as the teacher in me wants those little ones to have those pre-reading experiences before they come to school, the momma in me wants those little ones to be snuggled on someone’s lap with a book. When a little one sits on his momma’s lap and listens to a story he is held close. He feels safe and he feels important. Story time is his time. He doesn’t have to share that time with a phone call, text message or computer. He gets to be held close, to hear a story and to have the unending string of questions that flow through his mind answered at least for the moment.
As little ones grow from babies to toddlers, toddlers to preschoolers and then into young children, each phase brings with it more independence. Story time or bedtime stories is a time each day when the world slows down and little ones reconnect with the big ones who love them. If we are not reading to our little ones any more, when do these moments happen? When does life slow down? When do we reconnect? My heart breaks for these missed moments.