Prelude: We at Ancona educate confident risk-takers, and with that in mind, I am hereby introducing my first blog. I will be sharing thoughts, musings and experiences about education, parenting and kids that arise from my 40+ years of teaching and leading The Ancona School. They will, I hope, be of interest, particularly to parents trying to navigate today’s fraught childrearing environment.
Lessons from The Wind in the Willows
For my daughter’s fifth or sixth birthday, her uncle gave her a hard-bound copy of the children’s classic The Wind in the Willows. Nadia was actually quite a good reader for her age, but she had no particular interest in this thick book with pages and pages of print and few illustrations, even when I tried reading it aloud to her.
It sat forgotten and unloved on her bookshelves amongst many well-worn and much-read books until one evening, many months later, I was sitting on my bed working my way through a dense text for a course, underlining and writing notes in the margins. Nadia appeared with The Wind in the Willows and a pencil. She climbed up on the bed, leaned into me and proceeded to page through her book, underlining and making scribbly notes in the margins. I was a little aghast that she was marking up this quite lovely book, but I understood that she was trying out what seemed to her to be an adult kind of reading. I also understood that, at that moment, The Wind in the Willows was nearly as unintelligible to her as a graduate school text.
Part of the genius of children is that they are keen observers of our every move. We know from research that a good indicator of reading success is growing up in a home where there are numerous books, and the adults are readers. Children need to see adults reading – not just to the children, but because they read and love reading for their own purposes. I tried to model reading and to make it a central part of our lives in many more conscious ways: reading to her daily, of course; giving books as holiday and birthday gifts; browsing together in the library and bookstore; bringing books to the beach or restaurant; and discussing my own book choices and trading books with friends and family when she was around.
This quite sweet memory of The Wind in the Willows came back to me as we prepared for Literacy Night this week. Many parents today are so anxious about when their children will read and whether the books are hard enough, that I fear they lose sight of the real goal: to set the stage for a child’s lifetime of reading. I hope parents will remember that children who love to read grow up in households that love to read.
While reading to and reading with children definitely supports learning to read, it should never be a source of stress, dissatisfaction or disappointment. Reading together can and should deepen the emotional and intellectual bonds between parent and child; I can still remember that warm little body pressed up against mine. And my adult daughter and I still exchange favorite books.