“My birthday is in September.”
“My birthday was last week.”
“My dad is taking me to DisneyWorld for my birthday.”
The cacophony of counterpoint voices rose in pitch and volume as each child struggled to be heard above the competing claims. It all started when one girl in the audience eagerly announced, “Today is my birthday.”
I asked her name and suggested we all sing the birthday song to her, which the kids gleefully participated in. But then they all wanted recognition for their birthdays…though it soon became obvious that most of them were not too clear on when their birthdays were. You see, to avoid having everyone in the audience—there were some 40 kids—take a turn at reporting their respective birthdays, I said, “Let’s do it this way: Whose birthday is in September? Raise your hands.” Almost every hand shot up. “Whose birthday is in October?” And again almost every child claimed that as his or her birth month. “November?” Same response.
It all started as I finished reading one of my books to the group of pre-K students. “Does anyone have any questions about the story I just read?” I asked. That was when the little girl raised her hand to announce that today was her birthday. And they were off and running, the story forgotten. I tried to get the Q&A session back on track, but after that it was, as a friend of mine described it, “like herding cats.”
I love reading to these kids—even when they go off on unexpected tangents. There is one group in particular—first- and second-graders at an after-school program in the area, which I’ve visited any number of times now with various books—that is particularly receptive. They all but cheer when they see me, calling out, “Cynthia!” “Miss Cynthia!” “Cynthia!” and running over to hug me.
They LOVE hearing stories.
In fact, ALL the groups of kids I read to love hearing stories. When I ask, “Who wants to hear a story?” no matter which group I’m reading to, all the hands shoot up into the air, and I hear a chorus of “Me!” “Me!” “Me!”
I hope their parents read to them on a regular basis. It can stimulate a child’s desire to learn to read well on his or her own as well as sparking the child’s imagination. And it has been my view for years that the imagination is a “muscle” that needs regular exercise just as much as any other—a subject I plan to expound on in this space in the near future.
But for now, let me close with this bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re the parent, grandparent, neighbor, godparent, aunt, or uncle of a young child, or are in some other warm relationship with one, READ TO HIM/HER. You’ll establish a closer bond with the child while fostering a love of reading, since the child who is read to often soon builds a desire to learn to read on his/her own. But even after he/she learns to read by himself/herself, keep reading to him/her. You can’t replace the closeness that ensues from that experience.