Shared reading experiences important for children

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

&uot;Most people who passionately love to read first fell in love with books as children…Most adults who can’t read well missed this experience.&uot;

Nancye Gaj,

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Founder and President

Motheread, Inc.

Soon there will be two glorious weeks out of school for many of our community’s children. I wish to encourage you to build some traditions during that season around books and stories.

Become the favorite auntie or uncle who always gives a great book for holidays or birthdays. Write a story about and for the favorite young someone or simply take time to snuggle with that cup of hot chocolate between gift wrapping to read or tell a story. It may be the most important gift you give.

Most people who developed a love for reading did so as young children. Adults who are not effective readers usually have no such positive reading experiences as children. In addition, many important issues can be explored in a non-threatening way using children’s literature. Two national programs that do this extremely well are Motheread, Inc. and the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School.

The Motheread program has been effectively used in family literacy programs such as Even Start. Children’s books and adult poems/narratives are the basis for instruction. These texts provide a format for adult learners to develop skills in all four areas of literacy: listening, speaking, reading, and writing as well they provide a positive early reading/storysharing experience for children.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools booklists are evidence of their commitment to embrace an education vision for children that promotes academic enrichment as well as social, cultural and historical awareness. Through children’s literature reflecting African-American images, they strive to realize a vision that emphasizes the following core values:

nAll children can learn when they are nurtured and taught by knowledgeable and caring adults who believe in them and who are committed to sharing with them the joys of learning.

nChildren must be listened to, treated with respect, and offered opportunities to learn about their rich culture and heritage.

nReading is one of several keys that unlock the door to a child’s potential.

nParents are vital partners in their children’s education.

Should either of these programs come to this area, I encourage you to run, not walk to register your family for an invaluable shared reading experience.

One book that is used effectively in the Motheread program is Mama, Do You Love Me by Barbara Joosse. It also was an effective teaching tool and shared reading experience in my own home.

Allow me to digress. I love shoes. I see shoes with patterns of pinks and oranges and blues all together and it does something wonderful to me. Last summer I saw these bright orange sandals. They were so pretty. I ventured to try them on in the store. However, with one last parting glance filled with longing, I determined that I could live without them. I really could.

My feet serve me well. Let me say that. I am thankful for all the ground they’ve helped me to cover. Let me say that, too, but my feet are big. You can’t miss them, so I don’t go to any special effort to draw attention to them with flashy shoes. I try to cover them nicely, again, because you can’t miss them, but my shoe wardrobe is very unobtrusive -mostly brown, taupe, beige and black.

My daughter at three had planned a surprise that would fix all of that for me. And I found out about this surprise as I was trying to get out of the starting block one morning with about 30 seconds to spare. I had it down to a science. If I simply slid into my beige shoes as I grabbed my briefcase, her backpack and her hand while keeping my coffee balanced on my head with my toast between my teeth, I could make it to her daycare center

AND to work on time. But I did not anticipate a special gift that morning. You see, my precious angel of a girl decided that since her mommy’s favorite color is red, her mommy needed some red shoes. With all her three year old passion and best effort, she had made me a pair.

Apparently my face did not register the delight she was anticipating because the child ran and hid in the closet. I did manage to get her out of the closet with some coaxing. She did, eventually, make it to school. I did, eventually, make it to work. But it was not a good morning. I felt badly for -to put it mildly-spoiling her surprise, and she felt badly because I was clearly not pleased with it. That morning I was scheduled to attend a Square One Ready to Read Initiative workshop. The WHRO Ready to Learn Educator was one of the guest presenters. She gave several much-appreciated freebies, among them a book by Barbara M. Joose called, Mama, Do You Love Me. It was one of those moments when I knew there is a God. I could barely wait to get home to read it with my daughter.

The story is of a little girl who seeks to find the limits of her mother’s love. As her mother answers, the little girl imagines the types of things that she could do to make her mother stop loving her. But the mother repeatedly stresses her love for her &uot;Dear One&uot;.

I love this book for several reasons. One is that it respects the culture of the characters in the story. They are referred to by the name they call themselves, not the name an outside society has given them.

The mother and daughter in this book are Inuit people (commonly referred to as Eskimos.) I love this book because it addresses the issue of choices and consequences and the mother never indicates there won’t be consequences for the daughter’s negative choices. However, the main reason, that I love this book is because its theme of unconditional love transcends culture and time.

And so, on that fateful evening of the red shoes as I read, &uot;Mama, do You Love Me? Yes, I do, Dear One… How Much…? How Long…?

What if…?&uot;

My own &uot;Dear One&uot; became more and more attentive.

&uot;What if I put salmon in your parka? What if I threw water at our lamp? What if I turned into a polar bear and I had sharp, shiny teeth and I chased you into your tent and you cried?&uot;

And then I was interrupted by a little voice, &uot;What if I painted your shoes red?&uot;

Barbara Joosse has said that she wrote the book for her son who knew that she loved him when he behaved but wasn’t sure if she loved him when he didn’t. The book becomes an affirmation of her love for her son and on that night, it became such an affirmation for my daughter.

&uot;I will love you, forever and for always because you are my Dear One.&uot;

Try to make time to visit the library during the break. Your librarian can help you find other great books that address important issues for children and those who love them.

Darlene Wiggins Dockery is program director of the Partnering for Reading, Educational and Parental Preparedness (PREPP). Suffolk Public Schools Even Start Program is currently taking applications. If you need help to feel confident reading to your child, and have a child between 6 weeks and 8 years of age call 925-5651. We can help. Non-native English speakers are also welcome.