More Than Words

Written by Chris Ausherman, Grade 2 teacher

One of my first and fondest memories of growing up was being read to by my mother and wishing I could read like she did. It wasn’t that she read with characters’ voices or with silly accents. At an early age, I could tell how much she enjoyed reading. Just the feeling of sitting next to her or on her lap was special. As the oldest, I also remember her reading to my younger brother and sister in the same manner. I had a piano teacher who would come to our house, and I remember being a little jealous that my mother read to my siblings during my 30-minute lesson.

She read nursery rhymes; my favorite one being
“There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead.”
Just like me! How did the writer know me? I was the only little girl that matched that description after all, right?

I have to admit that reading for pleasure didn’t happen for me overnight. Not that we didn’t have LOTS of books around to choose from, nor that my mother was always saying how good this book was or she’ll bet I’d like this one. I just had different interests. I was a good reader in school, but I just wasn’t sure about actually choosing to read on my free time. I wanted to be outside riding my bike or making crafts, not reading.

Fast forward many years, I’m now reading to my second-graders, and they are cheering for a character in the book, “The Stray.” Henny Hickathrift has just won the lottery. Well, in this second grade, we feel like we know her. We couldn’t be happier for her. We can’t wait to see what she does with the money. You’ll have to ask one of my second-graders what happens.

I do read with voices, expression, and JOY. As I read, I stop and we talk about the characters and make predictions. The children compare characters in various stories we read in class. We talk about reading the story before watching the movie. (A person should NEVER see the movie first!) Your head is full of the filmmaker’s ideas of what the characters and settings look like — not yours. That’s what imaginations are for; making your own movie in your head as you read the book.

Sure, reading can make your child smarter and language skills will be acquired sooner, and their vocabulary will increase. But reading when you are young should be fun. I still like listening to books on CDs when I’m on a long road trip. I like to imagine what the characters and setting look like, and I still enjoy making predictions about how the plot unfolds.

My second-graders love listening to me read aloud, but they are also finding their own way through books they choose during silent reading time. I make it a point to sit and read my book as well, so they can see an adult in their day who makes reading a priority. Often the children will ask what my book is about. The best comments I hear are, “my mother read that book” or “would you recommend that book to a friend?” They are also quick to share a new fact they’ve learned or offer a suggestion on the next class read aloud.

A poster in my room says, “Ten Ways To Become A Better Reader,” and the word READ is listed ten times. The children understand that poster. To be good at something, you need to practice, and reading is no exception. The precursor to enjoy reading for pleasure is to be read to by someone who enjoys reading. The listener is the active spectator, routing for the heroine, booing the villain, sighing when something sweet happens, just like at a sporting event and cheering for your team.

The sweetest thing now, besides reading aloud to my class, is sharing books with my mother. She’ll call and have me write down the books she’s just purchased so I won’t buy them. After we both read them, and sometimes my sister, we talk about what sections we liked and why, or wasn’t that part unnecessary, or wouldn’t this book make a great movie?

So parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, please read and model how important reading is to you. When you are reading and laugh aloud, the child in your life becomes interested and wants to be like you. Pick up two copies of a book you choose together with your child and make predictions, laugh, and cry, and be sad when the book is over, but also know there is another book out there waiting for you to explore.

The saying, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall I am my mother after all,” has come true! Thanks, Mother, for never giving up on your children loving books. Our libraries will NEVER equal yours, but we’ll give it a good try. Most of all, we will never give up showing your grandchildren and great grandchildren how much our family loves books.