What To Read To Children
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
With the littlest Raising Children, the choice of material for reading aloud should be varied in accordance with a definite plan. Where the aim is specially the development of a love of harmonious speech, as has been suggested above, there is nothing of greater value than poetry, especially such as has a definite and strongly marked rhythm, delicately recurring rhyme, or a refrain which serves to unite the several parts. Do not feel it necessary to stick to the idea of using jingles and nonsense verses at this stage. These have their place, but it is not as large a one as is commonly supposed. Such a poem a Jean Ingelow's "High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire," with its echoing song and firm measure, will do infinitely more than an ordinary jingle.
There are, it is true, a series of verses, like the famous Mother Goose rhymes, which bear an exceptional relation to the educational development of the race. For a child to grow up in ignorance of them would be as unthinkable from the standpoint of any rational education, as for him to grow up without the knowledge of how to use his arms and legs. Mother Goose, and kindred flights of fancy, have become a part of the texture of our life, which we cannot eliminate if we would. But it should not be forgotten that these owe their value not to their inherent quality, but to their continued recurrence in the growth of each generation. Their mastery presents the fewest difficulties to the child mind, and consequently involves the least increment.
At the same time these readings may be made fundamental in furthering the child's power of articulate speech. I remember the quickness with which a child of less than two years old, who was just beginning to talk, repeated the "wee, wee, wee" of a familiar nursery rhyme, because the accent of the little piggie's cry caught his attention. Any oft-repeated sound would have served as well, as was proved by his efforts to say the words "by and by," and to combine them with others of his own choosing. In both eases the imitative faculty was at work. The importance of reading aloud to very little children lies in providing something upon which this imitation may be exercised. When you reflect that it is by this means that children learn their grammatical or ungrammatical speech, you will appreciate the incalculable value of the training.
In addition to the sort of material just mentioned, there must be considered the vast body of folk-lore and fairy literature which has importance of another kind. Here, too, the effect on the habitual speech of the child will be in direct proportion to the excellence of the telling shown in the tale ; and a well told fairy tale has limitless possibilities. I remember a seven-year-old who had read and listened to a translation of the "Odyssey," who started out upon a version of one of the familiar stories in his own words, in which he referred to the fairy as the "heavenly goddess" after the manner of Homer. The importance of this incident lies in its illustration of the unconscious assimilation of a linguistic point of approach.
And all the while that the reading of literature does this for the young child on the side of articulate expression, it does far more in the way of familiarizing him with all sorts of facts of actual and imaginary experience. On both counts the experiment is worth the time and labor that it costs.