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When To Read To Children

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

It frequently happens that parents find themselves wholly uncertain as to the best times for reading, either to the children or by the children themselves. In their anxiety to plan the child's day so that it shall include the necessary hours of rest, the needful hours of outdoor play, the necessary lesson time, both that spent in school and that spent in the preparation of school work, they find that there is no room for reading. A child of naturally bookish tastes will find his own way out of the difficulty, if he has to read while he is supposed to be dressing, or if he has to curtail his exercise. But the child who cares little for books will not take this way out, will contentedly accept the routine laid down for him, and miss the joys of the reading habit. This is a real and vital defect in the schedule under which most children are educated.

Fortunately, the remedy is a simple one, and not far to seek. Have many books lying around, where the children can at all times find them, and insist that at the odd moments, such as the half hour before dinner, the intervals between play and meals, and the like, the child occupy himself with a book of some sort. Often such occupation will bridge the gulf between two difficult problems—the restlessness and mischief which is the result of idleness, and the development of a valuable habit.

This browsing, which the child must do for himself, is naturally a supplementary part of the home reading aloud. Mothers should remember that children will often enjoy being read to, it will nOt take the pains to read by themselves. Where such a tendency appears, it indicates an intellectual laziness which must be checked at once. The best evidence that the home reading aloud has taken its rightful place is that the child is eager to read by himself, or to re-read the stories which have been read to him.

There are other ends to be served by browsing about among books of various character. The mere reading of titles will often serve to develop curiosity and interest. A child who comes across the name of Napoleon, let us say, blazoned with the imperial crest on the back of an imposing volume, may well be led to ask questions, to look for pictures, and to begin an interest in a real and important historical study.

It is here that the importance of pictures shows itself. Many a child has opened a book, stopped to gaze at the pictures, and 'then turned to the text in the hope of finding an explanation of the thing which has caught his attention. He may or may not find it ; but in the search he is likely to find something of equal interest.

The practical importance of this is plain. It is the best aid in the world to have books about where the growing child can see them and see them handled, can spell out their titles, and pore over their pictures. For this reason the bookcases cleverly concealed behind curtains or doors are negligible in the child's development: It means nothing to him to be told that in back of the rose or blue or crimson screen are books; they do not beckon enticingly to him as he prowls aimlessly around the room, and challenge his attention. Even a glass door, which all too often sticks discouragingly to its frame, is too great a barrier to set up between a child and the family library. The frequent handling of books, even before the mechanical process of reading has been mastered, is one of the great aids to a child's progress.

There is another little understood aid to developing the power of a child to read independently, which may well be put into practice by the mother who sets apart a special time in the day to read to her children. As every such mother knows, it is no fun to listen to a story if you are obliged to sit decorously in a chair, or on the floor at a distance from the scene of action. There are two places that divide the honors in charm, one actually on the mother's lap, where you can see the printed page, even though the little black figures mean nothing to you, and the other on the arm of her chair, where you can swing your legs in manly fashion if you feel like it, and where you, too, can peep over her shoulder at the exciting points.

This is where a wise mother will suggest that the child follow her as she reads, especially the youngster who has partly mastered the art of reading, but who stumbles over the polysyllables. A paper cutter, which trails over the page, helps to guide the child who follows the words, and without special effort the youngster learns to recognize words as they occur, and acquires the materials for guessing correctly in his own reading. It is not necessary to insist too closely on attention to the text—for, of course, the exciting passages cannot be interfered with !—but a measure of attention is worth demanding. To a very little child, indeed, this process enhances the magic of the printed page, and proves the most effective stimulus to active reading..

And finally, above all things, plan for a special time at which the children shall be free to read as they please, a time when they need not be driven out of the house to play, when they need not run and race and romp, when some quiet occupation is essential, and when reading is the natural choice. At this time you may select several promising books, and let the child choose from them that which suits him best, or you may leave him free to explore the bookshelves' Most of all, however, give him a time when he can comfortably read without interruption, and so lay the foundation for a lifelong habit.

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