Ok. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic.
But books do save my sanity.
The kids and I go to the library every week and we borrow 10-12 books of their choosing. Some books capture their attention more than others but we read them all. (Although we have 3 copies of “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown, #4 still insists on reading at the library and borrowing it.)
Before #3 goes to school in the afternoon, while lunch is in the oven, we read. #5 normally nurses or sleeps while #3 and #4 sit next to me and hand me book after book. After school, while dad is prepping dinner, the same thing happens but now #2 has also joined my little audience. It’s become a routine. Library books in the day and their own books at bedtime.
How have books saved my sanity? Reading to my children calms them down and allows me a few minutes to sit and be present with them. Books inspire creative endeavours. For example, just recently we have been reading Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems. We’ve read this book dozens of times in the last year but it’s amazing how another read-through can spark an idea in the kids. #2 decided she wanted to make a little book that mimicked the illustration style in the book. The cartoon illustrations in the book are placed on top of black and white photos of backdrops in New York City. She’s currently mapping out her story and what type of photos she’d like to take for her backgrounds. Then she wants to draw her characters on paper and glue them onto the photos. This has kept her busy for the last few days. #3 wants to dramatize the story and has already cast the entire family into various roles (#4 is thrilled with her part as the teacher, though she is taking some artistic license with the character – she thinks she can boss her sisters around throughout the entire story when in fact she just has to mediate a conflict).
#1 and #2 love reading now. I’ve never pressured them into learning how to read because I’ve seen how forcing a child to sound out a word when they’re not ready just leads to frustration and tears (and I’m not talking about the child!). The result: they never want to try it again. I now leave books all over the house at various reading levels and I have found that the kids pick them up without any prompting from me. I don’t believe that there is a magical age children should be reading and writing by. I take my cues from them. When #2 was home last year, #3 wanted to master recognizing her numbers and letters just by copying her sister. #2 was obsessed with this book. She loved how letters were used to create images and objects and how different typefaces changed the shape of a letter. Each time she didn’t recognize a letter, I would “sound” the letter out for her and she would create a little picture only using that letter. #3 would become interested and would start identifying letters even in script form. We would construct bumblebees out of ‘B’ and ‘b’ and fairies out of ‘F’ and ‘f.’ On their own, they began to associate the letters and their respective sounds. We also have this large poster in our house with which the kids love to sing their ABCs.
Books are great jumping off points for conversations and introductions to new perspectives, ideas, and experiences. I read at least 3 books at a time. There is one on my bedside table, one on the coffee table, and one in the basement. I pick them up whenever I have a few minutes and read as much as I can. Being at home, I would often find that conversations with my husband started sounding the same when he asked me about my day: all about the kids. I missed learning new things and just having an opinion about something. In winter especially I tend to forget there is a world out there with other people in it. (I am currently reading this book, this book, and this book.) Passion for reading is infectious. The kids see me read and follow suit…even if it’s them grabbing any book and “reading” through making up the story and mimicking how I read.
Lately, they’ve been reading a lot to each other. For example, last night Ever-Patient went out to play volleyball. I was exhausted and fell asleep on the couch with #5. I woke up in a panic not knowing how long I had dozed off for and was uneasy because the house was just a little too quiet. I went upstairs to find the kids all cuddled in #3’s bed while #1 was reading books to the rest of them. It was beautiful. I watched for awhile and left them before they could see or hear me.
I crept back downstairs and curled up on the couch and started reading a book.