MamaLA: The Need to Read

Find the time to get buried in books with your young ones

Yesterday was World Read Aloud Day, an annual event promoted by LitWorld, an international non-profit advocacy group that encourages global literacy. To commemorate, Soraya’s son’s school celebrated the birthday of beloved children’s author, Theodore Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. Parents were invited to bring blankets, snacks, and their favorite Cat in the Hat books to read along with their second graders. Hayden chose Green Eggs and Ham, Soraya opted for Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, and over a snack of beef jerky and doughnut holes (contraband courtesy of some parents), Hayden and his buddies took turns reading aloud: “There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.”  

Soraya and Yasmine started reading to their children during infancy and continue the nightly bedtime ritual with their toddlers and young ones. It is a treasured time of snuggling and wonder-filled questions about characters and plot points. Of course, there are those nights when the routine gets short-changed, and the parents reach for Ezra Keats’ beautifully illustrated but blissfully short book, The Snowy Day, but that’s rare.

Once the kids get to be about 10, though, there’s homework and extracurricular activities to consider, and those cuddly moments together seem fewer and far between. But research has shown that reading well into the middle-school years is equally important, because a child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his or her listening level until about the eighth grade, according to author Jim Trelease, who wrote The Read-Aloud Handbook, based on studies by Dr. Thomas G. Sticht.

As parents today, we face a few more challenges in getting our kids to read more. There are the obvious distractions of computers and tablets, but there is even a push within the public school system’s Common Core Standards to move toward  more nonfiction works and extensive analysis. But moving away from literature seems like a recipe for turning many kids off of reading by making it an activity less for pleasure than for learning (even if, at some point, those two goals needn’t be mutually exclusive). But this is why it’s even more important to promote a love of reading at home.

How to do that? Well, as mentioned, starting early is key, as is setting a good example—Soraya and Jasmine grew up with a mama who was a genuine bibliophile, which inspired their own passion. (Soraya even created her own version of the Dewey Decimal System, taping small pieces of paper with the author’s last name and the book’s genre on the bottom spines of her personal library.) It’s also important to key into books on topics that the kids might already be interested in. For boys especially, Soraya and Yasmine have found that comic books or stories about superheroes or sports are especially effective. Hayden (age 8) is loving Mike Lupica and Fred Bowen’s fiction, as well as biographies like Pelé, while Lila (5) and Soraya just finished Little House in the Big Woods, which her mom also devoured as a kid. Siena (12) is about to start The Ruby in the Smoke series by Philip Pullman.  

If all else fails, it never hurts to create a system of rewards—like a trip to the ice cream store or some banked screen time as a treat in exchange for some time spent reading. Hopefully, someday, reading will be a treat all its own.

With seven children ranging in age from nine months to seventeen years between them, sisters and bloggers Yasmine Delawari Johnson and Soraya Delawari Dancsecs are experts at parenting in L.A. They take a break from PTA board meetings, cooking, and producing films to blog at CityThink each Thursday.