Friday, February 26, 2010

William Wordsworth's Words Worth Wrewreading

Once, I heard it said that children who see their parents read on a regular basis will, in turn, read more and perform better in school. I am often skeptical of the results of studies like this. It’s not that I disagree that children who read more will do better in school. Certain things go, naturally, hand in hand. I just question statements that try to pinpoint one exact cause for a given effect.

What begets what? Is it the reading that makes them perform well in school, or is it their school performance and natural intellect that makes them more apt to read in their spare time? Is this really because they see their parent(s) reading often or is it merely a symptom of a family more prone to intelligence? Do comic books count (because that’s mostly what I read in front of them)?

My oldest son started reading overnight one day. “Dad, why do you have a game on your phone called Sex Jokes?” I knew then there was no turning back, and from that point on, he began surprising me with new facts that he had read on his own.

His younger brother, who seemingly alternates between the “Me too” phase and the “I want to do the exact opposite of you” phase (unpredictably I might add), followed suit and began wanting to go on his own fact finding missions through book after book. His reading skills have picked up considerably since.

While both are still at a beginning reading level, they sit down with a book without being prompted to do so at least once a day. But, prior to their being confident enough to pick up a book without immediately shoving it in my face (the universal non-verbal cue that they want you to read it to them), I didn’t read in front of them. I hadn’t the time. I read them whatever Dr. Seuss book they wanted and if I had something to read on my own it was done after they were in bed or during the sparse moments of quiet time sprinkled throughout a day in a home with young children. Yes, that does mean what you’re thinking: when I was on the toilet.

Now, I read in front of them far more often and have been reminded of William Wordsworth’s line, “The child is father of the Man.” I find myself following their lead as I sit on the couch with a (comic) book of my own and they sit silently gazing at the pages they’ve selected.

Honestly, I haven’t read this much in years. In fact, I have a stack of books. I purchase them ahead of time and know that I’ll get to this one after I read those other two. I haven’t had a reading list like this since I graduated from college. Plus, in the meantime, there are the several Marvel comics I subscribe to being delivered. I actually read as a break from reading. At one point in my life, I’d have thought this an affliction requiring medication.

At some point in a day when all four of us are together at home (which doesn’t happen as often as we’d like), we may all be reading independently. My wife powers through the most volume as she is the fastest reader. I secretly suspect she really has the Cliff Notes versions of every book she picks up, that’s how jealous I am of her ability. And just like that we have become a reading family. Not through any gimmick that tricked our children into having a subconscious desire to read. It just happened.

My oldest son deserves the credit for his pioneering spirit, I suppose. His thirst for knowledge brought him to new frontiers. It encouraged his brother to follow. My wife was always more of a reader than I, but now she has time to do it out in the open as well. Watching all this made me double back and take a closer look at the territory I’d already walked through and left untouched long ago, and I’m happier for it.

“So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The child is father of the Man;”

- William Wordsworth “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”

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