Reading is important. Of course it is. If you didn’t know how to read, you’d be staring at these words with the same blank look you probably have when you pop open the hood of your car to deal with an engine problem. By the way, you can stop looking for that big ON/OFF miracle switch. It’s not there.
It’s important to read to your kids, too. I think there’s a lot of truth to the belief that more than anything else, reading to your kids can help build their verbal and comprehension skills and instill in them a desire for knowledge. A desire that, hopefully, will lead to them eventually getting a full-ride scholarship to college one day. Because, let’s be honest, with college still a minimum of 15 years away for my daughters, all of the, ahem, “saving” we are doing now for college will probably cover little more than a week in a dorm by the time Maddo and Little Sis are ready to pledge the Tri-Delt sorority at my alma mater, Washington State.
And it seems like dads, in particular, take on the reading the duties around the house. It gives you a chance to bond and have some fun with your kids while mom sneaks upstairs to crack open a bottle of wine, put her head in her hands, and sob to herself over how chasing her brood around the living room has sapped her of her youth and looks, all the while wondering why she didn’t run off with that guy from spring break in Cancun in 1995 whom she still swears was George Clooney.
But, I digress.
I do the reading to daughters in our house. My wife, The Thoroughly Awesome Ms. Crums, buys the books, but I’m the one who sits between Maddo and Little Sis every night and regales them with the hilarious and fantastical tales of the likes of Aladdin, Snow White, The Cat In The Hat and Curious George. Sometimes, I try to mix things up and sneak in something more adult. Like this week, when I cracked open “The Passage Of Power”, Robert Caro’s 600-page fourth biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was received about as well as you would expect a three-year-old to react to a tale of LBJ’s political acumen.
“The debate occurred on July 1. On July 2, it passed the House. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law that evening–eight days before the Republican National Convention, and the national presidential season, opened”
“Daddy, I don’t like this! Read “The Lion King!”
Which is what I did. For what had to be the 136th time. I told, once again, the tale of Simba, his father Mufasa, and his nefarious uncle Scar (And as an aside, “Scar”? Has there ever been a good guy anywhere in history named “Scar”? Like Scar would be the hero of this tale?)
Now, as all parents know, when you’ve read the same story over and over for years, you get tired of it. You get bored and, sometimes, you fall asleep in the middle of reading, like I did a couple of weeks ago during Frog and Toad. You need to mix things up a bit so that you can 1) Still be a good parent by reading to your kid, and 2) Quickly get out of reading so that you can go to sleep.
Which is why I’ve developed a strategy called “First-Sentence Stories,” and it works like this.
You pick up your kids’ book. And you read just the first sentence of every paragraph.
I suggest you try it. Really. Trust me, you’re not going to be depriving your kids of a rich literary experience by doing this. If anything, you can get through more stories and keep make your young ones happier than they would be with just one bedtime story.
Take this, for an example:
Mufasa had warned his son Simba not to venture outside the Pride Lands. “It’s creepy,” said Nala as they walked up to a huge elephant skull. “Yeah,” Simba replied. “Isn’t it great?”
Just then, Zasu the bird caught up with them. “We’re beyond the boundary of the Pride Lands,” he told Simba. “We are in danger.”
Then, from the shadows, they heard voices. “Well, well, well,” said Shenzi the hyena. “What have we got here?” The future king!” Simba declared proudly.
The hyenas were unimpressed. At first, Simba didn’t think the hyenas could harm him. Simba, Nala and Zasu made a break for it. “Did we lose ‘em?” Nala asked Simba, panting. “I think so,” Simba replied.
But Zasu was missing!
Before long, the hyenas had the young lions cornered. Suddenly, Mufasa leaped out of the shadows. Simba could not look his father in the eye after what had happened. “Simba, I’m very disappointed in you,” Mufasa said when they had gotten back home
Simba felt terrible, and he began to cry. Mufasa looked down at his son. “I’m only brave when I have to be,” he explained.
Simba still had a few things to learn about being a king.
Now, granted, there are a couple of very slight circumstances that might not jibe in that “story.” But go back and read it again…And read the original, too. A good 98% of the story is right there, and your child will get the jist of it.
Read your stories this way and you’ll get through three or four books a night in the time it would normally take you to finish up one. Your kids will be none the wiser, but not in a bad way.
And you’ll be able to hit the sack earlier, too. It’s a win-win situation.