Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Reading (and music) are fundamental

My friend Jana was blogging about her niece Emmy this morning, and it got me thinking about the roles of reading and music in a child's life.

I honestly believe that children are more likely to be interested in books and become life-long readers when they have people in their lives to set a good example. People who read and share the joy of a new book with them. People who buy them new books just because, and encourage them to visit the library and read as much as possible.

This is not the case with the children upstairs from me. There, the TV goes on as soon as they roll out of bed and the only time it goes off is when all parties have left the premises. Rather than sitting at the kitchen table to complete homework, they sit in front of the TV, where their attention is focused more on the television than on what they're *supposed* to be doing. I won't say I never did homework in front of the TV, but I can honestly say it was a rare occasion—so much so that I found it impossible to concentrate in college if my roommate had the TV on. But what can one expect when the kids only emulate their parents? Granted, their mom tries to get them to read at least a half hour every day in compliance with school requests, but again -- the TV stays on and Mom rarely ever reads anything herself during that time. Dad is even worse. I swear I've never known him to read so much as the TV guide.

It’s a completely different story with my nieces. Elizabeth, for example, was talking early, and the nurse at both her one-year and two-year check up was amazed at her language skills, especially that she could talk in complete sentences at age two, and knew words few her age can use. I believe it's a matter of how you talk to a child (complete sentences, slow and clear enunciation, and no "baby talk"), as well as the reading habits you instill in them from an early age. I'm the aunt who buys books, or gift cards for B&N for older kids. We were reading to Liz from the time she was a few months old and she has always loved reading and English class. She's also taking French this year, which you KNOW makes her auntie with a degree in both languages very proud.

Her sister Carolyn is quite similar. Carolyn has read everything she can get her hands on, from cereal boxes to the daily newspaper, since she learned her ABC’s. In fact, she skipped a couple grades in elementary school -- which causes a little tension between her and Liz at times, but usually they're very close. I'm sure they enjoy sharing books now as much as their Aunt Heidi and I did when we were growing up.

Sadly, I do not remember their mother reading much when we were younger. Sure, she would often tag along behind us to the library, but never carried home the stacks of books we did on a near weekly basis. Their parents were never much for reading, so I believe they've developed this habit from grandparents and aunts, and their brother seems to follow his dad's lead. He doesn't enjoy reading, or learning in general, at all. Granted he has some difficulties being ADHD, but I think if his dad worked with him on it more and set a better example, Jake might try harder to overcome these obstacles instead of using his ADHD as an excuse.

My other sister and her husband are raising my youngest niece to be a reader. She was enrolled in the Disney book club before she was born, loves her cloth books, and I've no doubt she'll be reading voraciously before she even starts kindergarten (Hmm...who does that remind me of?). Her father probably has as many books in storage as I do piled in boxes in the walk-in closet, and like mine, their bookshelves bulge with books of all kinds. There's no way their kids will escape being readers!

I also believe there is a correlation between music and reading. More than two decades of studies have proven this, yet music programs are the first to suffer during yearly rounds of budget cuts. Just once I'd like to see a school threaten to cut football, hockey, wrestling, baseball or basketball instead of strings, band, choir or even theater. It's not just listening to music, though, it's learning to appreciate different genres and, if possible, playing it. Music teaches discipline and increases memory. It can also cleanse the soul and mind, facilitating the learn process.

Some might think me biased, having played violin from 4 through grade 11, but it’s more than that. My broad knowledge and appreciation of music began at home, not in school – which is also where learning to read and love books should begin. My parents always had the radio or a music program on TV. Granted the televised music programs were the likes of Lawrence Welk and The Grand Olde Opry, but it was music. In the car, they listened to the oldies or country. My dad grew up during the Big Band era (one of my aunt’s even sang with Eddie Williams and His Orchestra), so he often listened to music from the 30s and 40s as well.

When we were little, my sisters and I were given a small, plastic record player (anyone remember those?!) and a stack of children’s records by our maternal grandmother. We used to play it so much we wore out more than a few of those vinyl discs. Only one or two have survived. Naturally, once we were old enough to have our own radio/cassette players, we began cultivating our own likes and interests, mostly “Top 40,” but by no means limited to it. And then we entered the school strings program and choirs where we were introduced to classical, gospel, jazz and show tunes. So much music we had never heard!

Looking back, I think maybe this is where the baby sister’s education faltered some, as she only pursued the cello for one year, the prerequisite band instrument one semester in 6th grade, and never joined choir once given the option to choose a music program. I think rather than letting kids decide whether or not to take music, they should decided which music program they would prefer. Perhaps if Baby Sis had been in choir, band or orchestra, she would have done better in her classes and stayed in school. I won’t say there was a complete lack of music in her life, but I think one can draw a direct correlation between that and her low reading skills.

Both reading and music need to be intrinsic parts of a child's life, and should not be limited to one genre. A variety of books and music genres are needed in order to promote a more rounded education. By instilling these values in children from an early age, we naturally grow young people who not only enjoy music, but who love to read and learn.


Jana said...

hehehe Heather! Glad I could be of assistance. ;-) I agree 100%. That's why I wish I could get Emmy to listen to something other than Shania. lol

Kate said...

Very interesting Heather, and I agree as well!

Heather said...

Thanks, Jana and Kate!

Jana, I'm sure she'll grow out of her Shania phase eventually - or at least be more open to something new. *g* Just keep trying to introduce her to new stuff, or take her to special events where different types of music might be played...small neighborhood or folk fests, or events geared especially for the younger set. Nothing wrong with liking country, but it doesn't hurt to be open to something new, either. *g*