Reading stories to children

Reading stories to children is a fascinating and wonderful experience. Children are captivated by stories. On a recent visit to a library with a friend and her two very active children aged 2 and 4, whilst Mum went off to return books and tapes and what have you, I sat and read stories for an hour and the only time the children got up do anything was when they went off to choose the next book. 

As an avid reader I am no stranger to losing myself in books, yet I wonder what it is about books and reading that so captivates children? It has little to do with the theatrics I indulge in (as much for my own amusement as theirs) when reading to children, because leaving the theatrics out, they don't budge.

I was for some years involved with a young boy who had grown up in an extremely dysfunctional family and who had learned to gain attention, albeit negative attention, by sweeping everything off the coffee table. Drinks, cigarettes and everything else hit the deck and the ensuing shouting and punishment was clearly craved attention by any other name. This boy was incapable of receiving kindness, positive affirmation or praise and presented something of a challenge to say the least. He was unapproachable, violent if touched, unloved and seemingly unreachable. He was without doubt the greatest heart breaking challenge I've ever faced. 

His world was a world in chaos and it seemed that somehow we needed to bring some kind of order into his world. Firstly we established a routine of activities he was interested in, unvaried in every session. Secondly, on his arrival in the building and whilst his attention was diverted, I would welcome him and touch him briefly on the shoulder as he removed his coat and hung it on the floor. Thirdly, we used affirmative language and praise whether he appeared to hear it or not. Lastly, in the reading session, he would choose a book and although he'd writhe and wriggle and be constantly on the move, he was clearly paying attention. In time, he came to choose the same book every session. At one session, with his mother present, she told him to choose another book to which he reacted violently and aggressively. In discussing this, I felt he was learning something about predictability. If I made a mistake in reading the book, he would correct me. He knew the book word for word and it had to be exactly right. I believe that book played an enormous part in reaching this lad. Over time his behavior began to change and eventually, in the reading session, I asked him if he'd like to hear the story of his day, to which he agreed. So we embarked on a new venture, the story of what **** and Keith had done that day. No writhing or wriggling, he gave those stories his undivided attention, clearly relating the story to the facts and correcting me if I missed a bit and adding bits himself. One of the greatest and most moving moments of my life was when he arrived one day, ran across the room, threw himself in my lap and hugged me. It doesn't get any better than that.


2011 Keith Lindsay-Cameron.