Received an interesting E-Mail from my friend Helena in response to my piece on reading out loud.
She told me that a therapist recommended reading and singing to children and avoiding audio books as much as possible. Apparently there is a different neurological process going on when a person is read to by a person, and which also affects the vocal cord vibrations of the listener.
This sounds like a very interesting research subject, and one on which there is very little information to be found.
Obvious differences between audio books and reading out loud are the physical ones. When my boys were younger, I read to them on the sofa, one on each side of me. Or at bedtime, we would all sit on my bed leaning against the headboard, legs stretched out. Spending time together, listening to a familiar voice. You can stop anytime to explain a word or turn of phrase, read an exceptionally funny passage over and over and look at the pictures together. It’s a ritual which encourages them to page through books on their own as well.
It’s possible that I read out loud so much because I was not good at playing with small children. Pushing toy cars around with them bored me silly as do most board games. So, when we were not outside doing something, we read. Mauri Kunnas was our number one choice for years and years. We have a sizeable collection of his books – most of them, except only perhaps the latest few – and they were all much loved and much read, as much fun for adults as they are for children.
Alexander started reading seriously on his own as a result of our reading rituals. I was reading the fifth Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) out loud in Finnish, but I read only every other night. Max was starting to get tired of this series (maybe he was too young to understand everything) and so every other evening I read from the book he wanted to hear. Of course, this was way too slow for Alexander – he wanted to know what happens next and, since patience is not one of his virtues, one day he took the book and began reading it from the beginning, got up to where I had stopped reading and, well, he just did not stop. He was eight at the time. After that, he asked for the Harry Potter books in German and began over from book one. This is also the reason why we own these books in three different languages. I read them in English, the Finnish translations were for reading out loud and Alexander read them I don’t know how many times in German.
When they got lazy about reading or starting a new book, I’d pick one up and begin reading it out loud after lunch or dinner, and then stop just when the story was particularly exciting, saying that if they wanted to know what happened next, they would have to read it themselves. More often than not, their hands would dart out faster than a striking rattlesnake and whoever grabbed it first would disappear into his room to read.
I'm not even sure how old they were when I stopped reading to my boys on a regular basis. Ralf
used to laugh at me and ask if I was planning on reading to them until they were 18. (Of course this was before I read Der Schwarm out loud to him...) And yes, I would gladly read to them if they
still wanted me to. But books have largely been replaced by computer games, YouTube, Facebook, smartphones, and the like.