Interview on Traditions in Literacy: Storytime

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald

In my Twitter research adventures, I had been having some difficulty tracking down a mom who is a literary advocate and lover of books, willing to share personal information pertaining to the reading habits of herself and her kids.

So, I could decided to reach out through a means somewhat off the beaten path for me,  through Circle on Moms on Facebook. (I say, “off the beaten path” I am not yet a parent myself. ) I suppose with so many odd people being online these days, moms are extremely protective and cautious of who they connect with on the internet, particularly so when pertaining to their children. This is completely understandable, and I’m sure I would be hesitant to share information about my kids with a total stranger, even a relatively safe-looking non-insane stranger. However, I was extremely happy to have connected with Michelle Wagner, a Tennessee resident and mother to a daughter, Nyah who is nearly 2,  and son, Asher, who is still in the “baby phase,” not yet a toddler.

I arranged to conduct an interview with Michelle via e-mail to dig around and see what kinds of traditions were carried on in her family, regarding books and reading, and how these practices and attitudes have influenced Michelle, now a parent herself.

I have to confess, I was somewhat apprehensive at the prospect of someone who was not well acquainted with me, sharing personal information so freely about growing up–and family life in their home. But I was surprised at Michelle’s candor, openness, and eagerness to share with me. We seemed to connect relatively easily and discovered that we are actually quite close in age, myself having recently turned 30, and Michelle being 32.

Wagner was home-schooled along with her six other siblings, (of which she is the oldest) provided a rich environment for her love of books and reading to root deeply.

To open up the dialogue of how books came to be something held with a fond sentiment, Wager shared how she recalls the “once-a-month” trips to the library with her mom, Linda, and siblings, as part of her home-school curriculum. It was not uncommon to return home together with as many as 30 books.

“There were literally piles of books,” she said.

Linda also had a dedicated time, every day after lunch, in which she would read to Wager and her siblings. In the comfort of their home, with a nap to follow to story, the children would all gather round and attentively listen as Linda read the story. At night, before bedtime, every evening Wagner’s father, Stan, (who she affectionately refers to as “Pappa”) would spend time quality time reading a story. Usually, the book of choice would be one from the Narnia series, by C.S. Lewis. Occasionally, Wagner’s father would play story-tapes in lieu of reading from a book.

The idea behind the times of family reading was to create an activity around which to spend quality time together without distraction. Wagner shared how, for the majority of her time growing up, her family didn’t have a television or a computer; her parents were both advocates of reading as opposed to video games, or more technological forms of recreation.  

Now, with two children of her own today, Wager carries on the legacy of initiating quality time through reading to her kids from favorite books. Every week, Wagner takes her daughter Nyah to the library to browse through the floor-to-ceiling collections, pick out books of her own choosing, and enjoy a story hour in a group setting.

At home, Wagner said that Nyah likes to pick a book of her own choosing for story time, turn its pages, and hold it as mom is reading.

Answering my question of her feelings regarding reading to a child through a Kindle, Wagner said that because Nyah is so tactile, she needs to liberty to be able to interact freely and handle a book. She further shared that, since, Kindles are only a reflection of the book, in no way do they come close to offering the rich experience that a real book holds.

She said, “The physical aspect of holding a book while reading to your child, and letting them participate, is something that e-readers can’t hold a candle to.”

Now a grandmom, Linda created a special book for Nyah (prior to Asher’s birth) using Blurb.com. Linda uploaded photos of the family and included lyrics to a song that she had made up just for Nyah. Michelle shared how, for Nyah, being able to hold the book in her hands makes a big difference in her interest and being able to connect with it as a “real” object.

Wagner shared how she deeply enjoyed the ritual of having a story read to her every evening by her father, and wanted to continue on in the practice. At first Wager’s husband, Tim, a computer programmer, thought the idea of reading every night was a bit of a challenge with his taxing work schedule, but eventually, he conceded. Wagner shared how, either she or Tim will read to Nyah and Asher every evening. The young parents are committed to spending quality time with their kids, and believe that reading is also important for the development of language skills, so they make sure to practice consistency, just as Wagner’s parents did with her.

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