I daresay it is common knowledge that reading to your children is important. A quick Google search can point you towards many articles boasting how early reading leads to improved speech development and academic success later in life. This is all wonderful and excellent, but what about the benefits for right here and right now? Instant gratification if you will? Well, reading to your toddler does indeed have a few instant benefits.
1. The Tantrum Buster
This is my favorite benefit of reading, although I use this theory to apply to oral stories as well.
A few months ago, my three year old was due for a haircut. He was definitely not in the mood for it. On the drive over to the salon, he started to cry because "it was going to hurt." He's never been hurt at a salon but he was afraid the scissors would hurt. Instead of trying to rationalize with him, I decided to try a new approach. I didn't try to deny his fears. His fears were real even though they weren't based in truth; he was afraid.
Instead, I said, "I'm going to tell you a story." And I did. I told him an elaborate story about a kitten who played baseball but kept striking out because his fur was too long and he couldn't see. Kitty's dad took him to the barber to get his fur trimmed; after that, Kitty could see much better and didn't strike out in baseball. Moral of the story: cut your hair/fur. My 3 year old perked right up and started jabbering away about baseball. Fast forward to inside the salon at the hair washing station. He started to tense up, and I gently reminded him: "Remember Kitty got a hair cut? But first Kitty had to get his fur washed? This is just like that." Instantly, I saw his little body relax and he softly said, "Oh, Yeah, just like Kitty."
He made it through his shampoo and hair cut and I was amazed. It was the calmest he had ever been during a hair cut. He actually seemed to enjoy it! I give full credit to my new technique of story telling instead of lecturing or rationalizing. His mind is too young and immature to fully comprehend rationalizing... but a story - he can definitely understand a story. I veiled my lesson to him in a fun and engaging way, and that made all the difference.
I have used this method a lot since that first moment. I have used several times during teaching moments to help diffuse a tantrum, I have used it as distractions for hangry toddlers when food was delayed or traffic made a car trip longer, and I have used it to illustrate the importance of sharing with siblings.
Sometimes our days are perfect: everyone gets along, tantrums don't arise, naptimes are peaceful, parents are patient, no sudden changes to the daily schedule, laundry might even get folded and *gasp* put away.
Sometimes, though, chaos happens. Siblings quarrel, tantrums happen, naptime is sabotaged, and you're wearing the toddlers' lunch on your shirt. But that is 100% okay. I repeat: it is okay that every day is not picture perfect. But this is what matters: it matters to your children that they see your unconditional love for them no matter what. Because truly nothing else matters. They spilled their soup? Smeared red paint on the walls? Yes those things are frustrating but how we react to those things says more about us than we might even know. We might lose our patience and be frustrated (because I for sure do not like to clean ground up gold fish out of carpets 4x in one day), but the key to all of this is what we do after: do we take the necessary steps to show our children that they are loved no matter what? This can be manifested in a hug or cuddle or words of affirmation.
One thing I do is turn to books. After a particularly rough day or a visit from Mr. Grumpy Pants, I turn to books. Nothing seems to ease tension than a cuddle with a warm cozy blanket and a stack of books. This rekindles our relationship and lets my children know "Mama loves you." The physical closeness and the cuddliness paired with their favorite books is a sure fire way to let them know that "yes, everything is okay and I am loved."
3. Increases attention, creativity, and enriches play time
Some days my toddlers can seem cool, calm, and collected. Some days they flit from toy toy and activity to activity. On these days, I use reading to help them calm down and regain some focus. Usually, for my boys, a big book about trucks can capture their attention long enough to help them re-center.
Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs are two big favorite here as well. The awesome thing about these is that they very easily lend themselves to dramatic play. What's more fun than stomping around pretending to blow down straw houses?
With one little book, I've now captured the boys' attention long enough to read the story and then they've spent some energy acting it out. Win win!
Another notable benefit of reading is how it factors into routine. I did not invent the concept of bedtime stories. Far from it. In fact, I remember my dad reading to me before bed. I just want to draw attention to how important it is. Yes, it's fostering a love of reading, it's creating a bonding moment, but it also is helping establish a good routine. Most children thrive on routines. It is stability. Children can handle a lot of "unpleasant" life moments (like bedtime) when they know its coming. No one likes to be jolted out of a favorite activity. My older toddler definitely craves routine. He needs lots of prepping for big changes. One way I help establish a good nighttime routine for him is reading.
He knows bedtime is coming when we do jammies and books in bed. But the notion of bedtime is easier for him when its preceded by one of his favorite activities: reading together. In our family, bedtime stories are typically done by Daddy. A few months ago, our schedule changed, and it became my job to get both boys to sleep. Such a simple change caused a big ripple, and our boy took awhile to get used to this change. We worked to change things so that Daddy can still read the bedtime stories when its possible, and I can see how this routine affects my boy.
How do stories and books play a role in your lives?
Dear Internet Friend,
We "met" in an online group dedicated to our due dates. For nine months we were virtual buddies going through the crazy rollercoaster of pregnancy. We shared many "Is this normal" questions or "what should I do if" scenarios. It's funny how close you can get to someone you've never met. We were bonded by our callings to become mothers, a special sisterhood. Now our "babies" are actually more toddlers and our daily communications have dramatically slowed down, but I want to thank you for the support during one of lives most special (yet terrifying) times. The horrible morning sickness was slightly easier to get through knowing it was normal and somewhere was another mama going through the same thing. Misery loves company? Yes. But I believe it's more than that. Motherhood is the point of entry into a very sacred sisterhood, and finding those sisters is very special indeed. It's like finding someone who not only can sympathize but can empathize, and that is a very big distinction.
I hope you and your bundle of joy are doing well.
Here is the 7th letter in my 30-letter challenge. This one is supposed to be to an ex-boyfriend or ex-crush. Kind of an interesting letter. This is one of those letters that you are supposed to write and then burn or shred without ever sending.
Dear Former Crush,
You know who you are but most people reading this might assume I’m talking about someone else. Well, I’m writing to you.
We never dated but I liked you for over a year. You liked me too. In a lot of ways, I owe you a thank you. I met you when I was going through a rough patch in my life. Through our friendship, parts of me could be healed. But, I never could figure out why you refused to date me even though you liked me. Well, I finally know now. I was waiting for my husband to come. Had I been dating you, I would not have been free to date my husband when I first met him.
It hurt my feelings that you couldn’t take the risk by dating me. But the pain you caused me only made me appreciate my husband more. The pain is long since gone and I have no embittered feelings toward you. I have a genuine gratitude to you.
Everything happens for a reason. You were there as a friend for me for so long. I enjoyed our friendship. I learned a lot and grew as a person.
You have a girlfriend now and I’m happy that you found someone that you can commit to.
In a bizarre way, I needed to know you before I could meet my husband. I hope that you have found that same happiness with your girlfriend.
Here is the sixth letter in my 30-day letter challenge.
I saw you when we went out to eat dinner at the Warsaw Inn. We were sitting at a table for four near the middle. You were sitting alone by the wall. You had a glass of red wine pour neatly to the right of your plate. I don’t know why I remember the part about the red wine. I guess it made me think that you were enjoying your dinner. You don’t have red wine if you plan on scarfing down your meal.
But the thing I remember most about you was not your wine. No, it was your sadness that I remember most. There was such genuine sorrow written on the wrinkles of your face. We thought maybe you used to come here regularly with your wife, that maybe the Warsaw Inn was “your spot” with her. We thought maybe that she died and you continue to frequent your favorite spots to keep your wife’s spirit alive.
Of course, I don’t know if you were married, or ever were for that matter. All I know is that the sadness was there. I hope that your sadness will fade. I hope that you can be happy again.
I’ll probably never see you again but in the brief time that I saw you eating dinner with your red wine, you taught me a lesson. Cherish the time you’ve got. Cherish your loved ones. Love your spouse. Never take anyone for granted. I hope you find peace from whatever was troubling you.
May God bless you and keep you.
Here is the fifth letter in the 30-day letter challenge. This one is supposed to be to “my dreams.” How do you write a letter to your dreams? Does it mean dreams as in aspirations or dreams as in nightly REM cycle dreams? I don’t know. Well, I’ll guess I start by saying that I have very unusual yet vivid REM-type dreams. I try to analyze them. In the summer after seventh grade, I had intense dreams all summer long. I dub it “the summer of the dreams.” Here are a few examples.
<>1.2.In 4th grade, I had a dream that St. Nicholas saved my life. He told me to wake up so I didn’t die. So, I woke up. One of my loose teeth had fallen out in the night and was loose in my mouth. Later, that day, I realized it was the feast of St. Nicholas. So… my theory? I had a dream that told me to wake up so I didn’t choke on my tooth??? Sounds crazy. Maybe it is. But that’s how it happened so judge the facts for yourself.
Anyway, I’ll start my letter. I’ll go with the aspiration type dreams.
I’ve always been a dreamer. For as long as I can remember. Daydreamer fits me perfectly. I think one of the reasons why I’m never bored is that I’m such a good day dreamer.
You’ve always given me great aspirations to work towards so thanks! Sometimes I think my dreams are too unattainable, but the challenge is kind of fun…. Sometimes its not fun, but for the most part it is.
One of my favorite poems has to do with dreams so I’ll share:
what if you slept?
and what if
in your sleep you dreamed?
and what if
in your dream you went to heaven
and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower?
and what if when you woke up
you had that flower in your hand?
ah, what then?
Here is the fourth letter in the 30-day letter challenge. This one is dedicated to my sibling.
When we were little, we would fight everyday. Usually over the “rules” of some game we invented. Yet, even though we would fight, we were still best friends at the end of the day. After all, in a world of grown-ups, we were the only ones who could still fit under the dining room table. But, one day at Grandma’s we had an especially big fight. Probably over the rules of some game. I was five and said the worst thing I ever said to you. I said, “I wish we weren’t sisters.” Looking back, it was the worst thing I ever said…. I regret that I said it.
My life would be so boring (but probably less mischievous… well…. maybe not haha) without you! I’m sorry I said those words so long ago, but the truth is that I’m so glad you’re my sister!
Whenever we hang out and have “brother day” I always have so much fun. You get me. Our twin-ness is just awesome… remember the twin letter from Vienna? Haha. We’re so different and so exactly the same. It’s pretty much awesome.
Right now, you’re making French press coffee. I’m laughing at you because you’re using the nasty sponge to wipe your shirt….you probably made it more germy than it was worth. See, it’s things like that that make me laugh.
I like so many things about the “real” you…. You’re just as crazy as me. You like dancing to “It Makes Me Ill.” You like crazy harebrained ideas.
Basically, I know the real you. And I love the real you.
.Here is another letter in the 30-day letter challenge. This one is to my parents.
I don’t know where to begin so I’m just starting here: I’d be on the street if it wasn’t for you. You both are so generous. You have given me so much… I don’t mean material things either. Through your generosity, you’ve given me lessons. How to be. How to love. How to be selfless. How to do the right thing, even when it hurts.
Mama, you’ve taught me that a mother eats the burnt half of the bagel and shares the good half with her daughter. You’ve taught me that a mother selflessly gives her time and efforts for others. I learned that a mother better have her act together and know where everything is. You’ve walked countless miles holding my stuff. It’s my turn now to cart stuff around the city, the zoo, the museum, Europe. I know how to be a woman because of you. I hope that one day I can be just as good a mother as you.
Daddy, you’ve taught me to be proud of your roots. You taught that you stand behind family no matter what. You’ve taught me that it’s okay to take “short cuts” if it means you really get to take the long, scenic root. You showed me that it’s okay to leave the bed unmade for the day… as long as you make it sometimes. I double and triple check things because of you – and it’s saved me many, many times!!
I guess what I’m saying is that I’m proud to be your daughter. I am who I am because of you.
Thank you for everything you do. You’ve given me so much, but again, the lessons you’ve taught are priceless.
I love you.
Dear Crush aka My Husband,
I love the way you make me coffee each morning.
I love the way you laugh.
I love how you always win when we wrestle.
I love your ocean eyes.
I love your generous spirit, your loving soul.
I love the way you always strive to be the best person you can be.
I love your gentleness, your goofiness, your creativeness.
I love your sleepy eyes when you first wake up.
I love how you comfort me when I'm sad, how you cheer me up when I need to laugh.
I love how you like to make concoctions in the kitchen.
I love your sense of adventure, your sense of gratitude, your appreciation for nature.
I love the way you "go green."
I love dancing in the living room with you.
I love our dates and our field trips.
I love gazing into your eyes.
I love when you hold me, kiss me.
I love the way you looked at me as you recited your vows.
I love your smiley eyes.
I love how you love me.
I love everything about you.
But most of all, I love YOU.
30 Day Letter Challenge:
To My Best Friend,
I heard a quote once that "A best friend is like a four leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have." How true that is! Hard to find? Yep, you were hard to find. It took me twenty years and a trip to Austria to find you. Lucky to have? Beyond belief! You've saved my life in countless ways - literally and metaphorically. You've saved me numerous times on a mountain, dug me out of snow-filled hole when my foot got stuck, but you've always saved me metaphorically. You've comforted me, wiped away my tears. You've brought more smiles to my lips than anyone. You've brought more peace to mind than anyone else could. You've guided me, taught me valuable lessons, and shown me true love. You've allowed me to be who I really am. You brought the "real me" back to life.
You are simply amazing. Without you, my path would surely be lost. Without you, I would not be this person who I am today.
I owe you gratitude. I am indebted to you for your friendship. You have always been generous and giving. The first time we met, you were helping others. The first time we traveled about Munich together, you bought me a coffee simply "just because."
The best way to thank you is to show you the kindness and love and friendship that you have shown me. I am always here for you.
Thank you, my friend.
Day 1) Your best friend
Day 2) Your crush
Day 3) Your parents
Day 4) Your siblings
Day 5) Your dreams
Day 6) A stranger
Day 7) Your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/love/crush
Day 8) Your favorite internet friend
Day 9) Someone you wish you could meet
Day 10) Someone you don't talk to as much as you'd like
Day 11) A deceased person you wish you could talk to
Day 12) The person you hate most/has caused
you a lot of pain
Day 13) Someone you wish could forgive you
Day 14) Someone you've drifted away from
Day 15) The person you miss the most
Day 16) Someone that's not in your state/country
Day 17) Someone from your childhood
Day 18) The person that you wish you could be
Day 19) Someone that pesters your mind - good or bad
Day 20) The one that broke your heart the hardest
Day 21) Someone you judged by their first impression
Day 22) Someone you want to give a second chance to
Day 23) The last person you kissed
Day 24) The person that gave you your favorite memory
Day 25) The person that you know who is going
through the worst of times
Day 26) The last person you made a pinky promise to
Day 27) The friendliest person you knew for only one day
Day 28) Someone that changed your life
Day 29) The person that you want to tell everything to,
but are to afraid to
Day 30) Your reflection in the mirror
Wife & Mama with a passion for peaceful parenting, natural living, homeschooling... and my daily café au lait.