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Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

The Joy of Reading Aloud

Anti-anxiety Tool of the Week: Swish Your Feet Around

A woman I worked with decades ago had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes as a child. During the time I knew her she suffered through several serious, occasionally life-threatening diabetic crises. However, no one could figure out why, so the crises continued. If anyone had a bona fide reason to whine--even scream and shout--it was her.

One day in the middle of all this she shared a cartoon with me, sent by a good friend. It showed two older women talking, one looking kind of despondent. The other one says to her, "You shouldn't wallow in self-pity. But it's OK to put your feet in it and swish them around a little."

I still smile when I think of that. I was also very impressed--I didn't think she had been wallowing at all, just reacting reasonably to a difficult situation. But she said that was why she loved her friend so much; the woman knew her well enough to know when to remind her about balance.

So, go ahead, swish your feet around a little--it's good for your balance.

The Joy of Reading Aloud

Writing about words last week pulled up a few of my most enchanted memories from childhood--the magical, if not mystical, experience of hearing stories read aloud.

My mom usually read to us at bedtime when we were younger. I think I can safely say we all loved that. But it was my dad, with his background in drama and his warm, expressive voice, who (at my mom's insistence) usually read when we gathered as a family.

I have particularly wonderful memories of hearing him read a chapter a night while we were on vacation, from whatever book we had chosen to share that summer. It was like taking a journey together, like discovering a new planet that was just for us, yet feeling safe and cozy, as if we were in a nest, as if we were being shepherded on our journey by a gracious and humorous guide. There were plenty of problems in my family, believe me. But those times of sharing stories are among my best memories.

Those of you who were around my dad for long were sure to hear him read any number of Winnie-the-Pooh stories (original versions by A.A. Milne only, thank you very much!) as well as various (mostly) true-life tales from Robert Fulghum's delightful books (e.g., It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It). And if I am remembering correctly, a grandchild and a niece both asked him to read aloud at their wedding receptions. That was really fun--and it brought us all together in unique ways.

Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo once said, "We let down our guard when someone we love is reading us a story. We exist together in a little patch of warmth and light."

As I was writing this post, I began to look for images of families reading aloud to use here. I found plenty of them--but for a long time I was unable to find any with a child older than, say, 7 or 8 years. Is this something families with older kids just don't do anymore? If that's true it's very sad.

Of course its a wonderful thing to read to younger kids. In her 2019 book,The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, Meghan Cox Gurdon, children's book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, notes that, "The rewards of early reading are astonishingly meaningful: toddlers who have lots of stories read to them turn into children who are more likely to enjoy strong relationships, sharper focus, and greater emotional resilience and self-mastery." She references a plethora of neurological and social science studies to support this.

But she goes on to say that we need to read and be read to at all stages of our lives.

Is reading aloud to older children "cheating"? she asks. "Do we undermine young people, even infantilize them, by reading aloud long past the point that they can read for themselves? Not, it isn't. And no, we don't. Being read to and reading to oneself are, at heart, two ways of taking in one text. The mechanisms at the neurological level are different. But as an experience the distinction is a bit like the difference between walking and running. Both are good ways to reach a destination. Is it babyish to walk, which takes longer but requires less effort? Is it more mature to run, expending more energy and arriving sooner? There may be various things to consider when you choose between a run and a walk, but maturity doesn't enter into it."

Adults, weary from chasing information--and being assaulted by it--all day, can perhaps relax as a story unwinds for them through the warmth and presence of a human voice. And hearing a story read to a group may allow for the development of unhurried intimacy. What a balm in this age of clang! bang! instant! and insistent everything.

For the elderly, benefits may include better concentration, less agitation and an improved ability to socialize. People with Alzheimers may have improved cognitive and memory processes, and enhanced emotional networks.

And--oh my--Gurdon even reports that there are SPCA volunteers who regularly read to some of the more traumatized dogs--and it helps the dogs calm down! And if kids read to dogs, it helps the child become more confident in their reading.

As much as I love being read to, I also love being the reader. As a nursery school teacher and auntie I have had the privilege of reading many, many stories to many wonderful children. It is such a rich experience, so much fun, so delicious, so thoroughly and gently intimate.

In summary, Gurdon notes that,"Reading aloud is probably the least expensive and most effective intervention we can make for the good of our families, and for the wider culture."

Amen, sister!

Until next time,


Photo and art credits:

Feet swishing around, unknown

Pooh and Piglet, Ernest H. Shephard

Mother reading to child, Babyology (Australia)

Boy reading to dog, ABQToDo

Reading to young kids, GettyImages

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