Sunday, November 12, 2006

On the Importance of Reading to Your Children

After a discussion last week about children's books, I suddenly remembered an article I wrote for The American Women's Club of Amsterdam in the late spring of 2002. Shortly after I came to The Netherlands, I decided to seek out organizations which were aimed at the integration of expats and their families. I briefly wrote for the newsletter of the American Women's Club of Amsterdam and later had my own column with another expat organization, The International Women's Club of Utrecht. I met lovely women in these organizations who were in the same situation as me and we did all sorts of lovely things together such as lunches, city walks, museum visits, pot luck dinners and parties. I really felt the need to communicate in my own language during those first few years and to do something productive with my time. Those organizations were wonderful for that purpose.

Here is the article which was featured in the June 2002 issue of Tulip Talk! The information is a bit dated of course, but I hope you enjoy it.

Reading to Your Children

Books and reading have always been a major part of my life. My fondest childhood memories include cherished moments I shared with my grandmother while she read to me. If I close my eyes, I can almost rewind time and experience again the awe and wonder that every page of countless storybooks evoked in me as a young girl. Books transported me to far away places, opened up new worlds and taught me interesting things every time. I could easily get bored with even the most interesting toy, but I never got enough of a good fairytale or funny rhyme. More memorable perhaps, were the feelings and emotions I experienced when I sat nestled in my grandmother's arms while we shared a good book. It was as if time stood still. I would forget everything around me and become so fully engrossed that when the story was over, it felt like returning home from a magical vacation.

When I became a parent I could hardly wait to awaken in my own child the passion for reading that I have since had. Impatient and perhaps a tad eager, I found myself reading to my daughter just days after she was born. Since then she's not seen a day without a story, and today, at only two years old, she's already established quite a list of favorites.

Storytime is one of those rituals which regardless of circumstances, we aren't very likely to pass up. It's sort of our little break in the morning and it's also the main event in our bedtime schedule. Even on vacations or trips to visit grandma, books are usually one of the first things we pack up.

Saturday afternoons always include family trips to the library. While I poke my nose into a few books, Kirstie is with my husband in the children's section sparking up her own curiosity and chatting a bit or comparing books with other children. It's always hard to choose our limit of books and although we've been visiting the same library for a while now, we still find new interesting stories to take home. Sometimes we even check out books we've borrowed before, just because we've enjoyed them so much. The best part, of course, is that first evening when after dinner we finally get a chance to sit down and read as a family. We all get cozy together on the couch and after I read her the book in English she'll scoot over to dad for another round in Dutch or vice versa.

People are usually amazed at how articulate she is for her age and ask me if it has anything to do with the fact that she's being raised bilingual. Perhaps that does give her an edge. However, I am more apt to believe we have our consequent reading schedule to thank for those cute conversations she strikes up with just about anybody anywhere she goes. And the benefits don't just end in her expansive vocabulary. The time we spend with a book every day has allowed us to form a very special bond. The best thing we can give our children is our time and for some reason the moments we spend reading feel a bit more intimate and warm than any other activity we share. Sometimes I look at my daughter's face or I hear her chuckle when I say something funny and I'm almost hoping that when the last page comes around she'll turn to me and say, "one more time?". Believe me, she's not the only one reaping the rewards of reading! Taking time out to read with her not only allows me to enjoy a quiet moment outside of my busy schedule but also continues to build special memories. I'm convinced it's doing the same for her. I look forward to seeing Kirstie grow up with the love for reading that I have tried to pass on to her. Maybe someday she'll find herself reading to her own children and suddenly think back to one of those many special moments we shared together in the company of a good book.

A little note to people new to The Netherlands: Most, if not all, public libraries carry a reasonably good selection of children's books in English. Sometimes you can also order books from another library. Libraries do charge an annual membership fee for adults. This, however, does not apply to children and they are entitled to use the library free of charge.

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