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How Reading Aloud To/With Your Child Can Be the Best Moments in Mothering and Learning

reading aloud mothering learning

I was reading aloud to Pari (my 8.5 year old) yesterday morning – Maupassant’s short story – ‘Two Friends’. That book – a collection of short stories by the greatest short story writers ever – O Henry, Guy De Maupassant, Saki, Chekhov – has been on my shelf for more than ten years now. I hadn’t touched it.

Yes, I’d not turned a page of that book even though I love to read. Even though I love short stories.

But, right now with you, I don’t want to dig into why did I NOT read that book in so many years. On the contrary, I want to figure out (and, I’m thinking aloud with you as I’m writing this) WHAT made me read it that morning?

I feel, the prospect of reading to Pari (actually, it’s more like reading to her and to myself!) is something else. I’ve figured that I can create time to read to her even in the middle of dozing off. It’s not merely duty. It’s fun. For her and for me. It’s our sacred time. It’s my me-time. It’s our co-learning time. It’s our confiding time. And so much more. Come join me in this journey of self-discovery…

Conversations, Reflections, Discoveries!

I love reading aloud to Pari because the characters, plots, places and events lead us to many interesting conversations, reflections, opening up of heart and mind and learning related and tangential things.

For instance, when we were reading Two Friends by Guy De Maupssant, in a scene where the friends go fishing, the setting is explained so beautifully that both of us immediately felt this could be an inspiration for a painting. Pari shared excitedly, “mamma, look how he describes the setting” – in the spring…when the early sun caused a light mist to float on the water and gently warmed the backs of the two enthusiastic anglers. I resonated instantly and added, “Yes” and this: in autumn, towards the close of the day, when the setting sun shed a blood-red colour over the western sky, and the reflection of the crimson clouds tinged the whole river, brought a glow to the faces of the two friends. “What a painting it would make. Pari, I think a writer has to be an artist in his vision, to be able to paint a picture through his words…”.

This was just one of the many things that we shared and discussed over the course of reading that story – set in the backdrop of a French-Prussian war. The discussion and learning continued even after the reading was long done.

Pari wanted to know what “Prussian” meant. I explained to her briefly then, so as not to derail the flow of the story. But later on, we went deep and this led to a discussion about the geographical limits of countries; why that can lead to wars. Holocaust came up, which led to Anne Frank and her life and the diary she wrote.

So many learning connections.

From literature to history to philosophy to life itself – the subjects flow and merge into each other seamlessly, when I’m reading aloud to her. There’s no ringing of bell (as it happens in schools) to indicate literature class is over and it’s time for the history teacher to step in.

I wonder if such connections can ever be explored in a school setting – due to the limitations of time and the scheduled curriculum that a school teacher has to take care of in a limited time-line.

But, does that mean a student in a class-room will not form those connections?

I think, he/she still will. But sadly, those connections will not find a voice and hence, will not enrich the learning atmosphere in the class. The reading-aloud will continue – more in a one-sided, linear fashion. There won’t be much room for explorations of the heart and mind, genuine interactions or tangential connections.

Letting the thoughts and emotions surface….

This morning, we were reading “The One and Only Ivan” – a heart-melting saga of animal friendship, courage, pain, loss, rescue. When Stella the Elephant teased Ivan (the Gorilla), “…elephants are superior because they feel more joy and more grief than apes…”, I confided in Pari, “yes, now I exactly know why I love elephants. I feel like they do. I experience both joy and grief strongly. I feel a connection with elephants.”  At this, Pari paused to think and then remarked, “Yes, yes! I’m like that too. But people do not understand this. They think we’re too sensitive and moody.”

That story of Ivan touches upon his grief and how he chooses to bury his memories in order to live the present life as matter-of-factly as he could.

This led Pari to talk about memories, and grieving over some painful memories. Intense subject, I know, to talk with an 8.5 year old. But guess what, she’d been thinking about me – a painful part of my story that she’d witnessed and she was holding it in her heart. It came up as a moment of resonance.

I may not have known if we wouldn’t have allowed our hearts to be triggered spontaneously by those words we were reading.

Thousands of such ‘sharings’ and connections have happened over the years – between Pari and me – during reading aloud to her – with her. Reading has not been plain reading at all. We get under the skin of the story and the characters and the setting. But then, that’s part of the reading. But, we also get to learn and understand beyond the realm of the book/story/setting.

Negotiating tougher books and topics…

So, there’re compelling reasons for me to continue reading to her even though she’s a fluent reader herself; even though she will keep growing as a reader and will no longer need me to explain a difficult sentence or a context.

I believe she’s open to try out a tough book/topic because I read to her. She may not otherwise be able to enjoy it (even though she’s interested in that subject) due to the difficulty of the writing style or the vocabulary. Many of the books that I’ve read to her are written keeping in mind a prolific reader – the subject as well as the style. But, she’s benefitted from them and enjoyed them for I read to her and keep enough room for questions, reflections and conversations.

The Energy of Shared Words

The long minutes (sometimes hours) that we spend together this way – me and her snuggled up on a sofa with a favorite book – make us connect in the most personal, philosophical and artistic ways. It makes us reflect on the sad and the joyful. It allows us to negotiate the academic and the intellectual. Our connections span the whole gamut – much beyond the realm of the book itself. The energy of my voice soothes her; the power that she feels in my tone, the expressions, the sighs, the drawls, the squeals – this energy cannot be felt from TV, video games, radio or online.

the energy of words

It’s my “me-time”, too. As it is, my me-time has been elusive of-late with a 10-month old around who’s fighting sleep all the time; who’s at the intersection of crawling and walking; who waits eagerly for the first ray of dawn to crack open so she can be out on the terrace…

So, yes, it’s that precious me-time redefined which makes reading aloud to/with Pari so much fun – I look forward to it as though it’s a date with a friend.

Being a Mindful Mother

To me, as a mother, those moments that I read aloud to/with Pari, are the moments to slow down, center myself, breathe deeply and consciously, cherish the physical closeness of my child and connect with her in a mindful way. During those moments, I keep the phone far away and take my mind off the tasks lined up (as it is, I don’t enjoy multi-tasking). These moments with Pari also help me move closer to her perspective, which in turn makes her see me as her trusted partner, a friend, a guide, a co-learner.

You’ll agree with me – it IS our sacred time – that time of reading aloud to her (and to myself!).

What do you consider to be a sacred time between you and your child?


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Laura Grace Weldon September 25, 2014, 7:04 pm

    There’s nothing like reading together. I still remember sitting on my own mother’s lap as she read to me, letting my child’s mind drift away on the story while my heart was held close. Thanks for a beautiful post.

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 9:21 pm

      I could picture you – a little girl on your mamma’s lap cherishing her warmth and the words….
      Thank you for the affirmation about reading together.

  • Madhu September 26, 2014, 7:17 pm

    I agree Rashmie, reading sure brings us closer. I was reading to my daughter even when she was in utero. She started responding with tiny kicks even when she was only 7.5 months and in my tummy, snuggled.
    Apart from reading, I enjoy singing to her. And I think she enjoys it too as we snuggle when I sing to her.

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 9:23 pm

      Madhu, yes, totally with you about communicating with your baby in the womb. And, a big yes to songs – sung by the mother herself – more than the music from some electronic device. The energy the mother and her voice/closeness can bring to the child is unbeatable.

  • Sunita September 27, 2014, 8:28 am

    It is wonderful to read these things that you write! Yes, many times an encounter with a passage in a book has led to an entirely new realm of extended exploration in our family’s shared life; usually it is a topic that we came across together that was never on our “agenda,” but fell into our laps and changed the course of our lives. I think that’s how life is supposed to be whether it is something you read in a book, or a foreign coin you find on the street that changes the way you look at the history of the world (that happened to us!), or the advice of a beloved mentor that you continually re-interpret in new ways the longer you live (that’s happening too!). My kids are still only just the age of Pari, but, just as you’ve written about her observations, I love to see how these hidden gems of life shine out to them, and their interpretations and connections are as deep and exciting as anything my “adult” mind can do.

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 9:26 pm

      Sunita, I like what you said, “a foreign coin you find on the street that changes the way you look at the history of the world…”
      I’d love to know more about this event that led to rich learning connection.

      Hey, here’s an idea – would you like to share this story on my blog – in the form of a blog post? :-) I love how you write and I think your perspective on life and learning is something we both share. So, what say?!

      • Sunita October 11, 2014, 1:14 am

        Sure! That would be fun and well-timed. I need a little writing therapy to remind myself of my own positive attitude about the unexpected twists and turns of life!! I will email you some thoughts. Thanks for asking!

  • Miquela September 28, 2014, 11:54 am

    Thanks for the reminder that story time can be “me time,” too.

    (sorry if this posts twice; my browser reported an error)

    I love when Soëlie asks me to read to her from whatever I’m reading myself.

    I know it was not the point of your post (and I’m not putting any blame on you!!! :P), but I am feeling guilt about how little time I have with just Soëlie now that her brother has come along. I need to rectify that and MAKE sacred time and traditions that will strengthen our relationship and her sense of self and worth.

    Time to get off the computer and do something about that.

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 9:36 pm

      Miquela dear,
      I totally understand and relate to about striving to balance the time between the elder one and the younger one – the baby. There are days when Pari yearns for more time from me. After all, she was my only child for 8 long years and she was the centre of my world. Especially since we started homeschooling, a lot of my interests and her interests became OUR interests and we were/are such fun company to each other.

      So, I get your point – about not being able to create that sacred time and feeling bad about it. But, I know you have the intention and you will create the time and tradition that you mention. Talking about family traditions, I totally love creating our own traditions that are relevant to us and our philosophy/way of life – these traditions are what will go down the years and create rich memories. This Diwali (our most imp festival), we’ll be starting a new tradition now that Sufiana will be part of the celebration. :-)

  • Lynnisha Dumpala October 2, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Hi Rashmie,

    Searching for homeschoolers in Goa, I stumbled on your blog. I love this post and can identify totally!!! My six years old son, Nathan loves such moments. He calls that ‘spending time!’
    I love the thought on learning connections. Can hardly get that in a cramped school setting. However, any mom can achieve that at home. It can be a me-time too!

    Lovely post! Will get to know you more through your blog.

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 10:06 pm

      Hi Lynnisha,
      Thank you for connecting here.
      Yes, homeschooling gives the time and the mind space to live every moment and live like you can learn every moment.
      Glad you like the article. Are you on the ‘Goa can homeschool’ group? See you there too. :-) Nice to know you.

  • Pelkyi October 10, 2014, 6:32 pm

    Hi Rashmie, I am currently based in Delhi. I recently found out that I am pregnant and since then, I have been toying with the idea of moving to Goa too (what with the horrible pollution levels here), especially when I came across the Birthing Sancturay in Goa that does natural child births. This also led me to your blog and its was a real coincidence to read your story. I am leaning towards a natural childbirth and was wondering if you too had a natural childbirth. Can you please tell me where in Goa did you deliver and how was the experience?

    • Rashmie October 10, 2014, 10:21 pm

      Dear Pelkyi,
      First of all – so glad that you’re keen to explore the natural way of giving birth to your baby. It’ll be beautiful, if you can take this route, for both you and your baby. Our babies do need a better place than a hospital to come into this world.
      But then, when there are no options, a hospital birth can be a good experience too – if we are alert and aware of what we mothers deserve at the hands of the care-givers.

      You’re right – I gave birth to my baby here in Goa. There used to be a center called Birthing Sanctuary. It was run by a Polish Lady called Kasia. But, she shut it just a few months after my baby’s birth. It was due to her personal commitments towards her family and 6-month old baby. I spoke with her recently and she’s not doing any home births any more.

      But then, besides birthing center, there are a few other options that I know of. One is – the Birth Village at Cochin – http://www.birthvillage.in/
      It’s run by a lady called Priya. I’d spoken with her too, before I chose Goa (the Goa centre used to be residential, which the Cochin option is not). I chose Goa also because of my love for this place. :-)

      But, I know that the Cochin center is quite professionally run and they can give you contacts for places to stay near-by – like – flats etc that’ll be fully or partially furnished with domestic help.

      Other than this, there’s also a center run by a doctor in Hyderabad. She’s a qualified medical professional but helps in natural birth and has had a high success ratio. This is their website: http://healthy-mother.com/
      I know some mothers who opted for this center and they’ve had a good experience.

      Other than these, there aren’t any options in India that I can trust.

      Feel free to write to me if you have any other questions. My email id – rashmiejaaju@gmail.com

      Love and best wishes,