Yesterday, my kiddo came home with a Family Literacy Bingo sheet from school, to support Family Literacy Week.
The idea behind Family Literacy week is to provide supports and encouragement for families to make the time to read with each other.
I think one of the best rationales for encouraging literacy is so that you don’t end up a peasant at the mercy of the overlords – when you can navigate the written world, when you can read a book for yourself and see what it says, it’s harder for some controlling body (a Dark Ages era church, for example) to tell you how it is. You can read it for yourself and say, hang on, it doesn’t say that women are evil at all…
But, stepping out of the whole political historical story of Latin and Gutenberg and things I’m really truly ignorant of… here’s my favourite list of reasons to read with your kiddos at home, starting with my ultimate ultimate favourite:
When you hold them and give them this attention, they know you love them.
I would expand on that. I didn’t know what I was doing most of the time when my kid was an infant and toddler and young person. (I still don’t, but now he’s at school and in the hands of professionals, so I don’t feel as much pressure to know all the things.)
But, because I’m fortunate to love books, reading to him was always a place I could feel some sense of ease. There wasn’t anything else we needed to be doing, or could be doing better. It didn’t matter what we were wearing, or whether or not we were good at sharing toys, or if my snacks had enough green vegetables in them… We could just settle in to the rhythm of someone else’s words, into the pictures created by some wonderful artist, into another world, another place. We could just be there. And the fact that he’s a bit of a snuggler, and would do it snuggled on my lap, was definitely a bonus for me.
It’s not about being a good reader, it’s about connecting.
(If you’re not super confident as a reader, then sit together and listen to an audio book. Or flick through a fantastic photo/coffee table book and talk about the images… Or a cookbook and choose what you might bake together…)
And books are a pretty magical portal for connecting through.
There’s a kind of magic at play, in books… and in spoken stories… a transmission happens, when the storyteller sings or writes a world into being, and you get to be transported there, and then you share that experience with other audience members or your bookclub, or a friend who you lend the book to, or the kids who grow up reading Harry Potter and end up with their own language and clubs. Books are a portal into other people’s worlds… you walk streets you might never walk, and as your imagination expands, your empathy grows wider and wider.
The BINGO list is so fun, because sometimes I run out of ideas.
It’s a bit like dinner. I made a few nice things from recipe books and no-one ate them, so I went back to pita bread pizzas and pasta tossed in nutritional yeast. Having someone share a tried and true recipe galvanizes me to try something different, again.
There’s a peace at home when everyone curls up with their screen and I sink into it, with some relief at being off-duty in some small way… but mostly it’s because I’ve run out of ideas for initiating connection and suggesting Crazy 8s makes my brain hurt a bit. So, when the BINGO game suggests I SPY, which I’d forgotten (or gotten bored of, because back before we could spell, we had to play by colours and we just ran out of things…), we have some hilarious time trying to work out what in the kitchen starts with the letter K. And I get to notice something about my kid, that I wouldn’t otherwise have known… like, he knows the word kindling, and he knows that knife is a sneaky word with a silent k, and that he doesn’t give up easily, which is kind of a cool thing to discover.
The list of ideas are so fun because there are so many more ways to boost literacy at home, than just by reading a book… and I love the recommendations that prompt us to call up a grandparent and ask them to share a story from when they were young… because this, knowing where you’ve come from, is a really beautiful kind of literacy to grow.
Literacy, I think, ultimately, is about knowing yourself. And having a sense of your own agency and place in the world. Literacy gives you some power, and it also gives you context – it helps you right-size yourself. You’re not small and insignificant and powerless. Nor are you the only opinion or experience or perspective that matters.
And it’s good to move through the world right-sized. Not too big. Not too small. As the story goes, JUST RIGHT.