The Reading Ritual

At my house we read a lot. My husband reads computer manuals, I read lots of education and parenting books (with some fun books mixed in), and we both read scores of picture books to our two-year-old. Reading is part of our daily lives and we all love books. However, there is one book in our home right now that my husband and I have both tried to hide from our son in recent days. For the last six months we have read Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann every night as the last book before we turn off the lights. It goes on trips with us and has a special home on the bookshelf in our son’s room. It is a wonderful book, but after six months of reading it EVERY night (and sometimes at nap time too), we thought we could move on. We were wrong. For the last three nights, our son has searched for the book and said “rilla?” in such a manner that we had to pull it back out and read it yet again. Now it is back on the shelf in the place of honor, where it will remain.

I started thinking about the reasons why these repeated readings of beloved books are so critical to young children, and I came up with a few thoughts.

1. Ritual. This may be the most important of all of my reasons for reading a book over and over and over again with the young children in your lives. Young children gain security through rituals in their lives. They need to know that their world is not going to change in drastic ways from day to day, that Mama and Dada are going to come back when they are left in the care of someone else, that bath time will come after dinner time, and that their special stuffed animals will be where they left them that morning. Children also need to feel like they have some control over some aspect of their lives. Our nighttime ritual is very familiar to our child and he is quick to remind us when something is missing or out of order. For him, Good Night, Gorilla is a very important step in his ritual of saying goodnight. So, we will read it night after night.

2. Observation and Attention/Focus Skills. For such a small book, you would be surprised at all of the things there are to see in Good Night, Gorilla. Over the months, my son’s focus has shifted several times as we read. For a few weeks he would point to each of the animals and we would repeat their names and he would make the animal sound (except for the quiet giraffe and armadillo). Then he started noticing details in the book. For weeks he pointed out the keys on almost every page. Then we moved to the banana, the balloon, the moon, and so on. He was really looking at the book and engaging with each page. His focus remained steady throughout the story as well. He is also able to see the humor in the story now and can relate actions to the animals and people. It is exciting to watch him learn through observing. We have noticed similar trends with other books that are in our rotation of favorites as well.

3. Language and Literacy Skills. Our toddler is learning to speak, but he is also learning English. Reading books repeatedly has an amazing effect on language development. Words that you wouldn’t think to introduce in conversation come up naturally in the texts of books. Some of our son’s first words related to Good Night, Gorilla. He could say “keys” and “balloon” and “RAF RAF” (giraffe) after just a few readings. Giraffes continue to be his favorite animal and he is rather obsessed with keys! After six months of reading, he chatters through the whole book about the animals going “night night” and the “banana mouse” who carries a banana throughout the whole book. He adds in color words frequently now as well. He can also point to each of the talking bubbles in the book and “read” them with us. He is gathering valuable information for reading later on.

I never thought I would be the parent who wanted to hide a book from my child! After thinking about it I can’t imagine what we would lose if we weren’t willing to read those favorite books for the 200th time! Keep reading!

What books are the consistent repeat reads in your child’s home library?


Good Night, Gorilla

5 Comments

  1. Good night, Gorilla was a favorite here too! We read Goodnight Moon a lot as well. There was one about Mike and Maryann the steam shovel. Hansel and Gretel was a fav. Finklehopper Frog….. Peter Rabbit…. My very favorite book from childhood, that I bet my mom hid, was The Little Red Hen. They all love Dr. Suess books, can’t forget him. Natalie loved Cinderella.

  2. Pingback: “The Reading Ritual” « Jason S. Burton (Jason Burton)

  3. Meredith,

    Kelsey’s favorite book when she was little was ‘The Foot Book’ by Dr.Seuss. We also read it hundreds of times. At some point she had it memorized and she could recite each page. She declared that she could now ‘read’ the book even though she really couldn’t. But wow, the confidence level was important. It was a good transition into her actually learning to read which she was doing pretty well by age 4-5.

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