Watch a Child’s Face

(or: Why you must read picture books…)

This was penned mid-summer, while watching my wife read a picture book to our 2-and-a-half-year-old son.

(We have three grown daughters – grown, as in teenagers, that is – so bringing the picture books off of the shelf is allowing something of a renaissance for us – and allows this writer to look anew – both vicariously and as a participant – at the charms and wonder of reading aloud to young children.)

Watch a child’s face.
Just watch it while he is read aloud a new book.  Or a familiar book.
Watch her face try to make sense of the pictures – the details – the colors – the characters – the narrative – the details that fit – the ones that aren’t explained – the ones that catch her eye.
Watch him try to follow the words of the story – the pace – the dialogue – who is saying what – what they might say next.
Watch her follow the narrative – trying to match what she sees in the pictures w/ what she’s heard – trying to fill in the gaps, the missing pieces, the unexplained or un-described.

Watch him try to assimilate all these forms of stimulation.  (It’s what we might otherwise – in our digital world – call multi-tasking.)

Now pay attention to what the parent/reader contributes – what is added to the mix – and watch some more.
Watch the child pause his/her own examination, analysis, collecting of information, collating and parsing of details – and listen or attend to what his/her mother/father/sibling/babysitter adds to the narrative.  “Can you find the bunny?”  “What do you think will happen next?”  “Why is the child sad?”  “The mouse looks…?”  The child must decipher these third party observations or queries and assess them; now watch as she pauses to respond – pauses her analysis – collating – monitoring/anticipating the narrative.

These questions – these stimuli – interact w/ each other – and now the child’s mind has even more going on: his/her own agenda; the author’s agenda; and his interlocutor’s (parent’s) agenda.

Isn’t that in fact we (each/all) do when we read an article or literature?  We, too, interact w/ the author’s agenda.  We monitor our own reactions and associations.  We think of the manifold things our text makes us think of – things we want to share – things we remember – questions we want to explore – or answer.

Now watch the child’s face – watch his eyes – “see” the work firing off in his forehead as he watches, as his eyes flit around, as he listens, as he associates, as he assimilates, as he “recognizes” (consciously or not) that he is monitoring three channels.
Watch his brain grow – his vocabulary increase – his cognitive abilities connect and expand.

Watch a child’s face as she listens to a new story – and realize why we all must read to our children – why all children must be read to – why this simple analog act – which operates on so many levels – is so valuable and constructive.  So much more than seemingly interactive technologies – in reality so “inter-active” despite its (false) seeming passiveness.

Watch a child’s face…

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