Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story.

I read an article in The Wall Street Journal: How Books Can Teach Your Child to Care. I loved the focus on empathy. I highly recommend that you read the article. I've included some of my favorite bits, but it could have all been listed as "favorite" to me. Also, I've pictured some books that would be wonderful children's books to get you started.

However, empathy is as important as literacy. When we read with a child, we are doing so much more than teaching him to read or instilling in her a love of language.  We are doing something that I believe is just as powerful, and it is something that we are losing as a culture: by reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human.

When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes.  I will go further and say that that child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps, or in our classrooms, or in our reading circles.

We learn empathy as children, through our interactions with the people in our lives and by experiencing the world around us.  When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves.  Reading with children makes an intimate, human connection that teaches that child what it means to be alive as one of many beings on the planet. We are naming feelings, sharing experience, and expressing love and understanding, all in a safe environment.  When we read a book with children, then children – no matter how stressed, no matter how challenged – are drawn out of themselves to bond with other human beings, and to see and feel the experiences of others.  I believe that it is this moment that makes us human.  In this sense, reading makes us human.

A child with a strong emotional center doesn’t hurt himself or other children.  It is the child who doesn’t develop empathy who lashes out without remorse.  A child without empathy runs the risk of growing into an adult who is lacking in humanity and does things that fray the human fabric of society.  So how do we do it?  How do we nurture and teach empathy in children?  Here’s one really good way to go about it: Sit down, put a child on your lap, and read a story.  Have fun.  Read in character and use funny voices.  Ask questions about the plot and the characters.  Talk about how the story makes you feel, and ask your child if she can relate to what the characters are experiencing.  Laugh and cry.  Be human, loving, and strong, and that will allow the children in your care to be human, loving, and strong.  Perhaps, the next time those children feel like hitting or pinching someone, they’ll hold off and ask for a hug from you instead.

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