Ever since listening to a workshop titled “Nurturing Competent Communicators” by Andrew Pudewa, director for Institute for Excellence in Writing, both my husband and I were persuaded that we wanted to implement family reading into our daily lives in order to raise competent communicators. The workshop description from his website is as follows:
Many parents and teachers assume that good readers will naturally or automatically become good writers. Others think that writing talent is just a natural ability—some have it others don’t. Both are myths. History and observation show very clearly how good writers have developed, and what are the two most critical things parents and teachers can do to nurture a high level of aptitude—from a young age through high school.
With humor and insight, Andrew will share the two easy but unbelievably powerful things that must be done at home and in the classroom to create confident communicators.
I’d encourage anyone to attend Mr. Pudewa’s workshop if possible. Here is his speaking schedule for those who are interested. The essence of his idea of a “competent communicator” is one who can communicate ideas and thoughts with grammatically correct, reasonably sophisticated English.
One of the critical factors in developing a competent communicator, in Mr. Pudewa’s experience, is reading out loud. Mr. Pudewa argues that even when a child is an avid reader and reads quality books, he often skips words and as a result, his vocabulary list and grasp of language isn’t as great as one might think. This is his explanation for why “great readers” are not automatically going to be “great writers.” On the contrary, if a child is “forced” to work slowly through all the well-composed language of well-written literature–such as in the case of reading out loud–a child is receiving not merely what his eyes might process (and not skip), but everything that is on the page. Thus, Pudewa strongly encourages families to read good books out loud together in the interest of helping children (and adults) to become confident and capable communicators.
We were both so motivated by this workshop that we decided to implement a daily family reading where everyone, both adults and children, are required to attend. Daddy reads and everyone listens. In order to help the little ones to keep busy with their hands, we allow them to color or play quietly with blocks or other toys. The rule is that they must not talk to each other or make noise on their own. This is a time to listen and play quietly individually. We often think that a child is not paying attention if he fiddles with a toy or something else, but on the contrary, many children is actively listening even when his hands are busy with other things. We have found this to be true with our children. Even though our oldest may be coloring, we find him stopping from time to time just so he can listen more intently. And even though our younger ones don’t understand the stories being read, I believe the stories they hear are beneficial for future communication skills.
We’ve been having family reading for about a month now, and we discovered three noteworthy observations during this short period of time:
- As Mr. Pudewa has experienced, keeping a daily family reading is very difficult because we’re busy all the time. So, as a confession, we do not have family reading every day even though this is our intention. Inevitably there are some commitments during the week that take us away from our home. This is the reality of our lives so we just move on and do our best to have family reading the following day. At present, with social get-togethers, church functions and other distractions, we are averaging two reading sessions per week.
- We read anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour, and we quickly discover that reading more than 30 minutes is quite strenuous on one’s vocal cord. This problem does not deter us from abandoning our effort so my techie husband checks out downloadable audio books from our library. Since the kind of books we’re reading (C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series at the moment) are classics, they are readily available. Our plan then is have daddy read as much as he can last, and then continue with the library’s audio version.
- Our family reading is held in the evenings right before the children’s bedtime, and shortly after dinner. We find that listening and playing quietly helps them calm down and get ready for bed. This is definitely an added bonus.
One of the callings of a believer in Christ is to be an ambassador and therefore a communicator of the gospel. So while some might see this practice as merely academic, we actually see it very much as part of our training our children to become winsome and effective messengers of the gospel. Our hope is to make this a long-term “tradition” in our family life, with a view to helping shape their minds to be able to express themselves (and God’s truth) in a clear, competent and “sophisticated” way.
UPDATE: Added perk we’ve discovered as we’ve become more consistent. Our family reading time is not only a great way for the kids to wind down. As Evers reads aloud, I’m free to quietly sit on the side and either iron clothes or fold laundry, because the kids are required to quietly play each on their own. Thus far, with our brood, we get through about 30-40 minutes before they start getting antsy. Which works just about right for Evers’ voice too…