It’s funny how child-rearing advice has changed over the years. For instance, back in the early 1800s, it was considered essential for the development of a boy to send him out to pick pockets in the streets of London no later than age 10. More progressive Americans, though, frowned on that sort of thing, believing that children of that age were much better served earning an honest living.
Of course, by the time baby boomers like me began having children, we weren’t allowed to have our kids contribute to the household income at all, which really sucked. Nooooo, we had to send them to school.
This was way back in the 1990’s, and education in America was undergoing a dramatic transformation, experimenting with all sorts of new teaching methods that turned out an entire generation of citizens who are largely unable to construct a coherent sentence in a language resembling English, or give you change from $5.00 for your $4.98 purchase without consulting the cash register readout.
Fortunately, technology like that cash register was developed specifically so that people didn’t need to know how to do that stuff anymore. This is why, for instance, we cannot read a communication from our grown children without benefit of an English-to-Texting Dictionary.
But getting back to child-rearing advice, one tidbit that came along about the time we had our daughter Casey was how important it was for us to read to our kids. I don’t remember my parents reading to me; if they did, it was likely to have been my dad going over the New York Mets box scores with me. And that would have been in the Mets’ early years, so it might have led to a lifetime of depression.
In any case, we were determined to read to Casey every night. This, we were told, would engender a lifelong love of reading. I did most of the reading because I enjoyed it and because my wife, who, in the pre-school years, was home with Casey all day, could enjoy a few minutes of peace, possibly including the ingestion of hard liquor.
We bought all the classics like Grover’s Resting Places, How Many Bugs in a Box?, Goodnight Moon and the entire series of Spot books featuring the lovable puppy in all sorts of misadventures as he searches for concealed friends. This was fun for Casey, who enjoyed lifting all the flaps to find Spot’s hidden buddies, but I kept waiting for old Spot to get the hint, to figure out that there was surely some reason why everyone was hiding from him. (SPOILER ALERT!) He never does.
We even had one of the first electronic books…sort of. It had sheet music for kid’s songs, and it came with its very own vinyl microchip keyboard, color-keyed to the music. I could actually play this book and the whole family could sing along to “Three Blind Mice,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and other all-time hits. Because I have absolutely no musical ability, I got a kick out of being about to play discernible tunes. Sometimes, I even imagined I was on a stage in Madison Square Garden, with thousands of fans screaming. “Play ‘This Old Man!’” they’d yell. Or “Do ‘Wheels on the Bus!’”
I read to Casey every night until she was in high school or, more accurately, until she informed me that all the voices I had painstakingly invented while reading to her for 14 years sounded the same.
“All your voices sound like old Jewish men,” she replied.
“Oh, come on,” I protested. “Surely my Foghorn Leghorn…”
“Old Jewish man.”
“How about Geppetto? My Italian accent…”
I was getting upset. I had recently finished reading the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to her, launching a Herculean effort to not only lend different voices to thousands of characters, but to keep track of them.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “The hobbits? The elves?” I jumped from my seat. “Gollum?” I hissed: “‘What has it got in its pocketses?’”
“Rabbis,” my lovely daughter said flatly.
I slumped back to my seat, defeated. Here I thought I had been rivaling Mel Blanc, and it turns out I had just been channeling Mel Brooks.*
Okay, so now it’s about 15 years later, and there’s a new study out that says it was good that I read to Casey all that time, even though it meant she had to humor me for well over a decade.
According to this study, which took place at Harvard, not only is it important to read to your kids, but it’s much more beneficial if dad reads to them. That’s because dad asks better questions. Here is the example given by the lead researcher:
Women were more likely to ask factual questions, such as, “How many apples do you see?” and men favored more abstract questions like “Oh look, a ladder. Do you remember when I had that ladder in my truck?”
You see dad’s question is more “cognitively-challenging” so that the child experiences better language development and can go to Harvard and conduct experiments on other people’s children.
Meanwhile, Casey turned out okay, and I’m glad to have done my part. Although, going by the example above, if Barbara had read to her more, Casey might be a lot better at math.
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my book about children and parents, Kids Are Dumb; Parents Are Dumber, available in paperback and Kindle editions. It makes a great holiday gift! Just click on the cover above at right to purchase.
*In case he’s before your time, Mel Blanc was responsible for virtually all the voices in the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons.