Bond Between Caregivers and Children (page 2)
Recent research on brain development has underscored the importance of attachment and positive affect during the early years (Jensen, 1998; Shore, 1997). “Children learn in the context of important relationships” (Shore, 1997, p. 29). When children are securely attached to their caregivers and live in an emotionally warm environment, they are less likely to experience developmental delays than children who feel physically or psychologically threatened. Nurturing early childhood environments also seem to “protect” children from adverse effects of later stressful situations.
It is never too early to begin reading to children. Possibly before birth, but certainly in the first days after birth, infants respond to the sounds of their parents’ voices and often attend to songs or poetry. Some parents may unexpectedly find themselves reading aloud from novels as they hold their newborns and find that the sounds of reading soothe the little ones (Campbell, 1999). These first encounters with language and with trusting relationships build a strong emotional foundation for the young child (Butler, 1998).
Reading aloud to very young children has sometimes been called “lap reading” because adults and older children seem to innately know that sharing books is also a good time for being close. When a baby or young child is nearby, the caregiver can show affection while sharing the sounds and rhythms of language found in good literature. Children who have experienced lap reading again and again come to associate hearing stories with nurturing, cuddling, and being loved. As her mother reads the classic baby book, Pat the Bunny (Kunhardt, 1968), 15-month-old Gabrielle makes a game out of the page where she puts her finger through the mother’s wedding ring. “I pretend to gobble up her finger with my fingers behind the page,” her mother reports. “Jomp, jomp!” she laughs, repeating the game over and over. Later, Gabrielle sits contentedly on her 5-year-old brother’s lap while he identifies objects in a picture book for her.
It seems that language learning has a great deal to do with emotion and the development of relationships. This is seen to perfection in the interaction between parent and baby; eyes locked together, the adult almost physically drawing “verbal” response from the baby, both engulfed by that unique experience of intimate and joyful “connecting” which sets the pattern of relationship between two people. (Butler, 1998, p. 4)
Families can grow together and learn about one another as they read together (Taylor & Strickland, 1986). Parents learn their children’s story preferences and how to adapt reading aloud to meet each child’s personality and developmental needs. Children come to know their families’ values and interests from the books they share, and the conversations they have around those books (Calkins, 1997). Over time the language and characters of books may become an important part of family history, as children and adults recall favorite storybook figures and sayings.
Maggie, age 3, expressed the concept of attachment beautifully when she kissed her mother’s hand and nose and said, “Now you have a kissing hand, and it won’t even come off when you eat. I promise!” Maggie and her mother had recently read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (1993).
Each family that shares books together establishes rituals and routines around reading. Five-year-old Benjamin eats more slowly than his parents, so Dad reads a book or two to him while he finishes his breakfast. Grace has a pile of books on the nightstand by her bed, so that she can look at them in the morning if she wakes up before her mother. Many families sit together on the sofa or lie together in bed and read stories in the evening. These reading routines may last a lifetime. College students have told us that their parents engrained the habit of reading every night so firmly that even as adults they can’t sleep unless they have read something.
Of course, not all books evoke feelings of contentment. As every early childhood teacher knows, the preschool years are a time when children’s fears are at a peak. Listening to stories about monsters helps some children learn to cope with anxieties. Sitting on a familiar lap while reading about scary creatures can assist children in confronting their anxieties and learn ways to cope. “The adult’s presence produces a sense of safety, and this feeling of security is of paramount importance because in the years when picture books are used, representations are not yet fully distinguished from the objects they represent” (Spitz, 1999, p. 16).
The positive affect children experience during lap reading, and activities that accompany or follow stories, may be one part of developing the secure attachments that are so important for emotional and cognitive well-being. The physical, emotional, and intellectual presence of an adult is critical to the healthy development of children. An adult’s supportive presence is needed for learning and for experiencing the pleasure of literature, which are inseparable. When adults share the love of literature with children, they build a foundation for reading while transmitting their own pleasure in language, story, and imagination (Spitz, 1999).
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