One of the real treats of being a grandpa is reading books with my grandkids. It's a special time when the noise and hyperactivity of our high-tech world is temporarily suspended. Books open up new worlds for them, worlds in which they play an active role. For me it's a chance to see old and familiar things again through the eyes of my grandkids.
So often it seems that things that are fun are not good for you -- you know the old saying, "If it tastes good, it can't be good for you" -- but the really nice thing about reading with your grandkids is that not only is it fun and builds your relationship, but it may be one of the best things you can do to maximize your grandchildren's chances for success in life.
Reading may well be the most important skill anyone can have because it's essential to navigating our increasingly complex world.
Children who enter school without basic reading or pre-reading skills are at a significant disadvantage. Students who read well are simply going to do better, and will have an easier time developing other skills, such as writing. The list of the positive effects of reading is much too long to cover in this column.
The folks at the American Library Association point out that being read to, or reading, stimulates the brain and the imagination. Even picture books without words will add significantly to their vocabulary by listening to you describe the pictures. Reading does all of this much more effectively than watching TV or DVDs. Unlike TV, which is passive and requires little thought, reading invites, indeed demands, active participation.
As grandparents we can play a key role in giving our grandchildren a love of reading. It's sad but true that the percentage of adults who read for pleasure is going down with each generation. In other words, today's parents are less likely to be readers themselves and are probably less likely to pass the love of reading on to their children. The earlier we start, the more likely we are to develop that enjoyment of reading in our grandchildren. Don't worry about starting too early -- that's really impossible. Reading with your grandchildren can begin as soon as they can be held in your arms. This is fun reading, not school, so making it a fun occasion is really important. Choose reading materials that are appropriate to the age and interests of your grandchild. Pushing the kids to read things they are not ready for, or uninterested in, may well drive them away from reading. If you are at a loss as to what to pick for your grandchildren, you can get some good advice from the children's librarian and your local library. With just a little information from you, they can help you pick books your grandchildren will enjoy. Hanns Pieper is professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of Evansville. If you have questions about aging, send them by e-mail to email@example.com, or write to him in care of Family, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, IN 47702.