As I sat reading from Mercer Mayer’s There’s an Alligator Under my Bed, in which a little boy lures an alligator out of his bed with fruits, vegetables and a peanut butter sandwich, I paused and asked the three and four year olds I was reading to, “is that what Alligators actually eat?” They all laughed and answered with an exaggerated “Nooooooo.” Thinking that this might be a nice moment to learn about alligators I asked, “What DO alligators eat?”
The laughter and happiness quickly drained from one young boy, his head dropped and he looked up at me under his eyebrows with the gravest of expressions and he whispered, “Humans.”
“OH! Oh, buddy no…no, no. Fish. They eat fish mostly. Mostly fish you don’t need to worry.”
“Okay good,” he sighed.
Despite bringing up some clear fears this young child had, it gave me a funny story and hopefully gave him some reassurance that he wasn’t going to be eaten by an alligator.
I have loads of interactions like these, as I am lucky enough to read to children almost every day. On the days I teach preschool at Park Children’s Day School in NYC, I am the “Early Morning Greeter” and I take the children who are dropped off early and we read stories. It’s not just limited to the early drop offs, everyone who gets there at 8:30 gets to sit in – from students to caregivers to parents. In my humble opinion it is the absolute best way to start your day. When you share a story out loud with someone, you are making a connection, you set up possibilities for so many different interactions and you cement a truly beautiful moment together.
There are lots of different avenues to take when reading a story out loud. Sometimes I really want to give a performance and I’ll have different tones for different characters, dramatic pauses and sound effects. Other times I will let the listeners tell the story to me: “What’s happening here? Why did they do that? How is that character feeling? How would that make you feel?” Through those questions and that story you get to learn so much about each other and you are creating a bond that will last longer than you might think. I remember specific passages read to me by my parents. I remember books teachers read to me. I remember being read Stephen King’s Needful Things by my 8th grade teacher. Frankly, I think she was just unable to put the book down so she read it to our class but that began a lifelong infatuation with Stephen King books for me.
World Read Aloud Day is on February 2nd this year and I will be Skyping with classrooms across the country to read to and talk with students. I encourage anyone and everyone, of any age, to share a moment like this with someone you care about. You don’t need to be a kid, have a kid, or even have one around to read out loud, or be read to out loud. I’ve read picture books to rooms full of adults and it’s amazing how that action relaxes something in one’s brain and everyone can just take a beat, listen, and share a moment together. My wife and I do this often. So if you’re not already reading to your loved ones regularly, use World Read Aloud Day to jump-start this wonderful activity and keep it going for as long as there are stories to be told.