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Published May 24, 2010, 11:59 AM

Words out loud

TOWNER, N.D. — One of the best things you can do for your children, they say, is to read to them. I suppose it comes after giving them a safe place to sleep, healthy meals and a warm hug, but it’s right up close to the top.

By: Ryan Taylor,

TOWNER, N.D. — One of the best things you can do for your children, they say, is to read to them. I suppose it comes after giving them a safe place to sleep, healthy meals and a warm hug, but it’s right up close to the top.

It’s easy to take advice when it’s something you want to do anyway. I want to read to my kids and I like reading to them, so if reading makes me a good parent, that’s just icing on the cake.

Every night that I’m home, I put aside my latest nonfiction or historical novel to peel back the pages of “Go Dog Go” or something in rhyme by Dr. Seuss. The usual routine is for my wife to read to our little girl and for me to read to the boys.

We’ve got a shelf full of books, some from when I was kid, a bunch handed down to us from friends and family whose kids have grown up and a few we bought brand-spanking new. Despite that variety, our short, cuddly audience may request the same story every night for a week.

For our family, it’s a seven-day-a-week activity. I read in a recent report that 9 percent of children ages 1 to 5 in my state of North Dakota are in families where they are read to less than three days a week. So 91 percent were getting ample story time. It put us in the top 10, on the good end.

The worst state to be a little kid wanting some family reading time is Texas. Twenty-six percent of those boys and girls were in families that read to them less than three days a week. I guess everything is bigger in Texas, but it’s not all worth bragging about. I wish my state’s 9 percent would be closer to Maine’s 4 percent.

Our oldest son just finished kindergarten. I don’t remember what all I was able to do at the end of my kindergarten year, but I was pretty impressed that my boy had learned enough to turn the tables at story time and he could read a story to me.

It was a proud moment for a parent, a child’s first teacher.

Young and old

We spend a lot of years reading in silence, but it’s OK to break out of that polite habit from time to time.

My dad and I have had a hard time communicating lately. His Parkinson’s disease has stolen his voice, and during some visits, I don’t know what more to tell him in our one-sided conversations. So I pick up a newspaper or a book and I read to him.

It’s a little different from my sessions with the boys. The reading material is more advanced and usually has to do with the cattle business, or old times, or old-time ranchers and cowboys like Dad.

But some things are the same. For the listener, young or old, it’s the comfort of a familiar voice, hearing a story that can transport you to another time or place. For an 88-year-old cowboy in long-term care at a hospital, imagining another time or place is a more important part of the activity than if you’re a 3-year-old boy snuggled in to Daddy’s lap at home.

I’m not trained as a teacher, but if just reading to my children brings them learning I’m happy to do it. And I’m not educated as a doctor, but if reading to my father brings him any kind of therapy or relief from his daily struggles, I’m glad to turn the page, clear my throat and read the words aloud.

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