Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bedtime Stories

     My friend Norm advised that when selecting activities for your kids, select those that both they and you enjoy. If only they enjoy it, it won't work. If only you enjoy it, it won't work either.
     This rule has worked excellently for our family, one of the best examples being bedtime stories.  Of course when they were younger, they sat in my lap, each in turn, turning the pages, pointing out and naming objects, counting, and eventually reading aloud when prompted. Runaway favorites that they and I enjoyed included Runaway Bunny, Goodnight Moon, Love You Forever, Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit, etc.), and Puff the Magic Dragon, along with Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears classics.
     As they got older, I read to them while they scratched my back (because it felt so good and still does). Favorites of my oldest son included James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small, etc.), The Lord of the Rings, City Boy, Tom Sawyer, Shane, The Remarkable Rocket (Oscar Wilde), Lilies of the Field, A Separate Peace, The Chosen, and Cry the Beloved Country. I am currently reading him the Bible (he's too old to scratch my back, so he sits on the floor), planning to read it cover-to-cover. (We're almost through the book of Joshua.) I love the ancient names, which I pronounce in what I imagine to be a Middle Eastern accent—probably butchering the language, but that's okay, I guess.)
     Penelope enjoyed Gerald Durrell (My Family and Other Animals, etc.), Where the Red Fern Grows, Dewey the library Cat, Marley and Me, The Hobbit, The Book of General Ignorance, The Book of Completely Totally Information, and other general non-fiction (trivia) books. The challenge for her/us was and is to find age-appropriate materials at her advanced reading level. Young adult and adult fiction tends to be far too heavy, sex laden, bitter, ironic, dumb, violent, or otherwise inappropriate. So general trivia often works well, with me censoring/editing as I read (it's amazing how obsessed such books seem to be with the bizarre and macabre—especially as it relates to human or animal sexuality) and stopping often to describe my understanding of the topic. I love it when I learn mind-blowing tidbits, too:

- There aren't a googolplex subatomic particles in the universe—there aren't even a googol. (This was a hot topic in middle school when my classmate explained the vastness of the number by producing pages of hand-written zeros, explaining this number that began with one showed only how may zeros there were in googolplex—a concept I couldn't quite grasp).

- The instant after the Big Bang, all the matter in the universe expanded outward at faster than the speed of light (the physical laws of nature apparently not yet fully operative.)

- It's impossible to physically touch anything due to the repelling force of electrons in all matter. The closest we can come is to sense the repelling force of other objects' electrons (sort of like pushing two magnets together with their North and South poles aligned.) I explained to Penelope we'd need to be in a particle collider, I guess, to achieve true physical contact (with an accelerated particle), although I do consider the subatomic forces within our bodies' atoms to be every bit a part of us, too, so that when they interact with other substances' atomic forces, that's the same as “touching.”

     Jaren has had the most varied taste of all our children (I still let him choose his books). Besides picture book classics, he has at varying times enjoyed math workbooks, Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (adult level) The Bible, 1001 Food Facts (adult level), Crows of Pear Blossom, The Counting Dictionary, Reader's Digest Explorers Weather, and the Solar System. His favorite non-bedtime reading materials have included Peanuts, Garfield, and Star Wars comics, and also for the brief time we allowed it, Captain Underpants.
     Bedtime stories is one of the few beloved interactive activities that has stuck through all these years—a special time that the kids get to spend on our king-size bed, one-on-one, ranging from ten to thirty minutes each. It's a great way for me to wind down for early bedtime (I'm an early riser) before spending time with my wife beside me on our bed. From reading to them to sleeping, it's one of my favorite times of the day. I pray that they will remember these times with fondness, too.

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