About a year ago, I found myself at weekly appointments with a speech therapist who specializes in functional breathing difficulties. I was dealing with some breathing and voice issues and my allergy and asthma doctor thought I might benefit from “relearning to breathe.” The process was fascinating—we worked on posture, word lists, tongue placement, swallowing, different kinds of breaths, etc. But the most interesting stuff I learned during the therapy had to do with brain plasticity and habit formation.
As I learned to place my tongue farther back on the roof of my mouth when it was resting (which turned out to be key for my difficulties) the speech therapist said, “The important thing is to touch that new spot with the tip of your tongue as often as you can through the day. Just touch it there. That’s all. Don’t worry about holding it there—in fact, don’t hold it there. Just touch it to that new spot. As often as you possibly can. Your brain will do the rest.”
I was doubtful and too earnest for this too easy assignment—how could it be that simple? But he was right. (I guess he would know a few things.) Within a week my tongue placement was better without me having to think about it. It continued to improve from there.
Which made me remember reading with my babies. I made a vow early in the parenting journey: Read Early and Often. (And in case you are wondering, my husband reads to them, too. Just not as…um…compulsively.) I read to them as babies—while they were nursing, while we waited in all those places you wait, at nap/bedtime and when they woke up, too. We read in the bathtub and in the car, in the sandbox and in the pool, at the table and on the stairs. When they were little, we kept books at their level and I promised myself that I would drop whatever I was doing if someone toddled over with a book. When they inevitably chewed on the book, brushed it aside, or wiggled down, I let them go. We simply touched the reading spot as often as we could throughout the day.
Touching the reading spot formed habits. Just as my new tongue position has become more natural for me, reading anywhere and everywhere became natural for the kiddos. Today, they seldom leave the house without a book. Books are strewn everywhere in our home—the only “clutter” that does not bother me. One of them takes as much delight in “arranging” books as I do, the other just likes to be surrounded by them however they fall.
I once had a colleague whose parenting philosophy was this: Take no credit, accept no blame…. Which is sound advice, I think. I don’t know what makes readers—certainly reading to kids is an important piece. But I know kids in reading families who hate to read and I know kids living in bookless homes who inhale a book when they get one. For me and mine, I think the Read Early and Often philosophy served us well. We touch the reading spot as naturally as we breathe.
Photo Credit: Katherine Warde