Quarantine in Wonderland

On our family’s recent February break trip to Arizona, a flight attendant pulled me aside while exiting the plane. It was past eleven o’clock at night, and I was weary from a day of packing, rushing, and entertaining in-flight children for nearly six hours. Holding my youngest child and dragging a carry-on, I worried, “Oh no, what have I done wrong?”

Instead, this flight attendant, an older Southern woman, said, “I noticed your daughters cuddled up with you while you were reading to them. I have to say, that’s something I never see anymore. Parents reading to kids on flights! I even wanted to take your picture doing it!” 

I quickly replied, “Sarah, Plain & Tall is one of my favorites!” As I made my way up the jetway toward baggage claim, I wondered, “Is it really that unusual?” 

At PCA, it’s not. That’s a fact. Over our February break trip, we were finishing the home stretch of PCA’s annual Read-a-thon. As one of the Lower School librarians, I had spent the last three weeks tallying the 350,000 minutes that our students had read! Many of those hours were logged by parents sitting on living room couches reading to their children.

And guess what? This simple activity – reading aloud to our children – is one of the best possible things we can do for them. Countless studies show that reading aloud to children enhances their language acquisition, powers critical thinking, and develops empathy and wonder. 

If family read-alouds are new to you, here are some suggestions: 

  • Keep it simple. A picture book you haven’t read to your ten-year-old in three years. A classic like Peter Pan or The Secret Garden. Something from the public domain that you can download easily. This maybe isn’t the time to tackle Homer’s Odyssey (maybe it is!), but that’s okay. The objective is the time spent, the language exchanged, and the thinking sparked! 
  • Be silly. Don’t be afraid to ‘get into character’ and use silly voices! My husband’s high-pitched Pippi Longstocking has our whole family in stitches most evenings around here! 
  • Adjust for the needs of your specific family. Hands that need to keep busy during read-aloud can work on a puzzle or draw illustrations for the story. Skype with Grandma in Arkansas while she reads some of her favorite poems. If read-alouds are already part of your family’s daily routine, mix things up a bit. Light a candle, and let everyone brew a cup of tea or cocoa to enjoy during the story. Create an atmosphere that will draw your children into the comfort of read-aloud time. 
  • Read to older children tooMy oldest daughter, a seventh-grader, still loves read-alouds, even picture books! Read-alouds provide her with a comfortable, imaginative space to unplug from the worries and pressures of adolescence. 

During our family’s current shelter-in-place, I’ve been overwhelmed on social media with a flurry of links and apps to enhance my children’s remote learning experiences. I simply cannot keep up with all of the countless opportunities the Internet suggests. If you’re like me, let me reassure you that simple joys – baking together, rambling through the woods, and, of course, reading aloud – are some of the most productive, educational, and relational ways we can spend time with our families during this strange season of social distancing.  

Why feel stuck at home when a book can take your family’s imagination to a thousand places?! I can’t wait to hear where you travel.

Suggested public domain titles for your e-reader: 

  • Grades PreK-2: My Father’s Dragon, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Velveteen Rabbit, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, Aesop’s Fables 
  • Grades 3-5: A Little Princess, Black Beauty, White Fang, Peter Pan, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, The Complete Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Heidi, The Prince and the Pauper, Swiss Family Robinson, The Princess and the Goblin, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle 
  • Grades 6-8: Little Women, Treasure Island, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Jungle Book 
  • Grades 9-12: Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield 

Written by Gina Henker, Lower School Librarian at PCA.