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World Read-Aloud Day on Feb. 5

On my all too brief recent visit to my grandchildren in San Francisco, I was amazed to see how technology has become such a part of their young lives. Diego, 9, Emilio, 6, and Juliana, 4, own their own Fire tablets, a fairly inexpensive device for movies, games, surfing and more. Of course, I knew how necessary such a device would be in homes where parents have full-time jobs and housekeeping and parenting to worry about besides. How to keep their youngsters preoccupied is a valid question.

Still, what a great house rule to demand that no devices be used at mealtimes so conversations can happen. To me, my main job during the days with them was no longer to do the dishes and the laundry—the machines are convenient, but there is still the time-consuming chore of sorting out—but instead, to revive a daily ritual we had during their younger years (even from their infancy!): our read-aloud sessions. How pleased I was to see how well-remembered and well-loved this practice remains, and that books can still manage to lure them from YouTube episodes that they watch over and over again.

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The kids chided me for keeping their favorite books in my personal storage in their garage, and how they laughed because they understood what I meant when I said that those would be lost in the mess in their rooms. I had to start off with “Too Many Toys” by David Shannon, but it did not work—they would not part with any of their toys I kept bumping into all over the house. This merits its own children’s story, by the way. Then on to their other Shannon favorites, “No, David!” and the other David books—all of them recited from memory while I flipped the pages of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, and Carle’s classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Because they also know books by Filipino authors, such as “A Day in the Market” by May Tobias Papa, illustrated by Isabel Roxas, I read to them their current favorites, especially relevant as they had just come from Manila: “Good Morning, Manila” and “Good Night, Manila” by Yvette Fernandez, illustrated by Nicole Lim.

Even Diego, a 4th grader, asked for a bedtime story the night he chose to sleep with me. I left San Francisco feeling there were many things left undone, but reassured that I had at least done what truly matters. Truly, reading aloud is a special magical sharing time with children that is unsurpassed by any other experience.

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Its appeal is for all ages, not only for beginning readers. This realization came back to me last week on the heels of International School Manila’s centennial. Mark Villacin of class 1999, a student from decades ago in his elementary school years, and I got reconnected on Facebook, and he wrote: “You taught me how to actually love reading books. You made me realize how great Roald Dahl is, I still watch his books made into movies from time to time. You are one of the reasons elementary was fun for me… You are a great storyteller.” Those words are the psychic rewards of teaching.

Today, Mark, 39, who is into real estate and electronics, says, “ I would like to repay in my own way the chance you gave me to enjoy elementary years.” I think of these reading anecdotes especially in light of World Read-Aloud Day on Feb. 5, an international celebration in over 173 countries that is now on its 11th year. The practice of reading aloud is bolstered by research that says it’s the single most important activity for eventual success in school and in reading. What are we then waiting for? If the parents of the students in our classes are too busy with the challenges of day-to-day living, it is incumbent upon teachers and other available surrogates to do the read-aloud. One does not need to be an actor, just a sincere and earnest reader determined to make reading the pleasurable act that it is. Think of our dismal Programme for International Student Assessment results and work on the basics—learn and love to read. What a legacy to leave the young with.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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