03 June 2010

What Your Kids Are Reading - Why Silly is Good

Kids' books have the most charming titles. Adult book writers could learn from them: Beauty and the Beaks; Click Clack Moo: Cows that type; Chicken Butt; Never Tease a Weasel - well, you get the idea.

Innocence and fun seem to be two words meant for each other. Children trust that all intentions are good, unless they are taught otherwise. They want to smile, even when a situation does not seem to warrant it. Happiness is the instinctive state of mankind - the one before we layer on all sorts of miseries and woe. I am certainly not the first person to state that the world would be safer, kinder, and more peaceful if child-like virtues took over more often. It is the innate wisdom of a child to wish to see a sunnier side of a situation, and a measure of our deep-down decency as adults to want to give that to them.

Seriously parents, what do you think will happen if you read silly books to your children? Do you think they will never take life seriously? On the contrary - life will force its seriousness upon your children soon enough. Are you afraid these books aren't teaching good values? Goofy does not negate the message. When "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out," her predicament satisfactorily illustrates responsibility as well as any grim pronouncement can. Why not laugh? Chances are, adults who are grumpy about a book's silliness could probably stand to be a little sillier from time to time. Don't worry that your kids will be confused about reality. Kids have as clear an idea of the absurd as you do. They know it's silly and that's the point.

There are a couple of other practical reasons for a dose of silly: for one, it gets them to read. Part of the great value of silly is that it is often carefully constructed phonetic word-play. Possibly the best known example of this is the Dr. Seuss brand of wacky naming/rhyming schemes and far-out situations. In taking your child outside the mundane realm of labored reading, he frees them to explore more imaginative thinking while he, in turn, is free to sneak in all the phonetic sound practice you could ask for.

Silly sells. If the title draws the interest of your little one, the rest is easy. In addition, when you read goofy nonsense to your kids, you laugh too. Kids feel better when they sense that Mom and Dad are enjoying the fun and the experience is enhanced all around. It's good when the reading experience seems less like eating one's spinach, and more like having a treat.

Silly words are still words. They still teach, and they still count as reading. Besides, you don't read solely for information - you read for fun. So Relax. Climb in a big chair with your kids and read yourselves silly.

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