When we started putting our son to bed in his own room, I wanted to read him to sleep. I took out some of his books, like "Goodnight Moon," and, "Tumble Bumble." For those of you unfamiliar, such children's books are extremely short and take less than five minutes to read. Maybe six if you go really slow and do a picture show. After reading these, he seemed to be content, though not sleeping yet. I settled into the glider and took my own book out, listening to his breathing as I read silently.
After about ten minutes, he sounded restless. I began reading my book to him. The sound of my voice quieted him, so I continued. It didn't matter what I was reading to him, but that he heard my voice. It didn't matter that it was, "The Code: Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL." Or did it?
"The Code" discusses why fighting is a part of hockey, including history and current events. Frankly, did that matter?
I have a theory about what to read to kids. There are three parts: reading some books over and over, reading new material, and reading for yourself.
Reading the same books over and over will allow the child to get used to some books and begin to memorize these books. That can facilitate learning to read. However, reading the same thing over and over will drive you, the parent, nuts.
Reading new material exposes the child to new adventures and diversifies the language used. If he or she memorizes a few simple books, then hears and sees some of the same words in new books, their reading vocabulary may increase. It also allows the parent to hear something new, keeping you enthusiastic about reading to you child.
That brings me back to, "The Code." That's a book for me. My son was not yet three months old. He doesn't know what I'm reading, but how I'm reading. He hears my voice and its inflections. Reading adult material (keep your mind out of the gutter) to your child will allow you to catch up on your own reading, while bringing more sophisticated content to your child.
Will I read that subject matter to him when he's able to understand? Probably not. Nor would I read horror stories to him now; no matter what age he is or what tone I use, I just don't think reading "It" or "The Shining" to my son is a good idea. If you had "The Da Vinci Code" or some James Patterson novel, it wouldn't hurt him and would keep you in your right mind. When he's older, biographies or longer fantasies like, "Gulliver's Travels." I know I'll be a saner person for it.
After reading a chapter to him, he was sound asleep. He slept through the night. Although I don't stay in his room reading anymore, we read the paper in the morning, a couple of his books during playtime, and occasionally some of my books at other times.
In a few years, I'll let you know how he turned out. Did he learn to read early? Did he memorize books? Did he learn how to properly antagonize his opponent into a fight in order to reap justice for a previous infraction? Or will he just be a normal kid?