One mom’s perspective: igniting that spark in your children’s mind through reading

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss from the book “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”

I grew up in a humble, middle class home to Croatian immigrants in Windsor, Ontario.  Both my parents worked in the auto industry.  We grew up simply and I had a wonderful and modest childhood.  We didn’t have anything extravagant growing up, but the one thing I do remember was that monthly order from Scholastic Book Club. My parents felt it was very important to expose us to books as they believed it was vital towards our education and development.  I remember the pure joy and excitement when that monthly book order would arrive. My father, with his best efforts in his broken English, would read to my brother and I every night before bed when he worked days’ shift.  It was during these precious moments where I developed this love for reading.  “Corduroy” by Don Freeman remains to this day one of my favourite children’s tales.

When I became pregnant with my first son, I started putting together a little children’s library.  I remember starting it with a Croatian alphabet book that we had purchased in Croatia during our “babymoon.” Books such as “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch and “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney filled the shelves. However, my oldest son surprised us nearly three months early and spent some time in the NICU.   During his NICU stay, we were made aware about the benefits of reading and singing to premature infants. Various academic studies noted the following benefits of reading to premature infants, namely, increased bonding between parent and child, decreased stress levels, language and overall brain development in premature infants. For those reasons, I made it my life’s mission to read to him every day during our NICU stay….and to this very day, I still do. In general, padeiatricians and early childhood educators have recommended that reading should start during infancy. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s website, reading to children can “help prepare them for school and set them up for success later in life.”

As a parent, I think its so important to take the time to read to kids, especially in this age of iPhones and tablets. Although I understand that technology is now a normal part of society, I also believe in balance: in teaching kids the importance of reading and being read to. This means not just simply teaching children how to read, but to help them formulate ideas, comprehension, imagination and most importantly, to appreciate the value of a good book. The goal is simple: using reading as a tool to spark their little imaginations and to help them grow.

It makes me proud knowing that my boys enjoy being read to, sometimes multiple times a day! My oldest son is now in grade 1 and he just started reading; while my youngest who is now in junior kindergarten, is trying to read as well. It’s been amazing to us as parents to see how reading has sparked that curiosity inside of them not just through story time, but through imaginative play and art.

The boys definitely have some favourite books who are constantly on rotation- Dr. Seuss and Robert Munch, to name a few. They also enjoy the many books we brought back from Croatia, such as Moje Male Molitve za Svaki Dan (Everyday Prayers,) or Gdje si, mala maco? (Where are you, little kitten?) Pre-covid, we used to spend many weekends venturing out to our local library, exploring all the books on the shelves and checking out new releases. Story time has overall fostered a positive impact on their lives and have formulated fond memories for all of us. For instance, whenever I see the book, “On The Night You Were Born,” (by Nancy Tillman,) it always brings me back to those early days when we brought our oldest son home from the hospital.

Story time has certainly strengthened our bond as a family and it’s something we look forward to after a long day. Life has definitely come full circle: to that time way back in Windsor when my father, in that very broken English, used to read to me, to the present day where I now read to my two small boys. It is my hope that one day, my boys will read to their future children too. Reading and appreciating books is a gift that we must never take for granted.

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Some of my children’s favourite books:

  • “Say Something” by Peter H. Reynolds
  • “I am Human” by Susan Verde
  • “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
  • “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss
  • “I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch
  • “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” by Eric Litwin
  • “Icky Little Duckling” by Steve Smallman

References:

My first day of jk: from the eyes of an NICU parent

Today was my son’s first day of junior kindergarten. Like many parents, sending your first child to elementary school comes with a variety of emotions: excitement, happiness, joy, and perhaps disbelief over the fact that your baby is now growing up. It is only natural, I would say, for a parent to feel this way as you’ve witnessed your little human being grow from baby, to toddler to preschooler.

I suppose that today was rather bittersweet. Although my son was more than ready to start junior kindergarten, a part of me was not. The weeks leading up until today, my son would exclaim “I am a big boy, I am going to big school now!” and I would just laugh. But a big part of me felt sad and for whatever reason, and memories of the NICU started to slowly creep back. My little baby, who was very fragile those first few months of life, is now a feisty little boy.  Most people I spoke with assumed that I was going to be fine on the first day of school, considering that he’s been in daycare since the age of 1. But I did not feel that way, rather, I was sad knowing that he was growing up. Time was going by way too fast.

abc books chalk chalkboard
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Up until today, I started to have many flashbacks of our time in the NICU. In fact, I can still hear those monitors beeping. I remember the nurses recording how many millimetres of breastmilk he took by an NG tube, or how much weight he gained during weight check day.

It feels like yesterday that we routinely visited his neonatal follow-up clinic, where we spent a few hours observing how he played, or reviewing the results of his Bailey assessment for his development. I remember the nurses plotting down his growth on a chart and the doctor explaining his progression on the growth curve.

It feels like yesterday that we were taking him to daycare for the first time, being worried about the amount of colds he would get and how it would affect his health, considering he was still at risk for various respiratory illnesses.

It feels like yesterday that we were working with his occupational therapist with his feeding and trying to figure out why he had so many issues with feeding.

It feels like yesterday that I attended classes for Target Word, in an attempt to help him with his speech.

It feels like yesterday when his ENT told me that he needed his tonsils and adenoids removed immediately as he had severe sleep apnea and that he was not breathing properly at nighttime. (I was given only two days notice, by the way).

It feels like yesterday when we went to his final neonatal follow-up clinic where he was discharged from the program, as he met all his milestones for his corrected age.

It feels like yesterday when his daycare teachers told us that he is ready for junior kindergarten. Was it coming that soon?

Yet, despite all of those obstacles….here we are. Although the worry is always there, I take comfort knowing that my child finally graduated from preschool and is now in junior kindergarten.

As I watched my son enter his classroom for the first time today, I did shed a few tears. He was so proud of himself of the way he held his new backpack. However, I came to the realization that these were tears of joy, because I knew he did it, despite everything he’s been through.

What makes this day even more special is knowing how well all the children (who were in the NICU the same time as my son was,) are doing now. I do keep in touch with a few of the parents I met during our time there and it is so remarkable to see our former preemies grow up and do so well.  They are thriving! The week leading up until the first day of school, I saw an array of photos on social media, with backpacks, lunches packed and of course photos of our kids eith the “first day of school” sign.  It is amazing to witness the absolute excitement in their eyes. Starting junior kindergarten is a special milestone for any family, let alone an NICU one.

To all my NICU parents, all I can say is this: We did it!