Submitted by Keith Wilcox, Boulder, CO.
I just finished reading Old Man and the Sea. I didn't read it for me; I've already read it several times to myself. I spent 30 minutes every day reading it to my boys over the course of this past week. In case you're wondering, they are 6 and 5 years old, and they can't read it by themselves. I recently made a promise to myself to read a portion of an adult book to them every day. I thought that it would be a good idea to get them involved in the classics, to give them an appreciation for books other than picture books. Their only responsibility would be to sit there and listen. What I've found is that the reading stimulates much more that mere interest in classics. It actually gives them new vocabulary and an entirely different perspective on life (at least temporarily). There are certain books that have the power to teach and to transform us. One of those is Old Man and the Sea. It is particularly suited for boys, and it's guaranteed to keep their attention.
It might be surprising, when you sit down to read out loud, that it's not as easy to pull-off as we imagine. Sure, we did it when we were kids and we had to read for the class. We've also given speeches to coworkers. Perhaps we've read from note cards to a large auditorium. It's not the same as reading classic literature out loud. It takes practice. It's easy to lose the rhythm and end up having the book lose some of it's luster. It's good to be patient and let it come. Once you get into it it'll feel natural and easy – and your kids will appreciate the extra emphasis you add along the way, the spice so to speak.
The Old Man and the Sea requires a bit of explanation along the way. My kids have never been fishing in the ocean so didn't know any of the terms. Gaff, Harpoon, Gunwale, Stern, Bow, Jib... . The list goes on. We stopped periodically so that I could explain some of the terms to them. My youngest son asked me if he could sit in the stern of the car yesterday. He meant the trunk. I thought that was funny. There are other, more complicated, concepts for them to understand too. For instance, why was the old man so determined to get the fish? What relationship did he have with the fish? Why was it so painful for him to see the sharks come? These classic books provide the perfect avenue to teach kids about life, especially by way of anything Hemingway wrote.
Reading is all kinds of fun when done with feeling. Imagine reading about the fight the old man had with the sharks. As a parent, you can put all sorts of feeling and excitement into that. The kids get sucked right into it. You'll stop reading for the day and the kids will say “Oh, Dad, read a little more!” That especially holds true for a novella like The Old Man and the Sea because there are no chapters; it is not convenient to find a place to stop. You'll find yourself saying, “Just one more page.” And you'll just keep going. When you do finally finish for the day, ask the kids to pretend they were the old man. Ask them what they would do in his position. Would they cut the line and let the fish go? Would they determine to either kill the fish or get killed trying? Kids love what ifs.
Choose Good Books
Don't go pick any random book off the shelf. It's gotta be something that you think your kid would like. I made a list of books that I liked as a kid. It's right here http://www.almightydad.com/toys/books-to-read-to-boys/ for anybody looking for a few suggestions. I made the list with boys in mind because I have boys and no experience with girls. Sorry to every with girls! The choice of books really makes all the difference. As I Lay Here Dying is probably not the best pick even though it is a classic. Kids love action and adventure.
Reading to my kids has been one of the best experiences of their childhood for me. It has given me quality time with my kids and served as an excellent platform for their learning. They don't even know they're learning! It relaxes them before bedtime with the dual purpose of calming me down after a stressful day. It's always nice to be transported to a different world after a day cleaning the house and running errands. Read to the kids. Neither of you will regret it.