A few weeks ago, I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and found myself challenged by a number of ideas. As the title suggests, the book encourages parents to simplify their family lives, limiting possessions and establishing a daily, weekly and yearly rhythm. I was already on board with keeping a limit on toys, and tried to ensure that the ones available to Alice were open ended to encourage her to use her imagination. What threw me was that the author recommended limiting the number of books available too. Initially, I was dismissive. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than to read or be read to. I always had a few books on the go at once, and would disappear for hours as soon as I got home from the library. Echoes of my teacher training also returned to me, reminding me of how important it is to have a rich and varied reading environment. Clearly 'simplifying' Alice's already plentiful collection of books wasn't for me.
A few days later I was reading with Alice. Cuddled up together, we reached the final page. I closed the book. Then, in the grand toddler tradition, my little girl looked at me and said "Again?" This was far from the first occasion this has happened. At any one time, there are always two or three books that she adores and will listen to as many times as I have patience to read. For a week or two, she'll obsess about them. Snippets of their plots will pop up in her conversation and several times she has mentioned favourite phrases in her sleep. I found this pretty wearing. She had so many books to choose from, why bring me the same ones? To my shame, I ended up trying to hide some books when I became fed up of reading them. Suddenly, the wisdom of reducing available books made sense. The richness and quality of a child's exposure to books isn't down to how many they are read. Becoming totally familiar and involved with a story is of far greater importance. Repetition puts a small child at ease and they are able to process the words, pictures, intonation and associated feelings far more than if they read a new book every day.
I have decided to take the same attitude to books that I do with toys. I will be ruthless with those that do nothing to inspire the imagination, and keep only those that are good quality stories. Out of that collection, I will store some out of sight to act as our own mini library, leaving just a few for Alice to choose from at any one time. Although I thought this would involve consigning myself to literary boredom, I'm surprised at how much I enjoy rereading the stories. It is amazing at how a well written and illustrated children's book has more to offer than it at first appears. Through learning to take my daughter's lead, we're both finding the benefit of saying "Again?"