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Family and Community

Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Barnett
Reading Every Morning
By Amy Crawford

For the Barnett family, stories have been an important way to keep family connections strong. Here Chuck and Joyce Barnett, and their daughter, Katelyn, 14, talk about what reading has meant to each of them and how they keep it a part of everyday life as individuals and as a family. Rosalee Larson, Joyce's mother, is currently writing her memoirs so that she can pass on her stories to her children and grandchildren. Joyce's brother, Curt Larson, lives in Seattle, so to bridge the distance between Washington and Alaska, he created stories and plays about his cat, Schooner, and sent them to Katelyn.

* * *

Katelyn Barnett
Every morning, first thing, Joyce Barnett used to piggyback her daughter, Katelyn, into her bedroom and let her wake up to story-time. "She wasn't particularly fond of school," says Joyce, "and so reading to her was a nice way to start the day. I carried her like that on my back until she was in fourth grade and I had back surgery."

"When she started reading chapters in books, I sort of lost out on being able to read to her," says Joyce. "I would bring home books and start reading them to her, and then I'd find them up in her room later," where Katelyn would tear through them on her own.

"I was reading Nancy Drew in second grade," says Katelyn.

When Katelyn was a child, says Joyce, "I always had paper, pencils, and crayons out … She used to want to produce a book and get it published." Now Katelyn, 14, writes for a school newspaper, although she says she prefers to write essays because she gets to express her opinion. She says she's more interested in convincing people of something than reporting the facts.

"I did a lot of early reading with Katelyn from this," says Joyce, pulling out a well-used copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. "The language is rich," she says, as opposed to Disney-type stories, which are concerned with pictures and action. "There are very few illustrations" -- every ten pages or so feature black and white sketches, but most of the book is text. "A child can make up the story in her own mind by creating their own visual parts. This adds to the rich imagination that should be fostered as long as possible through childhood."

Joyce says she started reading Grimm's when Katelyn was about 4 years old. "You always fell asleep so I poked you," Katelyn pipes in, clearly remembering the times.

Chuck and Joyce Barnett
"I chose what to read for a young age, and then I added stories as she got older," says Joyce. Some of the stories have more advanced messages than others, she says, and a few parents may feel that the more traditional tales are scary. "I never found this to be the case. If you read in a bland voice then the child isn't afraid, and the message (usually good wins over evil), comes across with the child creating the images."

Joyce says it benefits a child to choose books "rich in language, that are far above what you think they can understand." She says to Katelyn, "I think you developed a vocabulary above your years because you heard it; it became music to you." Hearing complex language early helps children develop their vocabulary on an unconscious level, says Joyce. They wake up to the world with a language for exploring it.

Playing to the Imagination

Playing and reading helped Katelyn develop a rich imagination, says Joyce, and it helps with her writing now.

Joyce promoted play with simple items like plain wooden blocks, string, cloths and blankets. "Many of the plastic toys available are too elaborate or specific to one play scheme. A set of wooden blocks can become anything a child can develop in his or her mind. Toys should provide an entrance into imaginative thought," says Joyce.

"When you play, your memories are more vivid," adds Katelyn. "We had invisible horses and I can remember them in exact detail," Katelyn recalls, "When you're little time slows down but you don't do a lot either -- you go to school and you play -- so what you remember is about all your little kid memories because it's kind of like time stops … It's like that moment is there forever … but when you're bigger you have too much to do." But reading helps create time for reflection and that fosters imagination.

Katelyn still loves to read -- when she has a book. "Teachers shouldn't give too much homework because it takes away from reading time at home," she says. Her precious reading time has been overtaken by homework, she says, and she misses those evening hours spent alone with a book.

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