One way to engage children in mindfulness is the act of reading aloud. Reading aloud and being read to takes a degree of engagement that can captivate the senses and feel like a warm hug all at once. One of the practices we started from a very young age was bedtime stories with the girls. Reading with them has long been a go-to ritual that has been the bedrock of our night-time routine since our very first daughter stepped on the pages of our life. We have an ever growing, library-sized picture book collection to prove it. A purge is definitely due, however getting buy-in from their father has eluded me.
As the older two have gotten older they still listen in as we read those same bedtime stories to the younger two. They very much enjoy the communal storytelling atmosphere of reading together, but I could tell it was increasingly hard for them to be present due to the subject matter of some of the books. Rhymes and rhythms and quirky cadences are funny but only kids under 4 will still laugh after the 100th time. So for a long time, I have been wanting to read a book with content that was age appropriate for my older two and would not go completely over the 4 year old's head.
If it were up to my husband we would probably read 1-2 age appropriate books for each of the four girls every night. I just can't. My husband is a book f-a-n-a-t-i-c, social justice advocate and a political junkie. So when I came to him about wanting to read more age appropriate books for the older two during our bedtime routine, of course he jumped at the opportunity. I should have known he would throw himself into finding just the right combination of civil rights, mixed with historical fiction. Yay... (in the most tepid tone imaginable). Look, I know the importance of the girls' knowing their history and being advocates for social justice. I want that too. But I was thinking more of a Wrinkle in time sort of situation. We ended up starting a book far from that magical, whimsical genre and arrived at The Watson's go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. Y'all this book was not what I had in mind. Story time has never been fraught with so many questions and conversation starters. Every time the characters in the book engage in issues of "bullying or teasing" or "the newest childhood crush" I see the the wheels start-a-turning in the big girls' eyes. Then the questions fly. The engagement level of story time has gone to 10 and although most of what is going on in the book is over the little girls' heads, they enjoy how animated the big girls are over the contents of this book. We have actually started reading earlier in the evening because they get so revved up before they have to go to bed. The energy they bring feels good even at the expense of bedtime story time evolving into "wake up and let's get at it" story time. Asking questions about how they feel about what's going on in the book is truly helping them be mindful. They are able to see how words can evoke thoughts that can impact feelings. Helping them identify and sit with all sorts of feelings and to map where they may have come from, is a life lesson of immeasurable value.
Afterward I try to do some breathing exercises once the girls get into bed to aid in the wind down process. They often still have lingering questions and excitement over the book that I lovingly help them put on a shelf for another time. Although it wasn't my first choice, the girls seem to enjoy this book so far. I like that it is from voices they often times do not hear in other circles. Exposing the girls to other cultures, perspectives and points of view is a top priority for me so if I can use the mindful exercise of reading aloud to entice their curiosities and expose them to diversity in literature, then it's a win even if hard conversations arise. The nights we read from The Watson's go to Birmingham are some of the most precious times even if it is just a couple of pages. At this pace who knows how long it will take to finish but the goal is not to get to the end but to enjoy the winding journey unfold, page by page. We will probably start having them take turns reading aloud so that everyone can participate in what can be quite therapeutic, the gift of being read to and the gift of reading to others all while connecting to our roots as storytellers.