Photo credit: Sandy Oakley Photography
As a small child, reading at night with a parent had a certain magic to it! Tucked into the cozy comfort of bed with the lights low and an adult nestled beside me with my favourite book, created a sense of closeness and safety that allowed me to let go of the days busyness and slip comfortably into the vivid world of the imagination. It was a post-bath ritual that I yearned for and it often felt too short….”Please, Mom just one more story and I promise to go right to sleep!” Later as a parent of two wonderful boys, I came to love sharing the bedtime reading ritual with them.
My memories of reading as a child don’t include my father reading with me. Perhaps he read to me, but not often enough for me to recall. My father travelled a lot for work and was often busy during the evenings or weekends. He did enjoy reading while on vacation, however, and especially loved works of non-fiction such as Canadian author Pierre Berton’s 1971 book “The Last Spike” describing the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1881 and 1885.
Both my mother and my grandmother were teachers and fostered my love of reading that continues today. One of my favourite childhood books, “The Flying Hockey Stick”, was given to me by two of my uncles. I wore this book out; mesmerized by the adventures of Barnaby Jones as he rescued folks from around the world on his fan-powered, flying hockey stick!
When they were very little, my inquisitive sons loved to be read to by both of us. Some of my favourite memories with Riley and Evan include making up stories for them, and sharing bedtime books such as Margaret Wise Brown’s “Goodnight Moon”…Goodnight bears, Goodnight chairs, Goodnight kittens And goodnight mittens”…or the captivating “Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen. Reading with my children became a magical experience.
Bonding with my boys through the joy of reading when they were little, set the stage for reading with them as they got older. As pre-teens, we read aloud all of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. Unable to put these down, we backpacked hardcover copies into remote mountain locations such as Mt. Assiniboine (pronounced “ass in a boine” by my kids)! Pleasantly tired from hiking and tucked into our toasty sleeping bags under a canopy of stars, we read by headlamp, while the river beside our tent playfully murmured and lulled us to sleep.
As the “Readers in Residence” at the Children’s Reading Place, Christine and I began to muse on how we could encourage dads to read with their children. Current research by SH!FT, The Project to End Domestic Violence, in conjunction with the University of Calgary, identified an increase in stay-at-home fathers and cites 24% of single-parent families in Alberta as being headed by males. It also highlights an increase in both same-sex parents and step-families. The study promotes “Positive Father Involvement” (“…dads who promote their child’s well-being and security by taking an active role in caring for their child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical health…”) as a way to lower domestic violence, create more expansive notions of masculinity and increase gender equality. As a father and a psychologist, fostering opportunities for dads and children to share the joy of reading, seemed to fit this paradigm.
We wanted to provide an opportunity for dads to read at night with their children in a magical setting. This is how the Dads Reading Nights (Read at Night by Flashlight!) came into being. Unable to backpack into the mountains with everyone, we decided to create a memorable reading experience for dads and their children by projecting shadow pictures onto a darkened ceiling while reading aloud together. Later we encouraged dads and their kids to find a book, tuck into a nook and read together in the dark by flashlight. It is hard to describe the magic that took place on those nights when the lights went off. It’s as if we turned a switch (ok so we turned off several switches!) and in the semi-darkness, a hush fell over the house, not unlike the first snowfall. Fathers and children tucked themselves into various nooks throughout the house and we witnessed excited whispers, soft smiles, and the sense that reading together had become a sacred pastime!
Photo credit: Sandy Oakley Photography
So far we’ve had three wonderful “Dads Nights” and we plan to continue offering more in the New Year! Follow us on social media to find out about our next series!
In a world so over-stimulated by computer games, social media, and cell-phones, reading in the dark by flashlight, has an “old-school” feel to it. There is something comforting and timeless about this simple way of turning off the bustle and reconnecting with those we love. It is also a playful way for fathers to engage with their children and cultivate imagination and literacy.
May the New Year find you nestled in the dark, between the covers of a good book, reading by flashlight!
Reader in Residence