My three sons had no idea what was waiting in the package that arrived one cold and snowy day before Christmas 2012. Their dad had been away for four months of a yearlong deployment, and the holidays were looming large. My kids were missing their dad terribly.
We opened the package together. We were curious when two books came out, then a colorful portfolio from United Through Reading. Inside was a DVD. We popped it into the DVD player right away and there was my husband, waving and smiling to my boys from the screen.
He began to read the very books my boys were holding tight in their hands. They were so happy. They danced around the room almost unaware that daddy was reading those books to them. That changed with every subsequent viewing.
You might be wondering why the change. You see, two of my boys have challenges. My youngest was nonverbal at the time we received that wonderful package. My middle child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The way they see the world is precious and beautiful. Their challenges are a unique part of who they are.
I expected this DVD with daddy reading books to my boys to be a wonderful way for them to connect with daddy and to feel comforted when they missed him. It certainly was.
An unexpected benefit was just how much the simple act of having daddy read aloud to them on demand would also help to improve their language skills, reading skills and social interactions–three hallmarks of their challenges and struggles.
I’m a psychologist by trade, and so of course I was aware of the benefits of reading aloud to a child. It promotes emerging literacy and language development, stimulates cognitive skills, builds motivation, curiosity, and memory and supports the relationship between child and parent.
As a parent, however, I never realized the incredible potential this had to change my little ones’ lives. As they watched their daddy read their favorite books over and over again (as is very familiar to us as parents, who hasn’t had a child watch their favorite movies and programs over and over?) I witnessed changes.
The changes were subtle at first, then they were bigger. My youngest started to attempt to read along with his dad. Then little by little more words began to come out. My little boy who had no words to describe his feelings was now reading with his daddy! His emerging language skills were bolstered by these interactions.
My older son would “chat” with daddy and read the book back and summarize what he had read. These simple acts, this simple gift increased both of my boys’ language and communication skills. As a parent, I could not be more grateful.
United through Reading has a simple premise: To unite military families facing physical separation by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together which in turn eases the stress of separation, maintains positive emotional connections and cultivates a love of reading.
I am here to tell you that all of that is true; but it also offers so much more to our kids: the gift of improved literacy, language development, and, for this mom, the experience of hearing her son who was once intelligible, speak and interact with his daddy from afar.
This is a simple gift I will treasure always. They still dance but now they have finally found their voice too.
Ingrid Herrera-Yee is a military spouse, a clinical and research psychologist and the AFI 2014 National Guard Spouse of the Year. She is the Founder of an organization for Military Spouse Behavioral Health clinicians (msbhc.org) and resides in Maryland with her husband and three beautiful boys.
Photo compliments of Ingrid Herrera-Yee.