Isn’t it passé, like Christmas in July? Not really. The waning of the year is a good time to reflect on years past, and to imagine summers that lie ahead. It’s the gift of seasonal change, that inevitable cycle of challenge and comfort in temperate regions of the world.
In her video interview with me, Katherine B. Hauth talked about how a group of neighborhood children came together to form a summer reading group.It ran for many years in her home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. She collected books, arranged them on the floor, and opened her doors to neighborhood children whose parents had agreed to the impromptu routine. She didn’t know all the families. She certainly didn’t know all the kids. I asked Katherine to tell me how the rules of the group were established.
Here is what she said:
My idea of reading to one child had spontaneously spread in the neighborhood. Now six children, boys and girls from five to ten–I didn’t know with what kind of parenting–would soon be inside. I didn’t have a childproof house so we needed some rules. No matter how much children dislike them, I’d observed that one of the first things they do when creating their own games was establish rules. I reasoned that the rules should be set primarily by the children. We stopped at my front door; everyone bunched together.
“Since we’ll be reading inside,” I said, “what should some of the rules be?” They could hardly wait to be the first to offer suggestions, and they figured things out just fine: no yelling, sit quietly, no talking during reading, and they could leave when they wanted. “But not until the story ends” I added. The rule that surprised me (the joy of letting rules come from the kids) was that they decided, “We need to take off our shoes.”
As they removed and lined up their shoes by the door, I gathered books from my office according the varied ages. Then I read to them as long as they were interested.
The children asked if we could “do reading” every week. I wrote their names, ages, and interests. I checked with the parents to learn that Wednesday at 1:00 was a good time.
Once familiar with our reading environment, the children wanted to examine things they hadn’t noticed at first. I added a rule: Before touching anything, ask permission. Questions about paintings on the walls and fossils on a shelf led to conversations about careful handling, different kinds of art, and how insects become encased in amber. Questions and conversations led us to new books.
We did not eat, drink, or go to the bathroom during reading. They were “responsible” for taking care of those things before they arrived. We were free to immerse ourselves, uninterrupted, in the new worlds that books took us to.
Our first reading session ended unexpectedly with each child hugging me. Hugs became a beginning and ending tradition for each reading day—that continued, even as the group changed, for about seventeen summers.
Seventeen years! Those kids grew up and went on to the rest of their lives. Katherine continues to write and read in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. But those seventeen summers left their mark on a lot of children and perhaps their families as well.