We all know how important reading is, right? Our society pretty much depends on the ability to comprehend the written word, not just to enjoy books, but to read work documents, understand road signs, even to read Facebook and Twitter. It all starts early, and let me tell you as a teacher, that’s not just when they come to school and we start to teach them their letter sounds.
Often, by the time children come to school, they either have developed an interest and a passion for reading stories, or they have not. Those children who have a foundation in understanding that the words on the page actually mean a story are much farther ahead than the children who don’t. It’s a logical step for them to learn to sound out and say those words themselves, while the children without that foundation are still struggling to understand what the point of all of this “reading” stuff is, anyway.
Reading is not innate to children, any more than brushing their teeth is, but as with other necessary habits, reading can be encouraged from infancy and on. I’ve just started to see a LOT of benefit from the things that I’ve done to encourage reading in my 13 month old daughter, so I know that these things really do have an effect and will get your child ahead of the game in school!
1. Read to them.
It seems pretty simple, and everyone’s probably already told you that, but reading to your child is the simplest and easiest way to get them interested in stories. Before M was born, I would read my own books or blog posts I was reading aloud so that she could get used to the cadence of my reading voice as soon as I learned that she could hear things. My husband would read books like Hop on Pop and The Big Honey Hunt to my gigantic belly at night.
Once she arrived, we continued to read to her. Once, our whole family was at an outdoor concert. I had her in her little front backpack and was reading Anne McCaffrey’s The Dolphins of Pern to her. A very kind woman in her 60’s made it a point to come over and tell me that she thought it was wonderful that I was reading to my baby like that. M didn’t really care one way or the other, since she was sleeping, but we’ll get to why I was doing this in Number 3.
Now that M is mobile and is communicating better, one of her very favorite activities to do together when we are home is reading. She loves to get her favorite books off of her shelf and bring them to me to read several times a day. And while it may be a bit of a distraction from what I’m doing at the moment, I make it a point to tell her, “I love this book!” and take the 2 1/2 minutes it takes to read her Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! If I can’t read with her at that moment, I’ll lay the book on the floor and open it up and tell her, “Why don’t you read it?” I’ve done this since she started to bring me her books to encourage her to look at them herself, even without my help.
2. Have their books available.
This one is a big one. If your child doesn’t have access to books that they love, how will they be able to look at them, practice reading them, and bring them to you to be read aloud? M’s books are on a little shelf in our living room, facing forward so that she can easily choose what she wants to read. We put a big beanbag chair beside the shelf, and many of her stuffed animals, to create a fun, cozy spot to look at her books. Just this week, she’s really started to use her beanbag to read all by herself.
From teaching, I have several boxes filled with children’s books. I try to make it a point to add new books every few weeks that she might enjoy, but I always leave her favorite five or six titles on the shelf. That way she can explore new and different books, but she can always go back to the ones she’s working on memorizing for herself.
While this may be a little bit of a hassle at times (we’re still working on putting one book back before we get out another), I think that it’s worth a little extra picking up. Giving her books to choose from for herself helps encourage independence. M has started to pull favorite books off of the shelf and sit down to read them by herself. Now, at 13 months, she’s not fluently going through the words and reading with inflection. However, she is babbling quietly to herself as she flips through the pages and notices things in the pictures. She is repeating familiar lines from the story, like chanting “Chicka chicka chicka chicka” while she reads Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
If you’d like to learn a little bit more about how I set up our library for M, check out this post: How to Set Up a Great Children’s Library Center.
3. Read, yourself.
Children copy what we do all the time. Much of the time, it seems like they learn our most horrible habits, like yelling, “Dammit!” at the top of their little voices when they drop their apple slices. M is working on brushing her teeth, and I quickly found that if I brushed mine at the same time, she would copy what I was doing pretty well. She will follow me around with her little toy broom while I sweep up and practice sweeping herself. She carries the scoop for the chicken feed around and pretends to toss food out. So why should reading be any different?
If we want to make reading a priority for our children, we need to demonstrate that it’s a priority for us. They don’t understand that much of the time we are on the computer or our phones, we are reading. Those are for games, in many children’s minds, so we must be playing games on our electronics. If their frame of reference for reading is just with books, then we need to show them that we, too, read books all the time.
When I was growing up, we were a very reading-centered family. We would go to Barnes and Noble and pick out books, and then drive to Friendly’s and read while we waited for our food. I remember curling up next to my mom’s legs in bed and reading my books while she read hers. I think that a big reason why M has started to look at her books independently is because she sees me and her daddy reading pretty often. She knows that reading is a thing that we often do to entertain ourselves, so she is copying that habit for herself.
What are some other things that you do to encourage reading at your house?
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