Next week I will be speaking to parents at a preschool about the benefits of reading aloud to your children, so I thought this would be a good time to write about raising readers. I think back to when my son was about 6 months old. How I would hold him and read board books in the rocking chair. He would have let me read to him all day. Today, he is a 7-year old book-aholic who reads everything he can get his hands on. I like to think that reading consistently to him beginning at an early age helped guide him to that path.
Reading to young children, including infants, helps create a calm, loving bond between parent and child. Your voice is soothing. Being held is soothing. So as you do this, you are creating a positive relationship between your child and books. As they grow, they will find comfort through reading, enjoying it rather than finding it to be a distraction from other things.
The more you read to your children, the more likely they are to catch on and learn to read on their own. And the more they do it, the better they’ll get. When your child learns to read, don’t stop reading to them. Continue reading to your child, but choose chapter books or more lengthy stories with deeper plots to help increase listening comprehension. Studies have shown that children begin to dislike reading at home around fourth grade. This may be because many parents have stopped reading with their children, and they now associate reading with classroom tasks and study guides.
So how do you raise a reader? Well, like I said, read with your child. Set aside a portion of each and every day to read together. I try to do story time during the day, but even if we miss that window my children always get stories before bed. We read for 15-20 minutes every single night.
If your child is a pre-reader, there are lots of fun ways to help grow reading skills without creating an environment where reading becomes a chore. Games! We have so much fun with games. Our favorite games that encourage reading and word recognition are Zingo, Scrabble Soup, and Scrabble Jr. We also found a fun activity on Education.com called Sight Word Bingo. My daughter is getting really good at identifying the words thanks to this game. It was a really helpful addition to what we already had in place for learning to read.
Most of us let our kids watch at least some television. I’ll admit that I do. My kids love Netflix. My 4-year old knows how to work it almost better than I do. But you can make a little bit of television time slightly more educational by turning on your closed captioning feature. Kids will see the words as they hear them and will learn to associate the words written on the screen with the sounds that they hear.
Make learning to read fun with an alphabet chart and stickers for rewards as they master the sounds of the letters. We are using the Usborne Books Start to Read Pack which comes with 8 dual reader books, a parent/activity guide, and a poster with stickers. My daughter loves to get her stickers and add them to her alphabet poster as she masters the sounds and has shown that she can identify each letter consistently. She looks forward to sitting down with me to practice reading the dual readers, and when she gets a sticker to add to the activity book for being able to read her part of the story, she is glowing with pride. (Note: Start to Read Pack is out of print now, but there is an even more amazing Very First Reading Set with many of the same books plus the parent guide.)
If you have a strong reader, host a story time and invite your friends over. On several occasions I’ve had my 7-year old read stories to our preschool-aged friends. He loves being able to share the stories with them, and they get to see someone they can relate to reading to them. It’s not just mommy and daddy who can read – kids can do it too!
Use your library. Often. We usually get to the library once or twice a week, but I’ll admit there was one week recently that we were there 4 times. Yes, a little crazy, but I use the library for many things. Story time is always awesome and my preschooler loves it. My 7-year old is sometimes bored with story time but he picks a stack of books before we go in to keep him busy. There are also days where they will read a story and offer craft time afterwards so we like to attend those as an afternoon field trip. And we often have interests that can’t be addressed by the books we have at home so we of course head off to the library to get materials to help us with our studies. Finally, we participate in all of the reading programs. When the kids can earn rewards like free meals or trips to the trampoline park, it really helps reinforce the benefits of reading.
Raising readers isn’t hard. It’s fun and it’s easy. But you have to have to make the effort. If you can only choose one way to encourage reading, choose reading aloud to your child. And do it every day. Fifteen minutes at bedtime gives you and your child time to connect over a good book. And looking back 20 years from now, you’ll have those moments to cherish and a reader who will remember those moments they spent with you and a book.