The first time I read to my child, he wasn’t even born yet. I may have looked ridiculous reading aloud to a baby bump, but I didn’t care — I knew my unborn son could hear my voice, and wanted to expose him very (very, very) early to the rhythm and cadence of “Goodnight Moon.” I read it nightly from that time on through his toddlerhood, and it was always his favorite. Coincidence? I’m not sure, but he’s almost sixteen years old now and the tattered copy of that book still has pride of place on his shelf.
It can be tough to raise a reader, especially now when electronics can seem so much more enticing. But you can help foster a love of reading in your kids — from before they can even recognize a single word, right on through to the time they can read actual novels by themselves. Here are our favorite tips, just in time for Read Across America Day.
Teach them to love the library.
The library is a treasure trove of not only books for every interest, but fun educational programs centered around literacy too. If you’re able, find a story hour for your kiddo (virtual works just as well, and you can re-watch if you can’t make a live session!). Hype it up; make a library trip something to look forward to. Get your child a library card so that they can choose and check out their own books.
Make reading a part of your routine.
Ten minutes — that’s all it takes to add a bedtime story to your kid’s evening routine — but it will pay off in the long run. 2017 research by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “[R]eading books with a child beginning in early infancy can boost vocabulary and reading skills four years later.” It’s a great way to get in some bonding time and to settle in before going to sleep.
Jazz it up.
Nobody wants to hear anything presented in a flat monotone a la Ben Stein, and it’s especially not going to captivate a little person whose attention span is fleeting at best. When you read, use some expression! Make sound effects and use funny voices. You may feel silly momentarily, but your kid will love it.
Give kids a cozy place to read.
Reading doesn’t seem so “boring” if it’s done in a blanket fort or atop a huge pile of pillows. Or if you’ve got the space, you can set up a designated reading nook somewhere in your house with a beanbag or a fuzzy rug. Make the space inviting and watch the magic happen.
Don’t be the book police.
Sure, we’d rather our kids read something super-educational than something not, but reading is reading. And when you’re trying to establish a lifelong love for reading, it’s much better to let them choose their material rather than subjecting them to things you think they should read. Remember how much it sucked in school to read a book just because it was assigned? Let them choose – whether it’s a comic book, a magazine, whatever. If it has words, it has literary merit.
Make books a part of holiday celebrations.
Slip a book in an Easter basket or Christmas stocking (or implement the Scandinavian holiday tradition of Jólabókaflóð in your house). Have a few holiday favorites that you only read at that time of year; for example, when my kids were little, I kept a whole stack of Halloween books that I’d pull out every October 1st and read to them all month long, then put them away until next year. When we’d get them out the next Halloween, they were always excited.
Use the movie as an incentive to read the book.
Got a TV fanatic? No problem! There are soooo many amazing book-to-screen adaptations that you can use as an incentive. Read the book first — aloud or otherwise — and then organize a fun movie night to watch the film version.
Give audiobooks a whirl.
If sitting down and flipping through pages isn’t your kid’s jam, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting on an audio version of a story. Audible.com has a ton of free stories for kids, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg — Google can unearth all kinds of stories to listen to. Listen at bedtime, or while you’re in the car, or put one on while dinner is cooking.
Make a literary character dress up box.
Kids love to play dress-up, and a trip to a thrift store (or a post-Halloween costume clearance!) can score you a whole box of whimsical stuff to use. Challenge your kiddo to dress up like their favorite book character and see if you can guess who it is, or act out a story.
Let them see you reading.
Our kids are always watching what we do (any parent who’s ever let a curse word slip in front of a toddler can vouch for this). So if you make time for reading, chances are they will too. Let them know it’s a treat for you, not an obligation. And who doesn’t want to take a few minutes for themselves in the name of setting a good example?!
Sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
In 1995, Dolly Parton launched Imagination Library, inspired by her father who was unable to read. It’s a program that will send children FREE age-appropriate books in the mail every month, from birth through five years, regardless of income. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do it on the Imagination Library website. It’s even available in Canada, Australia, Ireland, and the UK!
Read and repeat.
Little kids love to watch the same things over. And over. And over again. But that’s how they learn best! Don’t feel the need to switch up to a new book every night — if your child has a favorite and wants to read it on loop, do your best to oblige. Studies have shown that there are actually tremendous learning (and retention) benefits gained by reading the same story over and over. Begin the sentence, then ask your kid to finish it while you point at the words. Eventually, what they started learning by memorization, they’ll begin to recognize by sight.
Point out all the words around us.
From street signs to grocery store aisles to the back of a cereal box, words are everywhere, and everyday life presents endless opportunities to read. Try fun challenges, like having your preschooler point it out every time they see the letter “J.”
Use books to help them cope with life changes.
There are books for kids on every single subject — from hard topics like death and grief, to sexuality, to race, to life events like getting a new sibling or starting at a new school. Sometimes this can be the absolute best way to help kids cope, especially if you’re struggling with what to say.
Let them “break the rules.”
Even if you’re strict about bedtime, let them read a little past lights-out. Give them a flashlight or one of those headlamps and turn the other cheek for a bit while they read under their covers.
The beauty of books is that they are readily available to everyone, at every price point — from the library to garage sales and thrift stores to the brand-new volumes on bookstore shelves. Organize book swaps with other parents to keep your selection fresh. Buy a magazine subscription as a birthday gift. Get your kid a blank hardcover journal and let them make their own stories. By providing them with opportunities to see the fun and creativity in reading, you’re giving them skills that will come in handy for the rest of their lives.
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