If you think the nation’s education system is responsible for developing your child’s brain, think again.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, “Elementary school teachers do not even meet children until well after key periods have passed for cognitive and language development.”
That’s right, the most important teacher in your child’s life is you. You know this intuitively when it comes to teaching your child to share or brush her teeth, but this also extends to helping your child learn to love reading – the first step on her life-long road of learning.
As with any lesson, the sooner you learn it, the easier it is to grow. “Research shows that preK and early elementary years are vital,” says Melissa Spradlin, executive director of Book ‘Em, a Nashville nonprofit that promotes literacy through community outreach. It’s never too early – or late – to read to your child.
Another important part to developing literacy is consistency. Spradlin recommends parents read to children on a regular basis. “The brain develops quickly during those early years, so a child is absorbing so much info even before he can speak,” says Spradlin. “It really helps with a child’s brain development if she’s hearing lots of different words.”
Establishing a regular reading routine for your child will create a habit that will be hard to break. You’ll quickly see that repetition is part of the process as you find yourself reading the same stories over and over again.
Another way to reinforce the “reading habit” is to showcase books at home by putting a stack in each and every room. A 1999 report, “America’s Smallest School: The Family,” by the Educational Testing Service states, “The more types of reading materials there are in a home, the higher students are in reading proficiency.” So don’t limit your children to books.
Subscribe to children’s magazines, pull out the Sunday comics and have a MadLibs pad in your family room. Expand the reading appeal further by getting a few coffee table books that will grab your child visually, tempting them to read the captions.
Emily, a mom of three, likes to encourage her children’s reading during otherwise wasted time. Her rule is simple: No kid gets in the car without a book. “I like to toss an assortment of books into the car toy bin for unexpected reading opportunities,” she says. “It’s surprising how much they are flipped through during routine trips to the store or when a doctor’s appointment turns into a two-hour event.”
Of course, the most ingrained habits are the ones we pick up from our parents without even realizing it. Aimee Spengler Dolan, director of corporate communications for Scholastic Books, suggests, “Let your child catch you reading. Read letters, newspapers and recipes out loud so that your child knows that reading is a useful skill – one that the child will need.” This conveys, like no words can, that reading is a valuable and enjoyable activity.
“Make reading a family value. Put reading first, before TV and sports activities,” continues Dolan. Read a bit before bed or a chapter after dinner each night. Instead of a family movie night, try reading a scary story with the lights down low. Above all, reading should be encouraged as a warm, loving experience on a cozy lap or all snuggled up together.
Don’t forget the obvious – visit your local library often. It’s a great way to get out of the house in the winter. There is nothing like taking a couple of little ones to wander through the shelves in the children’s section. Even young children should be encouraged to leave the picture books and wander the juvenile aisles as a way of exploring all there is to learn in the world. It’s wonderful to watch the amazed look on their faces as they spy books on subjects they love for the first time.
Consider the words of Janet Doolin, a reading specialist with more than 24 years teaching experience. “Read to your children when they are very young, read with your children when they are struggling, and let them read to you when they are able.”
Coming from someone who has been in the trenches, developing a habit of reading can seem so simple, so intuitive. You certainly don’t have to think twice about that one!
Linda Kozlowski is a freelance writer and mother of two boys.
a child’s point-of-view
Pick up a copy of Read to Me! I Will Listen: Tips Mom and Dad Can Use to Help Me to Become a Lifelong Reader (Morning Glory Press; $2.95) by Nancy Kelly Allen. The quick read – 30 pages – offers insightful suggestions told through a child’s voice on how to instill a love of reading in your children. Find out the different needs of all ages. Available at www.morningglorypress.com
read to succeed
Read to Succeed (RTS) is a Rutherford County non-profit initiative that emphasizes the importance of family literacy. RTS sponsors a variety of programs in keeping with its mission including Reading in the Schools Day, Reading Rally, Read to Bee and more. Find out how you can get involved at www.readtosucceed.org.
Make Bedtime Stories Come Alive!
Go ahead. Spice up those storybooks! Your child will love you for it.
Bedtime is a wonderful time for a story – it should be an established routine for all young children. Here are tips to make it special:
Make it Active
In their book, Straight Talk About Reading (McGraw-Hill; $14.95), Susan Hall and Luisa Moates write, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. This is especially so during the preschool years.” Make it an active, rather than passive event. Energetic young children will get more out of it, and you’ll enjoy it more as a parent, too.
Let Him Pick the Story
It may seem obvious to ask your child what he wants to read, but if you haven’t asked, you may be surprised at the response. Read any book he chooses.
Create a Questionnaire
Barbara Parker of the National Education Association suggests, “As you read a book, encourage your child to ask questions. Provide models of interesting questions and examples of possible answers. This is a great way to reinforce the good or bad behaviors of the characters or to point out a lesson to a younger audience.”
Rewrite the Story
Have your child retell the story with a new ending, a new character or even a new story altogether. Create an original story together, letting your child lead the way and draw the illustrations and write it down. He’ll want you to read homemade books over and over again.
Act it Out
Change your voice to increase your child’s interest. Improvise the characters, roll your eyes and do other engaging things. If YOU get into it, your child will, too. It’s great fun for even the most reserved among us.
Predicting What’s Next
“Encourage your child to make predictions about what will happen next and connect characters or events to those in other books and stories,” says Parker.
The key is to show, and share, your enthusiasm for books. In Make Your Kids Smarter (Andrews McMeel; $9.95) by Erika V. Shearin Karres, the author summarizes her motto, “Reading to kids is feeding their minds! Don’t let your kids starve!” By adding a bit of “spice” to reading time, your kids will truly enjoy a tasty meal.
Linda Kozlowski is a freelance writer and mother of two boys.