By: Nina Malanay
It has been often said that we spend the first few years of our lives learning to read, and the rest of our lives reading to learn. Reading is regarded by many as an important life skill, which is why helping your children to not only read, but to enjoy reading is one of the most crucial things you can do as a parent.
Many people believe that children learn to read in school, but the foundation for literacy skills and cultivating an innate love for reading should be laid years before a child enters school. As a child learns reading skills in school, they usually come to associate reading with school work, not pleasure. As a result, they lose their enthusiasm for reading. And it is this enthusiasm, this innate love for reading that is the foundation to being a skilled and competent reader.
Developing early literacy skills makes it easier for children to learn to read, and consequently, excel in school. Furthermore, children who are independent readers are more likely to enjoy reading. This is the reason why nurturing an innate love for reading early in life is worth the investment of every parent’s time and energy. Here are 10 tips to help you raise readers who have an innate love for reading.
1. Foster meaningful interactions with your infant early on.
Early stimulation of a child’s senses is very important – some expectant parents even play music or read aloud to their unborn baby while in the womb – and for good reason. Engaging a child through activities like reading aloud, singing, rhyming, talking and exploring books together at an early age help develop listening skills and an interest in sounds and words. Such activities also significantly improve language development and literacy abilities for children as they grow older.
2. Expose your child to books and other written materials.
Reading books aloud, showing pictures and letting your child handle books encourages visual recognition and helps young children to associate what he hears with what he sees. Even young infants can visually focus on book pages with black and white patterns and bright, contrasting colors for short periods of time. Simply having a book in his hands to explore can help a child start the process of getting familiar with books and other reading materials.
3. Read to your child.
The most effective way to encourage your child to love reading is to actually read aloud to him. Make reading time a special time for you and your child. Prop your child on your lap, snuggle close and share a pleasurable moment of reading a story together without distractions from a TV or phone.
And don’t stop reading to your child once she has learned to read on her own. Continue to strengthen your child’s interest and appreciation for reading by reading aloud to each other. Take turns reading pages or portray characters as your read.
4. For young kids, repetition is key.
Older infants and toddlers may want to read the storybook over and over. This is an important and normal part of the development of early literacy skills. Reading the same story or looking at the same pictures over and over provides constant and consistent stimulation. Each encounter with the book provides a unique experience for the child. At first the child notices the pictures, and then they learn to turn the pages. As they read the story again and again, they realize that the story is the same each time. As the child becomes familiar with the events in the story, he acquires new meaning and new learning from what he has read.
5. Model a genuine love for reading.
Children take cues from adults – if they see you reading and enjoying it, they will come to enjoy reading too. Make sure your kids catch you reading. Talk to them about what you are reading, tell them about your favorite parts, and how excited you are to finish the book and see how it ends. Let them see that books bring you joy.
6. Keep books around your home.
Simply having books and other reading materials around your home will help children view reading as a part of daily life. Gradually build a family library comprised of books that are age-appropriate for your children. Choose durable board books or cloth books for infants, and pick paperbacks and hardbound books for older children.
7. Choose books your child will enjoy.
Reading should be a choice, not a chore. Let your child’s interests guide her reading choices. Allow her to choose books based on topics she currently finds interesting. Consider the reading level of the books your child chooses. Let them choose books within or slightly above their reading ability to help develop their reading skills further, but not too much as to frustrate them.
8. Create a special time for reading.
Find time within your child’s day and dedicate it to reading, both together and on his own. By setting aside specific time solely for reading, you send the message that reading is an important activity. You may choose to have reading time as part of your bed time routine or you may opt to schedule it before or after a nap, when you and your child are comfortable and settled.
9. Create a reading nook.
Create a quiet, cozy and inviting space where your child can read and enjoy books. It doesn’t have to be a luxurious set-up. A simple, comfortable and appealing space that you and your child can put together can provide hours of reading enjoyment. You may even come up with a theme for your reading nook to make it even more inviting to your child. Consult your child and draw up a plan together for your ideal reading nook. This will further entice him to spend time reading in the space he helped create.
10. Limit technology.
With TV and gadgets readily available to even very young kids, there is very little time and very little incentive to read. There is no way a book can compete with the sights and sounds a TV or game console can provide. Most kids, when given the choice, would not choose the book often enough to make reading a habit. Limit TV time and gadget use to help establish reading habits.
Raising our children to become readers who are not only good at it, but who actually have a genuine love for it, can very well be one of the most important things we can do for them. Reading is an essential skill to succeed not only in school, but also in life.
What are you doing to encourage your child to grow up a reader?
Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.