Childhood Literacy: How to Encourage Kids to Be Lifelong Readers
"The love of learning,
the sequestered nooks,
and all the sweet serenity of books."
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We live in an increasingly digital age, and many parents worry that with increased time spent using computers, tablets, smart phones, and video game consoles, their children won't learn to appreciate the beauty and power, the "sweet serenity," of a good book.
Books allow children to exercise their imagination. They allow kids to explore new lands, both real and imaginary, to learn new concepts, and to enhance their language skills. And reading is an activity that can be enjoyed without having to plug anything in.
But how can you make sure your kids will be readers? How do you lay the foundation for a lifetime of reading? The key is to introduce reading early and continue to incorporate it into your family's routine throughout the child's development. Here are five ways to encourage your kids to love reading.
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Read to Your Child, Early and Often
Making reading a part of your child's daily life from the beginning is a great way to encourage a love of books. Reading together should be something they expect to happen every day, and something they look forward to and enjoy.
Some people will encourage you to start reading to your baby while he or she is still in the womb. While they obviously won't realize they are being read a book at that point, this can be a great way for the baby to learn its parents' voices and a great way for parents to start a reading routine. By the third month of pregnancy, the sense of hearing is already developing, and by the half-way point the baby may start to be able to recognize the parents' voices.
Even if you don't start reading while your child is still in utero, it's important to start reading to him or her from day one. Reading to your baby is a great way to start building their language recognition skills, and it's a great bonding activity that parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other caregivers can participate in.
Make it a point to read to your child every day! An easy way to make reading part of your routine is to incorporate it into your naptime and bedtime routines. Not only will it make bedtime happier - your child will look forward to the "extra" time spent reading before bed - and easier - it helps wind your child's energy down - but because sleeping is something kids do every day, several times a day, it will be a great way of building books into your daily routine. If you have room in the child's room, put a small bookcase with your favorite children's books right by the crib or bed so it's easy to access books at bedtime.
Visit the Library and the Bookstore
Making frequent trips to the library is a great - and cheap! - way to get your child excited about reading new books. A weekly visit to the library to explore new books, and to check some out to read at home, will be something your child will look forward to doing. It's also a great way for parents to avoid the monotony of always reading the same books over and over again.
Find an Independent Bookstore Near You!
Bookstores can also be a really fun outing. Most bookstores have great children's sections with kid-sized places to sit and enjoy a book. On special occasions - major milestones, holidays, or just-for-fun - let your child pick out a new book to buy and take home. Using books as rewards for achievements helps turn books into special, prized possessions.
Libraries and bookstores often have regular weekly story hours, which are great places to enjoy books as well as for kids and parents/caregivers to socialize. The more different ways you can combine books and fun with your child, the more they will make the association that reading is enjoyable.
Read Chapter Books with Older Kids
Once your child starts learning to read by him or herself, don't make the mistake of thinking that your job of reading to your child is over! A great way to continue the daily tradition of reading to older kids is to read chapter books with them. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood are of my mom reading books - like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series - to my sister and me, a chapter a night, before bed. It's a great way to bond with older kids and let them enjoy books that are above their reading level but just right for their imagination level. Picking a series of books - like Harry Potter or one of Judy Blume's series - or several books by the same author - like Roald Dahl or E. B. White - will keep your child excited night after night for the next chapter or the next book.
Make Your Own Books
Making homemade books is a great arts and crafts activity, one that lets kids' imaginations run free! Making their own books helps them appreciate how stories are constructed, gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment, and lets them work on their drawing and writing skills. Kids who are pre-writing can draw the pictures and dictate the words of the story to their parent or caregiver, and kids who are learning to write can practice word construction by writing words themselves.
Homemade books are super easy to make! All you need is crayons/markers/pencils/pens, 4-6 pieces of plain white paper and 1 piece of construction paper, and either a stapler or a hole punch and some string or ribbon. Fold the white paper in half, and then fold the construction paper in half around it to make the book cover. If you're using a stapler, staple the book down the fold, and you're done! If you'd rather use ribbon or string, punch holes along the fold of the book, put the ribbon through the holes, and tie it off on the outside of the book. Then hand it over to your child and let their imagination do the rest!
Let Your Child See You Reading
It will be hard to convince your child that reading is a lifelong activity if they only ever see children reading or being read to. If you want your child to develop a love of reading that will carry them into adulthood, you'll need to model that behavior for them. When you visit the library with your child, check out books for yourself, too! Talk to your kids about what they are reading, and tell them about the books you are reading - you could even make it a tradition to talk about what you're reading every night at dinner. Read in front of your children, not just after they've gone to bed. Instead of turning the television on at night, why not institute a family reading hour (or half hour, or fifteen minutes...I know how busy families are!) when everyone gathers in the same room and reads their own books, newspapers, or magazines? Making reading a regular part of your family's routine will help keep your family close and will lay the groundwork to turn your kids into lifelong readers.
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