Reading With Your Small Children, Some Ideas from an Elementary Teacher
Reading To Your Children
Research articles, teachers, professors, and virtually every smart person in the world agree that reading to your children is one of the best ways you can build their understanding of language and get them excited about reading.
So, why doesn't every parent read to his or her child(ren)? Maybe they don't think they have the time. Or possibly they have no clue what they should be reading. This article is here to give you some practical, simple ideas on the topic of reading to your small children. I'm an elementary teacher, so rest assured my ideas are ones that your teachers would approve of and your children will enjoy.
What to Read to Your Children: Choosing the Books.
Believe it or not, some people get frozen up on this simple step: Choosing what to read to your young child.
A lot of people make this part harder than it is. Children like books. Nonfiction, fiction, picture books, animal books, .... children like them all. Sure, you may find that your children end up having favorites or preferences (i.e. dinosaurs are a big theme, or Clifford books, or the Little House on the Prairie series, etc.), but a variety is good.
When I teach and at home too, I like to set up what I call "Book Buffets". You know how buffet restaurants get people to come there? They offer a fabulous variety. Some staples, yes, but some completely random stuff too. Your book buffets should be like that: some standards (maybe a dog book or 2), but also some random books you find (like a book about two porcupines who wish they were soft instead of so prickly). Go to the library, borrow some books from a friend, or look under your children's beds. Compile a stack of books. Put them on a table or make a special book box for them. Announce that the book buffet is ready and let your children spread the books out on the floor or couch. Read to them or allow them to just look at the pictures in the books for a while before reading.
Keep in mind that looking at pictures is a step in the reading process. A young child (toddler to age 3 or 4) may enjoy just having the chance to hold a book by himself or herself and look at the pictures. He or she may make up his or her own story to go with the pictures. Toddlers like to chew on books. Not sure where this falls on the continuum of learning to read, but it is interaction with a book.
Also keep in mind that exploring books is another important activity for kids of all ages. Young children like to make stacks of books, order them from smallest to largest in a train-like long line, or put them in order of which they like the best. All of these activities take higher level thinking and involve books. These activities are also good ways for you to engage in talking to your children about books.
Find copies of some of your favorite books when you were a child and read these to your children. Make sure you tell them who read the book to you when you were young and why it was a favorite of yours.
Are you or is your child more of an artist or creative type, but not so interested in reading? Consider reading a book and asking your child to draw a picture as he/she is listening. At the end of the book, allow your child to show you the picture he or she has drawn. Listening to the story, summarizing or retelling the illustrated parts, and using fine motor skills to do the actual drawing: a winning combo!
Many children's movies are based on award winning books. Take a look at your DVD collection and see if you have any that were made after a book. Watch the movie and then read the book (or vice versa). Ask your child which story he/she liked better. Talk about the similarities and differences between the movie and the book.
Where to find Books
Here are some great places to find books and other great reading materials:
1. The library (FREE too). A very underused resource in my opinion. Thousands upon thousands of choices of books, staff that are able to assist you in finding age appropriate books, and usually kid friendly areas to enjoy a good book with someone special.
2. Bookstores (Barnes and Noble, Borders, and if you are lucky, maybe you have a cute little family owned bookstore in your town)
3. Your house. Most people have SOME sort of reading material at their home (even besides books).
Newspapers have cartoons, and who doesn't like a cartoon? Cereal boxes often have some type of reading section or activity. Read the summaries on the back of all of those DVDs you have lying around. See if your child can guess the movie title as you read the synopsis.
4. Garage Sales If you find a garage sale that looks like it has kid items for sale, chances are there is a box of books somewhere in the mix. Standard prices are from about a quarter to a dollar each. Good investment.
5. Thrift Stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other such places) I believe the going rate for a children's book at Goodwill is $0.59. Buy several at that price!
6. People You Know Swap with friends, Grandparents, Neighbors, etc. New (meaning different) things are fabulously exciting to children.
When to Read to Your Children
If asked, most people would probably assume that reading to your child before bed is best practice. In reality, book reading can be done at any time of the day. Our four children love reading at breakfast time. Our round table often has a pile of books and a plateful of pancakes. Enjoying a meal together is a bonding experience and so is reading together. Why not combine them!
Often overlooked as another option is during the middle of the day (random times): perhaps when your children are most fussy/irritable. We've found that when the kids are at a point where they just can't seem to stop arguing and are perpetually bugging their siblings, a book time can really break some of the bad patterns of their behavior. Here's how it works: When your children are running, screaming, arguing, etc., grab a pile of books and sit on the nearest couch. Invite them to join you or just start reading. The power of a story will pull them in (I'm not kidding here). Within minutes, the magic of the words and the togetherness of you and them in a shared space often brings calm to the situation. Why? I believe that reading together is a bonding and loving experience and children appreciate the togetherness of the moment. Allow your children to climb up on your lap. Let them take turns predicting what will happen next. Try to put inflection in your voice so that pigs and dogs come to life and the story has a more lifelike shape. If you are up for being silly and imaginative, act out a part of the story. Children will enjoy the time with you and your frustration over their behaviors will fade as you are together. I promise.