I remember the old, tattered book of fairy tales. There was Thumbelina and other well-known stories, but the book also held strange tales that I haven’t seen since. The pages were big and thick, but so worn that you knew you had to turn them carefully or they might be lost. The pictures were faint, in light tones with intricate detail. Many nights, the parent reading might fall asleep and we would poke and push and try to get through the end of the story. I loved that book.
When I was older and reading on my own, it was a 7:30 bedtime. If I was in bed on time, I would get to read until 8:00: it was a privilege. I remember one night Mom came to turn out the lights at 8:00. She saw what I was reading and how far along I was…Where the Red Fern Grows, almost done. Mom told me to stay up late that night. She knew I wanted to finish the book and also didn’t want me to have to cry at school.
My parents helped instill in me a love of reading. They made it something special and exciting, and yet it was a daily occurrence. They helped me see the fun, the magic, the wonder, and the knowledge that could leap off those pages and into my life. They helped me see my ability to read for the blessing it is.
Now, it’s late nights, when I lose count of how many times I’ve told myself, “This will be the last chapter.” It’s an eye-opening history or biography or an indulgent regency romance. But it is also Green Eggs and Ham, Corduroy, and Love You Forever. For now it is my turn. My turn to show my children the magic of reading. My turn to watch with delight as they get excited about trips to the library or book mobile. My turn to hear them laugh and listen to their questions. My turn to snuggle and read, and yes, to sometimes fall asleep doing so.
What a responsibility and what a joy to help give my kids the gift of reading.
Obviously that gift cannot be received in one day. There is a lot that goes into becoming a strong, confident reader. In my journey through life, as a student, teacher, homeschooler, tutor, and mom, I have tried to learn the best practices to grow strong readers. I have a long list of ideas and tips, but it was my local library who packaged it all nicely for me. Most of my suggestions and thoughts fit nicely into the format that libraries everywhere are using to help prepare children to become good readers. There are five simple habits that all parents can confidently do together with their little ones daily to help them be ready to read.
Little #1 was an infant fussing in church, so I took her into the foyer. A dear friend and mother that I admire, took my crying baby for me. She snuggled her in a blanket and walked down the hall. This friend began talking to my little one, pointing at the paintings on the wall and telling stories. My baby was too young to understand any of those words, but she calmed right down, calmed until she slept. Talk, my friend told me. Tell her about the world.
It is estimated that by the age of four, a child from a high-income home will have heard about 30 million more words than a child from a low-income home. That vocabulary acquisition at age 3 is very strongly correlated with reading comprehension and academic grades at ages 9 and 10. (This whole article about the study is fascinating.) Strong readers have high vocabulary knowledge. We can help close the academic gap between socioeconomic classes and prepare our kids to become strong readers by talking to our children from a young age. Vocabulary acquisition is exponential, the more words you know, the easier it is to learn even more. So by exposing our kids to many words at a young age, we set them on a trajectory of rapid language growth. Talk.
Talk to your little ones a lot, about everything. While you change a diaper, talk about toes and belly buttons. While you drive in a car, talk about the weather, seasons, and cars. While you feed the kids dinner, talk about the day and feelings. Of course, those little ones won’t understand the words at first, but don’t feel silly. Eventually, they will understand, and they will be better off for you being a chatter box.
Every Christmas Eve, we used to go to a nursing home and sing Christmas carols. I love this tradition. I always found it immensely fulfilling and interesting to visit the Alzheimer unit. Here were people, many of whom could not remember their children’s names or their own home address, who when we started singing carols, could sing every word along with us. Now this is no scientific study, but just a simple example that there is something about music. There is something about music that increases our memory and builds neural pathways. Singing with your little ones can bring calm, reduce stress, and initiate giggles, all while preparing them to be confident readers.
Not sure what to sing? Expose your little ones to a wide variety of music. Sing songs that teach values and morals, colors and numbers. Listen to Beethoven and your favorite oldie but goodie. Try nursery rhymes and hand clapping songs like patty-cake. And if your singing abilities are like mine, don’t worry: I have it on good authority that my singing off-key will not permanently ruin my children’s sense of tone. 🙂 Dancing and moving to the music also increase the benefits.
Visit Music with Lindsey for free online music classes for kids.
We’ve all heard how important it is to read with our kids. The commonly sited goal is twenty minutes a day. These can be some of the most enjoyable moments of the day. There isn’t much better than snuggling up together and looking at books.
Two tidbits for success:
A. Start Early
We start reading books with our babies when they are small infants. We get into the habit before they can wiggle and squirm. 😉 Start with simple, bold pictures. As your baby grows up, pick longer stories and talk about what you read. Remember that at every age, kids like to read the same books over and over. Mix up the favorites with new books from the library.
B. Avoid Bedtime Burnout
I mentioned how much I loved our fairy tale bedtime stories growing up. I am still a fan of bedtime stories. It is a great way to settle down for the night and spend some quiet time together. However, if possible, avoid having reading become an exclusive bedtime activity. I don’t know how bedtime works at your house, but usually for me, by the time it rolls around, I’m ready for it! I might only have time or patience (or wakefulness) for one story, whereas during the day all of our stamina is better. If you’re also reading during the day, you don’t have to feel guilty about saying, “Just one tonight, kiddos.”
A few of our family favorites to read together…
The Monster at the End of This Book starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover By Jon Stone
I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak
Gus Was a Friendly Ghost By Jane Thayer
Provide blank paper and crayons for drawing pictures
Write in the sand
Keep score for a game
Draw pictures for the grocery list or mark off items as you get them
Make a chart of votes or preferences
Create with sidewalk chalk
Use a whiteboard or regular markers (we like Color Wonder when kids are really young)
While games and sports are forms of play, there is a tendency in today’s culture to over-structure and overschedule our children’s lives. Check out your why: Why is my little one participating in all these activities? Is it too much? Let’s resist the swell to make our kids compete and specialize and excel at everything and instead, leave time to let them be kids in a safe world of fun and exploration.
|For more information about how these five daily habits encourage reading readiness, read this.
( Picture is from here.)