The value of reading cannot be overstated. No matter how old or young your children are, have you read with them today?
Retired school teacher Carol Berousek offered up some insight and suggestions.
- Start reading with your child immediately. And yes, that means even when (s)he’s a newborn. The more reading, the better. Don’t assume your baby won’t understand -- even on a very basic level, (s)he just likes listening to the sound of your voice. It’s important for your newborn to hear a variety of words, and pick up on things like speech patterns.
- Read at all different times of day, not just before bed. Try the following places: the dinner table (which is perfect for times when you’re done eating, but your child is not), the bathtub, while riding in the car (so long as you’re not driving), or while waiting in a doctor’s office. There are no wrong places to read! Get creative. Make it fun.
- Have different people in your family read to your child. For example, if it’s mom who usually handles before-bed story time, have dad get involved with weekend reading. If grandparents live close by, make sure they’re flipping through books with your child, as well. This demonstrates to children the importance of reading, by showing them that all the adults are doing it, rather than just one.
- Don’t stop reading to your kid once (s)he learns how to read independently -- you can even continue on well into the teenage years. Of course, he or she won’t need your help … but it can still be a really important time for continued bonding.
- Always pair the reading with cuddles and love. So, if you’re reading to a baby, hold him or her on your lap -- and the same goes for older children, if they’ll let you. Sit close together. Let your babies and small children touch the pages and pictures (board books are great for this purpose). Make this a loving time.
- Read when your child is already in a good mood, and for younger babies and children, make sure they’re dry and fed. This just sets you up for a happier experience. They won’t be as receptive to the book if they’re cranky. On that note, don’t force it. You want to make reading fun, not like a chore or a punishment. Never force yourselves to finish a book or a chapter. When the experience is done, it’s done. You’ll pick it back up again in a few hours, or tomorrow.
- Don’t have any books around? No problem. Environmental reading is just as good. Obviously, this one will depend on the age of your child, but read the things that surround you: signs, the menu when you go out to a restaurant, or even the cereal box.
- Integrate your reading into real-life experiences. For example, let’s say you’re planning a trip to Mt. Rushmore. Awesome! Find books about it. Or, even just a day trip: Peruse some books about the beach. With children, it’s important to tie the reading in with things they’ll do and places they’ll go. When they’re of an appropriate age, try out historical novels. Perhaps they’ll see something on a trip and already know about it. Even at a young age, meaningful picture books lend themselves to an early interest in subjects such as history and science. Children will learn about these topics in school, and perhaps already be intrigued.
- Read with lots of expression in your voice. Use different (and animated!) voices. This makes it fun! It’ll also bring the story to life.
- Go back, page by page, and look at the illustrations or photos. Especially with younger kids, this often adds a whole new dimension to the book. It might lead to more questions, too. One idea is to read the book all the way through one time -- then revisit the story with a focus on pictures. That way, you’re not disrupting the flow of the book by trying to tackle everything at once.
- Ask your child questions. “What do you think will happen next?” Or “how do you think that made Max feel?” It’ll keep them engaged, and could even teach empathy.
- Buy good books. This seems obvious, right? But it’s not always easy. Sometimes people aren’t sure what to buy, or even what to check out from the library. But that’s why you enlist help. Ask a librarian for suggestions, look online or seek out titles with the Caldecott seal. This way, you’ll actually want to read the books, which makes a world of difference.
Reading helps children of all ages. It’s transformative; it can even make history an extension of a story you really like. The benefits are there.
Don’t give up on the idea of reading with your children -- they might even thank you for it someday.
This story was first published in 2017. It has since been updated.