Yesterday I had one of those happy mama moments. In my mind there are very few things more satisfying than watching my two daughters excitedly rip open the packages of new books that arrived in the mail from our monthly book club. Within minutes they were each snuggled into different ends of the couch flipping through their special gifts. The house was quiet, the girls were entertained, life was good.
Inspired by those happy moments I offer the following suggestions for raising a reader in your home.
1. Read aloud to your children as they grow
Now that my daughter is in first grade and able to read to herself, I am tempted to let her entertain herself but research has shown that reading aloud with your child throughout their school years has both academic and emotional benefits.
Back in 1983, the Commission on Reading, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, started promoting one of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching as a better tool than anything else in the home or classroom. The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud. In their wording, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children. It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”
The experts are still saying that reading aloud is more important than work sheets, homework, book reports, and flash cards. To read more about this research and see suggested books for children of all ages check out “The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease.
Another good tradition is to break out your own book and read together as a family. This is a great opportunity to practice what you preach and model technology free time.
2. Offer your child a variety of different reading materials.
If your child gravitates to only one or two topics (e.g, fairies or Captain Underpants) have other topics around and encourage them to give them a try. While my mother refuses to read Strawberry Shortcake books to my girls, she’s happy to read classics like the Secret Garden aloud.
3. Make reading fun
Is your child too young to read? Choose books with elaborate pictures and encourage them to flip through and create a story of their own. They can tell you about it and then you can read the actual storyline and compare. You can also encourage their creativity with storytelling cards which children can arrange to create their own magical tales. Older children can also get into the act of telling stories using fun story cube games that promote literacy.
4. Make sure the books are just right for your child’s level
While your child might be attracted to more advanced books their friends are reading, or books that they have heard are great, make sure that the book is just right for your child’s reading level. How can you tell? Your child should not be struggling over too many words on a page; however, being challenged by a couple words is fine. Ask your child’s teacher about their reading level. Or, check out the Book Wizard at Scholastic.com. You can find the “grade level equivalent” score (1.0 to 12.9) for a book your child can read fluently and then look for other books that have that same score.
5. Listen to audio books
These are a great option for quiet time at home or car rides. Children can follow along with the book or just listen and take in the drive. Some of our recent favorites have been Pippi Longstocking, the Curious George series, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Another benefit of audio books and reading aloud is that content that may be slightly scary in a movie version can be less threatening without the visuals.
6. Build a reading fort
Use blankets and chairs to make a fort. Every child enjoys building a cozy nest to curl up in with a flashlight and a stack of books.
7. Become a library regular
Almost every week, we lug one to two dozen books out of our local library. It offers my girls a wide variety of books to choose from in a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way. Your child will enjoy the pride of getting their own library card and building a relationship with the local librarians who can be a wealth of information to help find books that interest your child. Many libraries also offer special summer reading programs with amazing incentives that may include prizes or tickets to local events.
8. Throw a book swap party
Invite your child’s friends over, or organize an afterschool meet up, and ask them to bring five books they are willing to swap. It’s a great way to build excitement about reading, and refresh your home library for free.
Rebecca Wood, LCSW, is the Director of Parents Place in Marin County. Contact her for in-person or phone consultations to address challenges and concerns about your children.