My big kid is a big reader. More than once I’ve been asked what program we use to get her to read. What did I buy, what did I do, what can THEY do to help their kids? Let’s face it, reading is a BIG part of our lives. You’re doing it right now without thinking about it. You’re forming conclusions about where this might go, you might assume you’ve heard it all already, and maybe you have, or maybe you’ve lived it already, and that’s fine too. The fact is, somewhere along the line, you learned to read, and it changed your world. All the sudden, pictures had so much more meaning. Those colors you could point out like red, blue, and green, became scarlet, sky, and sage. You may even read words and not know how to pronounce them. I had the unfortunate circumstance of having my senior English teacher giggle at me for mispronouncing ‘awry’ (awwree) and ‘facade’ (fake-aid). I had used both words in spoken English, and read them awkwardly in my head, but never put the 2 together, even though I knew they had the same meaning. I was embarrassed, but only a little bit. After all, some of the kids were still struggling to read a paragraph that took me about 2 minutes in 10 minutes time. Not such a bad thing to trip over some less commonly used words, right? There I go, digressing again. My apologies. Now, where was I? Oh yes, reading. We use it to take in information, form judgements, make decisions, order off a menu, craft the perfect snarky tweet and figure out how to install things in our houses. Kids of school age, well they use it for similar reasons, but for them it is all about learning. That learning eventually becomes their basis for a worldview. The best thing we can do is expose our kids to lots and lots and LOTS of reading. A bigger worldview means they’ll likely make better decisions, and form stronger opinions of their own. After all, if all you hear is what your first grade teacher told you about Abe Lincoln, chances are you got some wrong information. If you read a biography, though, you’ll have much better understanding of how our whole crazy system works, right?
So how do you go about fostering reading in kids from birth on up? I have some ideas. Our library classifies kids books by a numerical system and my kid’s reading some of the 2.5 + books easily, so roughly 2nd grade level. Given that she’s never gone to pre-school or had any formal instruction, I don’t think that’s too bad. Here’s my thoughts:
1. Exposure to books beginning at a very young age. My inspiration for writing this was watching my 16 month old pull out every board book, open one page, and then put it aside and get another one. She also climbs up into chairs with a book and pretends to read by babbling. When she started moving MORE (crawling and walking), I moved some of the paper books up to a higher shelf and all the boards books that had migrated through the house got re-centered to our main living area to the bottom shelf of the bookcase. Do I have to pick these all up several times a day? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely. (Don’t worry, they’ll likely chew on them, a lot, and it’s perfectly normal.)
2.Take books to the potty during potty training/learning. Let’s face it, the whole potty thing? Totally worth it, but it takes forEVER. Those long minutes waiting for a tinkle or stinky can be greatly enhanced for you, and become a great ‘unstructured teaching’ ground. Plop down on that step stool or closed toilet lid and open up some books! Switch them out every day or so, but keep the same few favorites coming back for higher learning once your child seems to bore of the most simple ones.
3. Choose books with bright colors/pictures and simple themes. Farm, alphabet, zoo, numbers, animals. You get the idea. Choose your kid’s favorite, plus some new themes your child might like as he/she grows.
4. Start by pointing out pictures to the youngest toddlers, then asking them where ‘something’ is, and then progress to letters on the page, and finally letter sounds and what the words start with, until you progress to reading. This is why I mentioned to keep the most simple books in rotation. Picture books take on a whole new meaning when you’re 4 and starting to figure out what letter begins the word zoo, and that same letter is at the front of zebra, too!
5. Read. This one should be obvious, but it’s two-fold, not only do you want to read TO your child, but also read in front of your child. Books would be preferable, but even magazines, letters, or the newspaper can be modeled. Don’t forget that even the smallest babies learn through observing you and listening to your cues and speech, and newborns don’t care if you’re reading Freud or the funnies.
6. Use expression when you read. Growl with the tiger’s voice, give the giraffe a nasally southern twang, act out entire scenes with your best ‘ello gov’ner. Don’t forget to raise your voice for a question, and pause at commas, too. Kids will be entertained, and entertained kids are more likely to want to get ‘in’ on the fun!
7. Take advantage of local resources. Your town’s librarians are there to help you. Ask them to direct you to specific books that your child might be interested in, or do a search of a wider network (dozens of libraries make up our local network, and we can get from any of them) on a specific topic. Many libraries also have story times for different ages. Check their websites and newspapers for more information. Granted, we live in a small town, but all the librarians know us by sight and/or name now. We started going to ‘pre-school’ story time when my oldest was about 20 months old. Did she sit still? No. But it was good social time for her, and she happily sits for the most part now and listens along with the other kids. We even go to a different library (where we moved from) for their story time as well. They even have TODDLER time specifically with crafts, songs, and stories once a month for kids 18 mos+. Not bad! If you don’t have ‘free’ library access because you don’t live in town, you really might consider asking for an annual subscription/card for your next ‘gift’ event from someone you know would do it. If you somehow live where there really is no access, which would have to be very rare, I’d think, find an online resource. The more resources you have, the more chance you have of introducing something your child really likes and will attend to long enough to learn something.
7. TV. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking Baby Einstein here. I mean good old PBS. Will there be days you don’t feel like doing anything, because you are sick, or pregnant, or have a late night? Of course. This is when you deploy shows like Word World, Super Why, and good old Elmo. Personally we started with some occasional PBS at around 17 months, we were in our 2nd round of moving within a month and had most toys packed away. When I was pregnant with #2, I taught the big kid how to turn on the TV and find PBS. It was a lifesaver during morning (all darn day and night!) sickness. Since we use so many book/reading tools anyway, I figured a bit of educational TV wouldn’t hurt. They actually gave me some good ideas.
8. Flashcards. There are different theories on flashcards. Some people say it’s too bookish, it’s too ‘rote’, your kids have to sit still, etc. We didn’t do that, really. Occasionally they came out during potty training (hey something different!) at first we did ‘what’s this animal’ and ‘what noise does it make’ just like in books. She would often spread them out on the floor and look at them, just by herself, then stack them up and put them away. Then once she had all of the cards to where she knew what they were, we put them away. (We also had number cards, although so far we’ve only done up to 20 I think out of 100 using the cards). Once she was ready to start reading for real, I got the flashcards back out. They had the word itself on one side, and the word and picture on the other. That was when we figured out that she had actually started reading and wasn’t just memorizing books, because she could tell us the word with no picture!
9. Learning letters. We had flashcards for this, but we really started out with telling her that a cheerio looked like the letter O. That was all it took to spark her curiosity. Soon she was picking out letter O’s EVERYWHERE! We would start with an O, and then a few others that are fairly easy like a T, and then A, etc. Once she learned a couple, we added a couple more unfamiliar ones, and kept the rest of the cards away. Like the picture cards, we added a few at a time until she knew all of them and was picking them out of books. We started singing the ABC’s and paying more attention to the alphabet books in the house. PBS kind of sparked the SOUNDS of letters after that and we discussed how each letter has a sound. Once she figured those out, it was non-stop to reading!
10. Repeat. Over and over until you’re sick of it, and then find a different book, and repeat that. Again. Most kids don’t read until they’re in school, anyway, and it’s not required in most places for Kindergarten, so there’s plenty of time, even for the most reluctant readers. Fostering a willingness to learn and get involved in the process is the most important thing.
If I come up with anything else, I’ll add to this (or maybe in the comments), but for now I’ve been working on this ALL DAY and have rescued the computer a dozen times from destruction from the kids, so I’m running with this!