Reading can transport children to fantastic places, introducing them to new ideas and expanding their vocabularies. Kids who read independently become self-sufficient learners. Studies have suggested that children with access to a variety of reading materials in their homes perform better and score higher on standardized school exams. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children spend an average of seven hours a day using electronic devices, including televisions, phones and computers. Screen time is replacing reading time as a meaningful source of learning and recreation.
Starting when your child is an infant, read with your child daily. Books such as Goodnight Moon and I Love You Forever have repetition and rhyme, which is a terrific way to foster language development and early reading skills. As your child gets older, take him to story time at your local library. Read to or let him read independently before bed as part of your family’s evening routine.
Since reading is a vital skill and part of daily life, your children have informal opportunities to read and learn during many activities. Help them understand that reading isn’t boring. There are many ways to make it a fun, shared experience. When cooking, your kids can read the recipe ingredients and instructions, and then assist in food preparation. Read food labels together when you shop and billboards or signs when you’re in the car. As you watch favorite TV shows, turn on the closed captioning and have your children read aloud as the characters speak. Doing this in silly voices can turn reading into a fun game. When playing a board game, have your children read the game rules aloud.
Allowing kids choices in their reading material will encourage lifelong readers. Reading materials can include picture books, chapter books, magazines, comics or age-appropriate graphic novels. Providing options can improve their engagement in the story and help kids retain what they have read.
Model Good Reading Habits
To raise a good reader, it’s important to try to be one. Keep a collection of fun, interesting books at home, and visit your local library regularly. Create a small reading area in your home where your family can gather. Make a commitment to reading aloud to your children and having them read to you daily. Families can spend quality time together and bond over books. Share your favorite stories from when you were young. Books such as Charlotte’s Web, Where the Wild Things Are, the Harry Potter series and Little House on the Prairie have enchanted readers for years. Read one of your child’s newer favorite books and discuss what she likes about the book. Get lost in the story, and discuss alternate endings.
Don’t discount the role of electronic reading devices (e-readers) in developing strong readers. E-readers are portable, and many library systems have electronic books (e-books) that can be loaned and downloaded for several weeks. This is a terrific way to read books for free, and to satisfy your child’s desire to use an electronic tablet. If you are unfamiliar with the technology for checking out e-books, ask your local librarian. E-readers can also be adapted for students with learning disabilities, to better engage children who learn differently.
Engage Your Child
Create or take part in a Little Free Library, which is simply a take-a-book, return-a-book gathering place. Community members take a book to read, and leave a book to share. Little Free Libraries can be as simple as a box of books in a public gathering place. Your family can also work with other community members to build a small, protected box to house the library in a local park or community space.
Some schools offer reading clubs for children, but kids and parents can also form their own book clubs. Book clubs provide an opportunity to deepen the understanding of themes or concepts in the story. Other valuable skills learned from book discussions include: learning to take turns, verbally describing thoughts and ideas with peers, and respecting the opinions of others. Consider suggesting Caldecott Medal and Newbery Award winners for a chance to explore distinguished children’s books.
To make book clubs even more fun, consider trying the books in with movies that group members have not yet seen. Have them read the book first, discuss, and then end with a movie night featuring the film version. School-age books that have been adapted into films include The Polar Express and Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, The BFG and The Witches by Roald Dahl, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. A few other excellent choices can include: Truck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DeCamillo.
While curling up with an enjoyable book is often a solitary activity, you can foster a love of reading in your children and find great opportunities to share ideas and adventures in books. To counter your children’s interest in screen time, set a limit that 30 minutes of screen time is always met with 30 minutes of quiet reading and 30 minutes of physical activity. Share with your kids that reading is not just a necessary skill, but also an enjoyable, worthwhile pastime.
Beth Heuer DNP, CPNP-PC, PMHS, is a PNP at the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.