Introducing and reinforcing reading at home are vital to developing literacy and fostering learning.
I began reading to my daughter when she was 4 months old–colorful cardboard books and soft, squeaky ones. I named objects in the pictures while she tried to chew on the corners of each page. We read as she grew, cuddling in the big, overstuffed armchair at the end of day. We cried together over E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, found wonder in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. Today, my 20-year-old daughter, a premed student, is not to be found without a book in her hand, and we still share the books that we read.
Child psychologists and pediatricians say that reading to your children is as important as providing them with a balanced diet or fastening their seat belt. “Language matters for everything,” says Frank R. Vellutino, Ph.D., director of the Child Research and Study Center at the University of New York. “You can’t even interpret and appreciate cartoons in the newspaper without a grasp of analogy and metaphor.”
One must have facility with language in order to grasp complex ideas, to problem-solve, and to understand culture. Good readers can uncover a culture’s collective knowledge, master information, and challenge themselves with difficult concepts and complex thoughts.
Readers are leaders
Noted author and Yale Sterling Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom says that children need to read and to read good books to make themselves more interesting to themselves and to others. By being more interesting, one develops a sense of one’s separate and distinct self, or self-worth. Children can do this not by watching television or playing video games but by being alone with a book.
Says Dr. Jane Healy, pediatric neurological specialist and psychologist, “Screen-watching makes of your child a follower and a consumer. Readers are leaders and producers.”
Through books, children learn more existing words and information. They develop a sense of humor and an imagination. They learn to calm fears and to guide actions. These attributes make them feel more capable and successful.
Why do parents need to be involved in helping their children read? Why can’t children learn all they need to be good readers in school?
Some experts point out that in the past, a significant portion of class time was set aside in school for quiet reading. However, that time has eroded with demands in other curricular areas such as computer literacy, conflict management, and drug awareness.
Parents have always been their children’s first and most influential teachers, and the best readers are introduced to reading long before they start kindergarten. Building reading skills at home is more important than ever with the temptations of television and video games, which are counterproductive when it comes to developing literacy.
What can parents do?
Start reading to children early
Parents can help their kids to become more enthusiastic readers in two ways. They can read with them, and they can leave them alone with good books.
Read aloud to your children. A study by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education Commission notes, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
Your child’s brain grows and develops just like the rest of the body, and 50 percent of the brain develops before the age of 4. Reading to your child is a key way to stimulate mental growth and development. It goes beyond hearing the story. Children will naturally ask questions — “Why did the character do that?” or “What does that mean?”
You cannot start too early. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading daily to children, beginning at six months of age.
Visit libraries, bookstores
There is an intrinsic bonding that occurs when parents read to their children, according to Dr. Mark West, professor of children’s literature at the University of North Carolina. Even after your child has learned to read, it is important to keep that experience alive.
An excellent resource is The Read-Aloud Handbook (4th ed.), by Jim Trelease (1995, Penguin USA). Not only does it include advice on introducing your children to books and reading aloud, but it also has an extensive list of excellent books that children love. You may also want to visit the American Library Association Web site at http://www.ala.org/.
Make books a part of your child’s life. Take your children to the library and to bookstores. Let them wander through the rows. Get them library cards. Take them to story hours. Make a special place to keep their books–a place they can reach easily–and give them books often. Display your own books in a prominent place so your children can see that you value what books have to offer.
Give your children books as gifts. Let them choose new books on a grocery store excursion or search for good books at used bookstores, garage sales, and library discard sales. Encourage them to trade with their friends and siblings. And talk to your children about what they are reading.
There are few greater gifts that you can give children than the gift of reading and a love of books. In giving them those gifts, you open their world, make them critical thinkers, and help them to take their place as informed citizens and leaders.
Kathy Brandt is a freelance writer in Colorado Springs, Colo.
10 Tips for Reading Aloud to Children
Based on The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease
Good Books for Young Readers
Most libraries provide books and brochures with guidelines about which books are appropriate and appealing to various ages. The following list, prepared by the Association for Library Service to Children/Association of Booksellers for Children Joint Committee, includes some of the best and most inspiring books available. (Also check the American Library Association Web site athttp://www.ala.org/.)
Allard, Harry and James Marshall–Miss Nelson Is Missing!
Alexander, Lloyd–The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydain
Avi–Nothing But the Truth: A Documentary Novel
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