I’m not an expert on literacy or early childhood development, but I do think I can share a tip or two about instilling in your child a lifelong love of reading. My parents did it for me and I’m doing it for my kids.
Read to them early and often. From the moment they are born, babies love to hear your voice. We started with baby books when our kids were newborns. Whether it was the cadence of our voices, the snuggly one-on-one time, or the stories and pictures themselves that they loved so much, reading together became our nightly routine. As soon as they could crawl, both Big and Little learned to choose a book from the shelf, bring it to us, and plop down on our laps to listen. In addition to the bedtime ritual, reading to the kids has become our go-to activity whenever we have a few minutes to spare, whether that’s at the doctor’s office, the moments before I go back to work after lunchtime, or while waiting for dinner to finish cooking. The call of, “Who wants to read a book?” will always make them come running.
Model the behavior you’re trying to encourage. Make sure your kids see YOU reading, and not just on your phone or computer. Our kids see us read books, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, you name it. I have to stop myself from bringing a book with me to the dinner table!
Spend money on books. It doesn’t need to be expensive (I’ve scored some of my best deals at the Simsbury Library’s annual used book sale) but you should show your kids that books are valuable treasures. Splurge on some gorgeous, high-quality hardcover editions that can be passed down. You can even personalize them with bookplates! (Nerd alert.) My sister and I had these bookplates when we were kids:
DON’T spend money on books. Join your local library and then use the heck out of it. As I write this, there are seventeen kids’ books, four grownups’ books, and three audio books from the library in our house; this is a typical week. My kids visit the library at least twice a week. I cannot say enough about the value of a free public library. I’m such a huge fan of the Simsbury Public Library, in fact, that I recently donated a collection of food allergy books, DVDs and other materials. This was a topic for which info was lacking at our library and I knew I could help out in this small way. I also figured I owed them for all of the time and attention they’ve given my kids.
Look at your bookshelves at home. Do your kids have their own books? Where and how are they displayed? What about your own books? Are they displayed in a way that shows that you value them? We don’t have all of our grownup books out on shelves right now due to a lack of space and the bookshelves we do have are in my basement office. I plan to get some quality shelves for our living room because I want to show them off!
Examine the kids’ books on your bookshelves. I pay attention to the suggested ages for kids’ books, but I don’t get too caught up in age-appropriateness. In my personal opinion, many of these decisions about age-appropriateness are based on the potential discomfort level of the parents while reading it. There are lots of children’s books out there with violence in them, for example (hello, hoe-happy Mr. McGregor and your rabbit-pie-eating wife, I’m talking to you). If you are prepared to explain it — and talk about it ad nauseam with the preschooler set — then I say go for it. We’ve already read “Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B White, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, and most of the Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne and our kids are only two and four. Of course, it’s just as likely that they’ll add a book by Dr. Seuss or Todd Parr to the rotation.
Examine the grownups’ books on your bookshelves. My sister and I have both recently admitted that when we were kids, we read everything on our parents’ bookshelves. Every. Single. Book. Age-appropriateness be damned. I’m not suggesting that you censor your collection, I’m just pointing out that if you succeed in inspiring in your children a voracious love of reading, that hunger may become insatiable and indiscriminate. To wit: I may or may not have learned about sex from the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series by Jean M. Auel. Hot, Cro-Magnon sex. Stephen King may or may not have inspired my love of the macabre and my fear of Maine long before I could pinpoint the Pine Tree State on the map.
Keep on the lookout for great new books as well as the oldies-but-goodies. Here are some resources to help with that:
As my dad says about reading to your kids, “It’s the cheapest thing you can do for your children, and pays rewards for a lifetime. All it takes is some of your time and a steadfast commitment to do it daily.” He should know.