How do you excite your children about reading? Multiple studies have found that reading as a child boosts brain development in many areas, including language learning, literacy skills, imagination, and cognitive ability. Reading has even been shown to lessen every-day stress in children. Reading from the earliest years helps ignite a love of reading that will sustain your child for a lifetime. I know because I’m living proof.
So, the question remains: where do you start? The most important way spark your child’s joy for reading is to get involved!
Be Involved: Read to Your Child
I come from a long line of librarians and teachers. My dad the physicist was the oddball in the family, but he devoured books, so he wasn’t shunned. I’ve been surrounded by books from birth. I was also lucky enough to attend Georgia O’Keeffe for elementary school. Their award-winning librarian, Joyce Etulain, helped make her library my second home. Some of my best memories involve reading with my mom and dad or curling up in a corner of the library during recess (yes, I was that kid), surrounded by shelves and shelves of books while I read my way into another world. (Is it any wonder I grew up to be a writer?) The point, however, is that those memories and that time spent reading, whether alone or with my parents or the librarian, helped form my voracious love of reading today.
Study after study finds that reading aloud to your child from infancy and beyond is the best way to help your child learn to love to read. I spoke with Annie Huggins, current librarian at Georgia O’Keeffe and protege of Joyce Etulain. She told me she remembers Mrs. Etulaine “push[ing] parents to read aloud and to continue to read aloud to kids no matter how old.” 83 percent of children of multiple ages surveyed for Scholastic Books’ Kids and Family Reading Report said that they loved being read to. Consider the following:
- 40 to 60 percent of children ages 6 to 11 whose parents no longer read to them reported that they would like their parents to continue reading to them.
- Of the three elements that help predict the reading frequency of children ages 6 to 17, parent involvement makes up 30 to 40 percent.
- The belief that “reading books for fun is important,” which parents can help instill, makes up 70 to 86!
Read as often and as early as possible. Even newborns benefit from reading and the connection that comes with hearing a parent’s voice.
Let Your Child Choose the Books that Excite them to Read
I vividly remember in kindergarten (at a different school, by the way) going over to the “big kid’s” reading section and choosing the book Man O’ War by Walter Farley. The librarian told me it was too advanced a book for me and made me put it back. When my mom found out, she marched me right back to the library and told the librarian in no uncertain terms that I would be allowed to check that book out. Yes, I struggled with the book, but I also read it over and over again and went on to read every other book Walter Farley wrote. In short, by allowing me to read a book that both excited and challenged me, my mom helped nurture my growing love for books. Just like my young self, a whopping 91 percent of readers ages 6 to 17 surveyed in the Kids and Family Report said that their “favorite books are the ones I pick out myself.”
You know your child best, and you know what they can and can’t handle. But when a child finds a book they truly enjoy, it helps spark their interest in other books they might like. It helps them learn that books, and reading, can be fun! They also learn:
- The subjects that interest them (and those that do not)
- That they can discover interesting new topics and genres
- That choosing a new book is exciting in and of itself
And yes, those books with simple words and stories are exceedingly boring for us parents, and reading them over and over and over can make you want to throw the book out the window. But those books are exactly what babies and toddlers need to grow their vocabulary and understanding of the world, which makes the books fun for them.
Make Reading Exciting and Interactive
Has anyone ever told you to stop talking baby talk to a baby? Don’t. Studies show that infants and older babies respond better to these higher pitches; there is more interaction and thus developmental gain. The same is true for reading: reading in funny voices, moderating your tone, and reading excitedly all help capture your child’s attention, excitement, and imagination.
Other ways to up the interaction?
- Let them read to you (even if they hold the book upside down and get half the story wrong)
- Encourage them to help you act out the story while you read together
- Ask them about the stories you’re reading, or ask them to point out certain things
- Use props, such as puppets, stuffed animals, or even costumes
Annie Huggins also recommends reading aloud to pets or stuffed animals. And older kids, she says, “might write to the author of a book after they have read it.” She says that many authors will write back, which “is such an empowering feeling for kids.”
The takeaway from all of this? Get involved and get your kids involved. That’s the best way to spark the joy for reading.
By the way, my toddler’s favorite book at the moment? What else but LLama Llama Mad at Mama?