One of the regular readers of this column recently emailed a question to me. She wanted to know how she could encourage her young children to love reading. In this world of Game Boys, Xboxes, and computers, enticing children to pick up a book can be an exasperating experience. I do have some ideas, and I'll share them with you.
1. STIMULATE CURIOSITY: From an early age, your child should be confronted with bright colors and manipulatives. Don't just plop the kid in front of a Baby Einstein video. Use toys, music, and objects with different textures to attract the baby's attention. Use finger plays and hand clapping, puppets, and even pot lids (for banging and crashing) as teaching tools. Once a child develops an inquisitive mind, books help feed the hunger.
2. READ ALOUD DAILY: In a major study, it was proven that children who are read to every day perform better in future academic skills than those who didn't have that experience. In the words of Strickland Gillian – "You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be, for I had a mother who read to me." An ideal time of day for reading is right before bed or before a nap. The world slows down and gets more peaceful. Curling up with a good book is a perfect ending to the day.
3. SHARING EXPERIENCES: When you take a trip to the zoo, museum, park, beach, mall or theater, remember that just visiting that place is not enough. You and child must converse about the journey. Encourage the child to keep a diary – even if spelling isn't yet mastered. Remind your child that whatever they think can be spoken, whatever is spoken can be written (or drawn) and whatever is written can be read.
4. VOCABULARY GAMES: From the refrigerator magnet letters and magnetized words, to the alphabet games (name something that starts with an "A" and so on), and to more advanced board games (Scrabble, Boggle), a child can have fun playing with words. Rhyming games are great, also.
5. STORY TELLING: Imagination and creativity abound in story telling. If a child develops characters and situations orally, he becomes invested in the drama. From that, it's an easy step to writing stories and illustrating them. Children who write their own books have a deeper appreciation for someone else's book.
6. HOME LIBRARY: Going to the public library is fun, but it's also wonderful to have a shelf of books to choose from for a bedtime read. The books don't have to be brand new – find some used ones or cheaper copies. The kids don't care.
7. FIND A BELOVED TOPIC: When I worked as a children's librarian, one mother of a young boy asked for advice on choosing a book for him. I asked her "What does he like in real life?" Her answer was "Pizza." So, I went crazy looking for books about pizza. I found one that was a humorous tale of a family that made a very unique pizza, putting everything but the kitchen sink on top. The boy loved the book so much that his Mom finally ended up buying him his own copy. If a child likes frogs, firemen, or karate, there's a book about it somewhere.
8. TURN OFF THE TV: Not forever, just for a half-hour. Call it the "reading time" and enforce it daily. The only rule is that everyone in the home must be reading something for 30 minutes. 98% of all American homes own television sets and the average set is turned on 7 hours a day. Over 2 million children watch TV until midnight. The average kindergarten child has seen 5000 hours of TV. That's more time than it takes to get a Bachelor's Degree. When I was the principal of an elementary school, we tested kindergarten enrollees. One young lady knew only three letters of the alphabet – H, B, and O. Go figure.
Please do not write to me and tell me that – although my ideas are wonderful – you don't have time to do any of them. If improving the literacy level of your home and encouraging your child to read and learn are priorities for you, find the time.
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