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How to Raise a Reader

As my little guy grows up, I make sure reading is a part of our everyday life. He absolutely loves book and I love that! Raising a reader can be such a valuable asset for your child and I know that is definitely something I want to do for my children.

It’s never too early to steer your child toward books. But for toddlers, the goal is not to make sure they can read the classics before they’re out of preschool. The phrase to remember is “developmentally appropriate.” Parents often come to me wanting to push academics too much, too fast, too soon. In fact, children learn best through play. Make reading a joyous event for them.

There are many developmentally appropriate and fun ways to help your little one learn to love books and stories. And surprisingly, not all of them involve sitting down with an actual book.

Use books to bond.
It’s not about reading the words. At this age, it’s about learning to love the interaction with Mom, Dad, or a caretaker. When your child sits in your lap as you read aloud, he doesn’t just enjoy books, he also enjoys the security of your undivided attention.

Set up a ritual.
A regular reading time establishes a calming routine young children love—that’s why the bedtime story is a time-honored tradition. But don’t forget that many other daily events also provide good reading opportunities. Once in a while, try establishing a new ritual with a breakfast story, a bathtub story, a just-home-from-daycare story. Some toddlers (and older children) who are heavy sleepers are much better able to face the day when their parents “read them awake” rather than hustle them out of bed.

Choose appropriate books.
Toddlers love board books, bathtub books, and pop-up books—any type they can hold easily and manipulate themselves. They love stories accompanied by bright, clear, realistic pictures. And of course they love rhymes. That’s not to say your two-year-old won’t appreciate the stories his big brother chooses who knows; Rocks and Minerals may end up being his favorite book. Just make sure he has access to simpler books as well.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Stifle your yawns if you’ve read The Very Hungry Caterpillar every night for the past month and your child still asks to hear it again. Repetition is a hallmark of the toddler years. The reason children love to read the same stories over and over and over again is that they’re so thirsty to learn. You’ll soon find that your toddler has memorized his favorite passages and is eager to supply key phrases himself—both signs of increasing reading readiness.

Ham it up.
Lose your inhibitions when you read to your child. Growl like the Papa Bear in Goldilocks, squeak like Piglet in Winnie the Pooh. Kids love drama as much as adults do; in fact, your youngster may love to pretend to be the scary wolf in The Three Little Pigs. Encourage him, even if it slows the story’s progress. He’ll get more out of the story if he’s participating actively.

Follow his interests.
Choose books about his favorite activities visiting the zoo, swimming, playing ball. Back up your kids’ favorite videos and TV shows with books about the characters. You may be mystified by the appeal of Teletubbies, but if your child loves the cheery little creatures, he’ll love the books about their exploits as well. Follow his lead, but do experiment with a wide variety of books before you decide you know exactly what your child will like.

Go to the library.
Even babies like library story-hours, and they’re wonderful adventures for toddlers. Your child may well discover a new favorite when it’s presented by a beguiling librarian with a soothing voice and perhaps some pictures or puppets to illustrate the action. And of course, libraries let parents and kids try out countless stories without spending a bundle.

Push play.
Many wonderful books exist on cassette or CD. Your toddler may not be interested in them because what he really likes about books is the interaction with you. But if your toddler does happen to like them, great. He may want to sit with the picture book while he listens to the recording, or you may want to put it on while the two of you do other things. You could also record yourself or another relative or friend reading stories. Just remember that recorded stories can’t take the place of sitting down together.

Don’t make books a reward.
Don’t tell your child he can listen to a story if he finishes his dinner. When reading is associated with systems of reward and punishment, it isn’t a positive experience. Instead, pick times to read that feel natural, such as when you want your toddler to quiet down before his nap.

Dealing with the wigglers.
Some wiggly youngsters just won’t sit still through all of Blueberries for Sal. What to do? Sit down and leaf through something short for just thirty seconds, and then say, “Wow, we read this whole book!” The next day you can try a little longer session. Some children will always be more interested in motor activities than in reading. Respect that and don’t make reading a negative experience.

Make storytelling a part of life.
Promoting reading readiness is more than reading a traditional book. While you’re at the dinner table or in the car, tell stories standards like Goldilocks and the Three Bears anecdotes from your own childhood, or stories that feature your child as a central character. Make books of your child’s drawings or favorite photos and tell stories about them or ask him to be the narrator.

Point out words everywhere.
Wherever you go, you can show your child that words are an important part of everyday life. Even the youngest toddlers quickly learn, for example, that traffic signs say STOP. Alphabet refrigerator magnets are staples in many homes. Other families label objects around the house, such as the shelves that house BLOCKS, DOLLS, and other toys. If your child is in daycare or preschool, slip a daily note into her lunchbox. Even if he can’t yet read CAT, seeing the word printed on a piece of paper, along with a drawing or sticker of a cute kitten, will be a high point in her day and help excite his interest in reading. If this seems too ambitious, try drawing a heart or smiley face with a simple “I love you,” which will help get your toddler excited about the meaning behind words.

Talk.
Children from families who converse at the dinner table have larger vocabularies, according to Harvard University. Talk with your toddler and don’t be afraid to use complex words and phrases. Encourage his questions and explanations. Toddlers are curious and wonder endlessly about the world, so don’t be shy about trying to explore his interests with him.

Demonstrate your own love of books.
Your child wants to imitate you. If he sees books all around the house and knows that you like to settle down with one whenever you have a moment to yourself, he’ll learn that books are essential to daily life. Modeling your own love of reading is more powerful than making your child sit through a rigid story time.

I have done extensive research on this subject because I truly believe that raising a reader is one of the most important things you do for your child.

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