The Importance of Reading to Your Child
Imagine this scene (which actually occurred recently at a local bookstore): A little girl, about three years old, walks over to the children’s section of a bookstore and asks her mother, “Mommy, mommy, can you buy me a book?” Her mother’s response: “No, you don’t know how to read yet. When you learn how to read in school, then I’ll buy you a book.”
Nice scene. Guess it is obvious this parent doesn’t spend time reading to her daughter.
The National Center for Family Literacy celebrates National Bedtime Story every year during the month of April. And, since reading is essential to our children’s success, parents should read to their kids regularly. Emphasis on story time is so important; according to a Carnegie Foundation study, only half of infants and toddlers are regularly read to by their parents.
After having witnessed the above scene, along with my husband and two young sons (ages six and two), I absolutely cringed with disbelief and pity. As parents and educators, we both read to our sons every day, right before my toddler’s afternoon nap, and right before bedtime to both. And every other chance daily, in other ways, such as reading billboards signs out loud or by saying verbally, items purchased at the grocery store. My six year old learned how to read by the age of four. Now, he is constantly reading to our younger son.
When my older son was only six months old, I remember walking by his bedroom one evening and finding my husband reading him a Dr. Seuss book, pausing to show the pictures to our son as he lay in his crib. Of course, our son did not understand what was being read to him then, but as time passed, he learned that reading is a positive experience, one associated with warmth and closeness.
Today, children’s books are found in every room of our house, including outside and in our vehicles. Our sons’ enthusiasm is so contagious that even the four of us will spend an evening just lying on our bed, each of us reading (ok, my toddler looks at the pictures) with the television off. Reading together can be so much fun. If children witness their parents engaged in this activity, they in turn, will imitate them, thus benefiting them for the rest of their lives.
Sadly though, in today’s society, it is unfortunate that parents such as the one described above do exist. These are the parents who are called in regularly by their children’s teachers, offering no encouragement or interest in their child’s learning skills whatsoever. Instead, they blame the teacher for their child’s difficulties in reading or their inability to read.
As a former middle school teacher (I teach college-level now), I had many students reading at three to four grades below their actual reading levels. Even college students struggle when it comes to reading, which consequently affects them when writing a paper on a topic that’s been assigned.
And why is this? Simple. Their parents never took the time to firmly instill the importance of reading by actually reading to them during their early years of development. Every parent has the ability to raise a child who can love to read; this is not something that occurs accidentally. By remembering that early stimulation of the reading process is critical to a child’s brain development, parents can take the initiative.
Just as many pregnant women are encouraged to play classical music to the unborn child (yes, placing the headphones right over the belly) will benefit him or her, reading is exactly the same. And once again, even though infants will not be able to understand what is being read to them, they definitely will learn with time that reading is a significant and fun experience, if it’s done repeatedly. As toddlers, they will begin to comprehend the reading procedure: books go from front to back, from left to right, and words have specific meanings.
Parents should also keep in mind that young children love rhymes, and rhyming texts teaches them the difference between pronunciation and spelling. So make reading fun. If your child loves animals, sports, or baking, find magazine articles or read baseball cars or recipes.
Finally, parents should remember that reading does not take place only at home. Everywhere we go, language can be interpreted with your child by reading traffic signs, menus, tongue twisters, song lyrics, supermarket labels, and more. Also, parents should select reading material at their child’s level or one above, since frustration will only cause a dislike for books.
Never stop reading to your children, even after they have learned to read. Keep on reading out loud. By reading beyond their range, they will not only expand their vocabulary and understanding skills, but you will also motivate them to continue improving.
And parents should set a good example. Children learn more from what we do, rather than what we say. Fill your home with plenty of reading material. And make it a point that children see their parents reading often!