One of the great gifts my mother gave me is a voracious love of reading. She read aloud to me from an early age, took me to libraries and book sales, and always made sure I had plenty of reading material available to me. As adults, she and I swap books and recommendations; whenever I return to my home state to visit, I nearly always come home with one or more books.
It was no surprise to anyone when I married a man with a love of books that rivals my own. Anyone who has moved us during one of our 12+ moves can attest to the extensiveness of our personal library. Currently, we have reduced our load down to five overstuffed bookshelves, some boxes in closets and the basement, and several baskets full of books throughout our house. Books are in every room…usually even in the laundry room as I stack piles to be returned to the library.
As the child of two avid readers, our daughter V was exposed to books starting in the womb, as her parents read aloud “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” groaning at the inept literary references and cackling at the goofy zombie antics. We now find it funny that at age two she selects this particular book off of our bedroom shelf and carries it through the house, looking at pictures of “zomies.” Though she will be formally introduced to Jane Austen before we let her read this book, I don’t think it is chance that she is drawn to this story. She’s heard it before.
There are many reasons why I personally believe that reading is critical to life. Reading introduces you to experiences, people, places that you might not otherwise encounter. It can help develop a sense of understanding of difference and empathy for others. It can facilitate critical thinking and open up the mind and heart. For me, reading can comfort, motivate, empower, engage, explain, teach, and enrich my world. There are many reasons to read and many ways to promote reading in your children’s lives as well.
Some of the ways we expose V to the written word are as follows:
-We have baskets of face out books around the house. She has one basket of books that are currently seasonal/interesting to her by her bed. Another basket near her bed is full of library books. When it gets quiet, I know to look for her snuggled on her pillows flipping through stories.
-We started attending library programs at age 8 weeks old. She knows our children’s librarian by name and feels very comfortable in the local library space.
-We make a weekly library trip. At the library, I select a combination of books that match her current learning interests. If she’s all about bugs that week, I get every book I can find on bugs. If she loves Mo Willems books, we stack a giant pile on the counter.
-We read books over and over again. She picks from the selections available to her and we read them, sometimes ad nauseum. She easily commits her favorites to memory and can recite them back to us while turning pages, proudly saying “I read it my big self!”
-We read to her during potty training; we have mini books in the diaper bag for waiting at restaurants and doctor’s offices; we bring books during car rides…even short ones.
-We have an entire bin of books on CD and tape next to our stereo system in the living room and play them throughout the day. When she gets bored, instead of the TV, I offer her a recorded story when I am busy with housework. She can play her books on tape by herself and we are teaching her how to gently handle the CDs so she can play those as well. (Note: you can pick these up cheaply at garage sales, online or from library or community book sales.)
-We have a comfortable reading nook near her books on tape and sensory bins. There are pillows and a blanket in her nook. A box near her nook includes books that tie in with the themed sensory bins stacked beside it. For example: we have books on dinosaurs in the box and a dinosaur sensory bin that she can explore while in her nook. I rotate titles in the sensory bin reading box.
-I pull out seasonal titles to read as the year progresses. For example: as Halloween approaches, I go through all our shelves and pull related titles to put in spots where V tends to sit and read. If they are handy, she’ll choose them. This keeps our selection fresh and helps with learning about seasons, holidays, and related thematic activities.
-We tie in art projects, museum trips, nature walks and projects, and science projects with the books we are reading.
-We connect her TV viewing with reading. We read books about familiar characters she encounters on the DVDs we watch with her: Curious George, Dora the Explorer, Diego, Little Einsteins, Winnie the Pooh, some Disney characters. When she is interested in a topic from a show like Sid the Science Kid, we find books about the topic (example: we found books on weather and posted a weather chart). When we read about a topic like bugs, we find non-fiction kid oriented documentaries at the library for her to view (like MicroCosmos or Stargazer). We limit her TV viewing.
-We read every night at bedtime. Sometimes we read books that are well above her age level, like the Magic Tree House series. She loves the one about knights and we just finished the one about the ice age and sabertooth tigers. This helps her build her vocabulary and also stretches her ability to attend to a book with limited pictures. She fell asleep more than once to a DK early reader about knights; this was a topic that fascinated her for a while.
-We have a busy bag basket filled with literacy activities that she can select as part of self-directed play. There is a wipe board and dry erase markers for printing letters (she can manage some letters at 2 years of age); there are textured flashcards and magnetic letter boards for her to touch and explore. We do not drill her on letters or words but answer questions or play with her at her request. Based on the reading I have done on the topic, I do not recommend pressuring toddlers and preschoolers with flashcards and workbook literacy activities.
-We have a chalkboard where we select a letter of the alphabet and write down all the words we can think of that begin with the chosen letter. V loves to brainstorm the words with us now that she is older and it is great to see how her vocabulary is developing.
-V also accompanies her writer parents to poetry and fiction readings where she sees us read our written work; I hope this will make a big impression on her and empower her to explore her own stories as she matures.
There are so many ways to help children explore and enjoy reading. In our house, we like to keep it fun and interest-based so that V will crave more words and more literacy experiences. While she may turn out to have different reading interests that her father and I, I hope that she will always feel comfortable with books and using books to further her life-long learning.
Here are some wonderful resources that I have recently read about promoting literacy in children. I hope you take the time to check out one or all of them. Give the Read Aloud Handbook as a gift to teachers or principals or to a new parent. There is no telling what can happen when you give the gift of reading to a person in your life.
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment by Emma Walton Hamilton
Raising a Reader: A Mother’s Tale of Desperation and Delight by Jennie Nash