I have always been an avid reader. When I was five years old, I hoarded books like treasures and made it my “mission” to read every billboard, every store front on my way to school… out loud (my poor parents!)
There is something magical about being being so wrapped up in a book that you dread getting to the last chapter. Those books with the dog-eared pages are the ones you keep with you forever.
You can imagine my pleasure and pride when I see my almost 16-month old son enthralled by a book. Lately, he’s shown no interest in any of his toys and prefers to sit, in his crib or on the floor of our living room, turning the pages of a board book. He points to animals, imitates them. Feels the fuzzy, sticky, soft textures and invites me to do the same. When I hear nothing but silence from his play room, I tip toe over only to find him surrounded by open books. Perfectly content, like I used to be.
Now, not everyone enjoys reading – but I’m convinced it’s only because they’ve never read a book that gripped them, shook them to their core. My husband finds it ridiculous that I’ve cried reading novels before, but that’s how deeply a story can affect me (yes, I’m a sentimental person, but still.) Good writing makes me feel something.
What a gift it is to be able to write something that hundreds, thousands of people can connect with and relate to.
Instilling a love of reading in your child is one of the earliest, most rewarding gifts you can give them. Children exposed to books early on in life usually become better learners and earlier speakers. “Books really do make a difference in children’s speech,” says Perri E. Klass, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Boston University Medical Center and medical director of the nonprofit agency Reach Out and Read. “Studies show that kids who’ve been exposed to a great deal of language, who’ve been read to regularly, who’ve grown up in homes rich in books and print, are more likely to arrive at school age with the pre-reading skills of book handling, storytelling, knowing the letters in the alphabet, and counting to 20” (Parents.com).
By reading, children gain perspective on life: they learn how to experience life in someone else’s shoes, become more compassionate and empathetic, and it teaches them one of the easiest forms of meditation. As George R.R. Martin once wrote, ““A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” Through nurturing and guidance, parents have the ability to stimulate their children’s imagination and creativity in ways that are unimaginable. This is all at our fingertips if we cultivate a love of books and reading im our kids from a young age.
- Read to them out loud – Make it a relaxing time just the two of you (maybe every night right before bedtime), and above all, be passionate and expressive (speaking in different tones of voice, with your hands, etc.) When your child points to something on the page, always explain what is going on (“yes, that’s a red ball!”).
- Set the example – Your child learns from what you do, not what you tell him to do. Read novels, magazines, newspapers—anything—just as long as you’re reading yourself.
- Take your child to the library regularly – It could be to participate in a library program or just to hang out and read. Look up your local library to find out about their kid sections – Liam loves reading new books at the local library.
- Pick books that your child may have an interest in – this could be that the main character is named after him or that the topic/theme is one that he particularly enjoys. A child is more likely to read if he feels in “control” and his interests are taken into consideration. It doesn’t matter what he is reading—magazines, comics, newspapers—as long as he is reading. For toddlers, aim for shorter books with bright colors, lots of pictures, lift-up flaps, etc. The goal is to engage their senses and encourage them to interact with the books, even if sometimes the end result isn’t pretty (believe it or not, they learn through ripping and chewing!).
- Encourage children to express themselves – it doesn’t have to end when the book is over! Motivate your child to draw what he/she feels about the text or come up with a craft or project related to the book to work on together. For toddlers, if you read a book about farm animals, for example, take your child to the farm and point to the various animals from the book.
- Surround your child with books – Have a well-stocked mini library, with various level books. Always buy books for birthdays and Christmases, but also for smaller successes and accomplishments; books should be seen as gifts, rewards, rather than chores and punishment. If children see reading as a privilege, they will learn to appreciate it.