Reasons You Should Read to a Child

Fourteen-month-old Rosie sat on the floor of my living room surrounded by an array of toys. Her dad had deliberately placed only one book among her options. Immediately she reached for the book and held it up. Mark turned to us and exclaimed in joy, “All these toys, and she wants the book!” He gathered her in his arms and began reading.

Has “Read me a story” become “I want to watch TV” at your house? Has time with the children become a quick hug and a kiss in the morning and another in the evening as you put them to bed?

Research varies, but it seems that many parents spend little time with their children. One study on fathers says they spend eight minutes daily and 14 minutes on weekends in one-on-one experiences with their children. Mothers do little better - 13 minutes a day and 32 minutes on the weekends.

Jim Trelease has found that men make up less than seven percent of his audience at parent-teacher meetings when he presents talks about helping children learn to read. Yet there is no shortage of males in adult literary classes - they make up more than 70 percent of the students. What can we do to keep our children from joining that group? How can we help them enjoy the learning-reading experience?

The First Step to Success

Reading is the one major skill upon which all other learning is based. If you can help your children develop strong reading skills, they will likely succeed in most other areas of learning. And you can help them! How? It can be as simple as reading aloud. Just minutes a day will make a difference in abilities. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. You will think of more as you go along.

1. The earlier you start, the better. Jill Hauser, author of Learning and Loving to Read, says that an infant is reading at that magical moment when it first responds to a parent's smile. Important meaning is found in that smile, and that's what reading is all about - discovering meaning. It's never too early or too late to begin.

As you read to young children, point to the pictures or move your finger under the words. They will soon learn that pictures tell a story, that words tell about pictures, that sentences (in many languages) are read from left to right, and that pages are read from top to bottom.

2. Time means love. Set aside a regular block of time to read aloud. A void times when your child has obligations such as homework or wants to watch a favorite TV program. Make a commitment and stay with it. If necessary, turn down other appointments. Think about the positive message that will send to your child!

3. Listening shows commitment. There will be times when your child wants to share or talk about a book he or she has read. You can't always drop everything, but when you can, do. When you must postpone the request, explain why, commit to a time later in the day, and keep your commitment. The younger the child, the sooner that time should be.

4. Selecting books teaches values. Listen to your children and discover their interests. Adventure stories? Space? Flight? Pioneers? Horses? You may like “how-to” books, but they may want to read about whales.

As children grow older, involve them in selecting books. Introduce them to the library and make regular visits together.

Not all books will appeal to your children, and not all are books you will want them to read. But you can introduce them to a better quality of literature as you determine criteria together, and they will be better prepared to make their own selections in the future.

5. Discover your child's ability to understand. For example, if your child wants to learn more about space exploration, use materials he or she can comprehend. Younger children will learn more from books with pictures. Knowing that a man traveled to the moon may be enough to satisfy a beginner. How he got there will interest older readers.

6. Assess your child's reading level. Start where the child is. How do you find out? Ask your child to read a page aloud. If you hear five or more mistakes, the book is probably too difficult. But if the subject holds the child's interest, don't deny the opportunity to learn. This is probably one of those books that you should read aloud to your child.

7. A good environment sets the stage. Have plenty of eye-appealing books and magazines in your home – some for you, some for your child. Choose a place where you will read together: a favorite chair, propped up on your child's bed, the porch swing, wherever.

Provide a bookcase that will be the child's own and encourage him or her to store favorites there. It's also a good place to keep those library books so you can find them easily when it's time to return them!

When you're ready to read aloud, eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV or radio, and avoid times when friends or family members are likely to make demands of your time.

8. Practice your own skills. When you read aloud, use voice inflection and tone that will make the story come to life. Share the humor, the pathos, the anxiety. Put some drama into your voice.

9. Make room for laughter. Share jokes, nonsense rhymes, funny stories, puns, words with silly sounds. Read aloud stories or examples of humor that appeal to children.

10. Keep 'em dangling. Start a book, arouse the child's interest, then stop while interest is high. This lets a child ask for more. Older children may ask for the book so they can finish reading it for themselves.

11. Accept your child's pace. Don't overdo it. Five or 10 minutes is enough at first. The younger the child, the shorter the attention span. You want the child to ask for more, not beg you to stop.

12. Teach your child how to find information. When kids ask tough questions about a topic in the book, be truthful. “I don't know, but I can help you find out” lets you lead them to the other books to find answers.

13. Expand the imagination. Begin reading a story, but stop before the end. Ask the child to imagine what might happen. After you have speculated together, read the rest of the story aloud - or better yet, let the child read the rest of the story, if able to do so, and share the ending with you.

14. Share the fun with others. Kids love to hear themselves talk. Tape record them reading a story, and send the tape to a grandparent or friend.

15. Seek a response and enlarge a child's horizon. Get a response from your child. Educators call it a comprehension check. Have the child act out part of the story. On other days draw a picture, summarize ideas, or review information.

Encourage children to read favorite books and stories to a younger sibling or to share their new knowledge with older persons.

16. Nurture a budding reporter. After a trip to the zoo, a visit to the park, encourage your child to talk and write about it. Younger children can dictate their story to you - a sentence or two is sufficient. Invite them to illustrate it with a picture, then read it to someone - a grandparent, a neighbor, an elderly friend, a cousin, etc. The refrigerator door is still a good place to display your child's craft.

17. Give the gift of approval. When your child shares a reading (or any other) experience, listen carefully and respond positively. Your child wants to please you. Your approval is a major source of encouragement.

Nine Benefits for Parents Who Read to Kids

Reading aloud:

1. Creates a bonding experience.

2. Allows you to observe and share in your child's interests.

3. Demonstrates your commitment to your child.

4. Provides an opportunity to model and transmit values.

5. Develops good communication skills.

6. Provides bibliotherapy opportunities (Using stories and books to help children deal with traumatic events such as death, divorce, loss of a pet, and adjusting to life-changing situations such as moving and entering school)

7. Gives children a chance to ask you questions.

8. Combats a passive, couch-potato, TV viewing lifestyle.

9. Helps you build a storehouse of pleasant memories with your children.

A Bonding Experience

Where do you find time in an already-busy schedule? Perhaps you can “make” time the way Kay does. A busy parent, she trades with another mother. Kay takes the children to school, and the other mother picks them up - a trip of 25 minutes each way. Kay persuaded the older children in the car to read to the younger ones.

“You won't believe how quiet the children are!” she exclaims as she describes the morning trip. “I never could get Danny to be still in the car, but now he can't wait to hear the story for the day!”

Sharing good books can become a bonding experience with your child. Just 15 minutes a day will make it happen.

Try it.

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