Do you remember reading with your parents as a child? Aren’t those positive memories of sharing stories and being close? During this time when kids are out of school and have limited social interaction, that closeness that comes from reading together is more necessary than ever. Plus, reading has lots of benefits for your child – and for you!
Reading aloud with your children is one of the best ways you can prepare them for success in school and beyond. It helps with language acquisition, vocabulary and communication skills, while preparing them to read and write on their own. Research shows that there is as much as a million-word gap between kindergartners who have been read to regularly and those who have not. Children who have not been read to by age 5 are already at risk of falling behind.
While your kids aren’t at school or their regular educational programs, reading is one of the best ways to keep them engaged in learning while having fun together. Reading aloud can also reduce stress and help you and your kids calm down at the end of the day. It should be an important part of every family’s daily routine and is more important now than ever.
When should you start reading to your child? Experts say that reading to an unborn baby can help the child develop early language skills; it’s also a good way to begin the bonding process. The sooner you start reading to your child, the better. Early literacy skills are some of the strongest indicators of a child’s future success in school and beyond. The best thing you can do to help your child prepare for school, or continue their at-home learning, is to read to them as much as possible.
Children’s Librarian Megan Butterfield says, “It doesn’t matter what you’re reading, just that you’re reading and that you’re establishing that bond with your child, and that they’re associating being loved and happy with books.”
Reading to young kids can come with its challenges. Babies often want to put books in their mouths, so it’s best to start with sturdy board books and other durable picture books. Young kids might not let you flip all of the pages in the right order or finish the story in one sitting. That’s okay. Be patient. You don’t have to read everything on the page to tell a story or engage them with words or songs. Point out things on the page, make connections to their lives, use silly voices and accept that you’ll be reading some books over and over. Reading the same book frequently can help children develop early literacy skills, such as vocabulary, word patterns and sounds. Pointing out words on signs or packaging, narrating what you’re doing and singing songs can help them develop those skills too.
As your children grow, encourage them to practice their reading skills by reading to you or a sibling or taking turns. Once they master the skills of reading, they’ll be proud to show off their new abilities. They can also use books to tell their own stories. Don’t worry if they’re not sticking to what’s on the page. Imagination and creativity are important parts of reading and sharing stories; encourage it!
You also don’t have to read to share stories. If your kids have short attention spans and don’t want to sit through a book, try putting on an audio book while they’re doing other activities. Even if it seems like they’re not paying attention, you may be surprised at what they pick up.
Audible now has a ton of free books for all ages. And, while your local library is closed, they also likely have audio books and e-books available online. Also, check YouTube; many authors, teachers, librarians and even celebrities have been recording themselves reading children’s stories. Put on a short storytelling video while you make a meal or do other household tasks. Exposing your kids to a diverse array of stories is one of the best ways you can encourage their learning at home.
Reading together can also be a special way to share your favorite books from your own childhood. Classics such as Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (to name a few) endure through generations and are a great way to build special memories with your kids. What books do you remember reading with your parents? What books do your kids love? Happy reading!
Erika Nichols-Frazer is a writer, editor and the Communications Manager at the Children’s Literacy Foundation (see clifonline.org for book recommendations and at-home literacy activities). She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. She is currently editing an anthology of mental health recovery stories, and working on a short story collection and a memoir. She won Noir Nation’s 2019 Golden Fedora Fiction Prize and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. You can find her work and her blog at nicholsfrazer.com.