Television. Video games. Computers. Who has time for reading anymore? Probably not your kids. Getting your kids to read can feel like an uphill struggle unless you begin teaching them from a young age the importance of reading books for fun, rather than just books they need for school.
Inspiring your kids to read
You can begin inspiring your kids to read from the very day that they are born. Read aloud to your infant. Read the newspaper, a note from a friend, your favourite novel, or the back of a cereal box. Every opportunity you get, just read.
In addition to the personal fulfilment that comes with reading, many of the steps to success in life come easier with a strong grasp of reading. It should come as no surprise that almost every standardized test used to determine aptitude for advanced academic study involves at least some type of test of reading comprehension. Therefore, strong reading skills are a must to open up worlds of imagination or to open up worlds of opportunity. But the love of reading and strong reading skills do not necessarily come naturally.
Be a reading role model
The most important thing in encouraging your child is to set a good example. Read yourself, and let your child see you read. Subscribe to magazines. Let your child choose magazines they will enjoy. You can even read together as a family.
Children do what they see. Behavioural psychologists call this modelling. Anybody who has raised a child has seen this in action. From an early age, children mimic the behaviours that they see in those around them, even when (at early stages) they are only copying physical movement without actually engaging in the heart of the activity or understanding it.
This is why many developmental experts will tell you that the single largest determinant of whether your child will be encouraged to pick up the reading bug is whether reading is a part of everyday life in the home. If children grow up seeing the adults in the house making time to read, it will be a behaviour that they will model as they reach the age where reading is a possible activity.
Read aloud together
Going one step further, a great way to add to the impetus for modelling is to read together. This need not wait until an age when youngsters can read on their own. Starting in infancy, sitting and reading together is one of the best ways to bond with a child, develop spoken language skills, and plant the early seed of a love of reading. Children find security in their parents’ voices, and sitting while you read to an infant, even if the words themselves mean nothing (yet), provides that bond.
Just as important, children being read start to experience the full range of human language earlier. Broadening the sound patterns and vocabulary that you speak around your children will start to program them to listen to these new patterns. The language that they are exposed to grows from a limited retinue of food words, bodily functions, and toys to a much broader range of sounds and voice inflexion. They then learn to listen to those different language patterns.
Read your child’s storybooks at bedtime. This will also set a daily routine and encourage quality time together with your child. Buy baby books and read them together. Let your child turn the pages and point to words and pictures as you read. Reading like this can help your child learn to talk. You may find him memorizing his favourite stories and telling them himself.
Give them a headstart at school
Making your child familiar with books and reading will give them a head start when beginning school. They may already know their ABCs or even be able to write their name and other small words. They will be familiar with sitting quietly and being read to. And in later grades, they will have an easier time with homework.
As children get older, to the point where reading and sounding out words together is possible, reading together provides ways for children to challenge themselves by learning new words and simple sentence structures. Reading together allows a parent to provide simple corrections and guide the reading. Just as significantly, the young reader gets the satisfaction of mastering something new. Some developmental psychologists place great emphasis on the extent to which growth in a child is focused on seeking out and mastering new possibilities. Reading is one way to allow that mastery to reinforce for a child that they are able to interact with and overcome obstacles in the world.
As your child gets older and needs to do research for a school project, encourage them to break away from the internet and do some research from the library as well.
Visit your local library
Get your child a library card. Make regular visits and encourage your child to check out different types of books. Teach your child the rules of the library and respect for books.
Should you incentive reading?
You can even create a household reading program, giving an incentive for kids to read more. The reward can depend on your child’s age and interests. You could create a chart together and place stickers or write in titles whenever your child reads another book. Your child can earn “points,” which he/she can redeem for prizes or favours such as NO HOUSEWORK FOR A WEEK. Older children may prefer the allowance of money. Tell the prize and the requirement upfront according to your child’s abilities and stick with it.
Restrict your child’s tv and video game time. Allow a certain amount of time each day (or week). Don’t leave the tv on constantly. Only turn it on for shows you really want to see. Don’t channel surf. Read the TV GUIDE or the Preview Channel to see what’s playing.
Books make the perfect gift idea
A final pragmatic point: with strong foundations laid in the early years, the need to direct the reading activity can ease up a bit in later years. While still making sure that the reading level is challenging, a great way to get older kids to read is to make sure that every birthday or holiday season includes at least one or two good books. In addition to providing lots of new stimuli, it reinforces in the mind of a growing child that the opportunity to read is a gift, something to look forward to and cherish.
Go ahead and give the gift of reading to your child today. It will mean far more in the future than you can ever imagine.