Ways to Make Reading Fun
Dinosaur Books vs. the DVR
Be sure that kids’ books are easy to access within your home. By making kids’ books more available than the remote, you’ll encourage them to turn a page rather than turn on the TV. With emerging readers—little ones who aren’t yet reading on their own—Kimber says it’s especially important to be conscious of the emphasis you place on literacy. “Young children are incredibly excited to learn how to read because it moves them up that ladder to being a big kid, so I think that parents can use that excitement along with strategy, actually, to make sure they’re feeding off it, instead of squandering it,” she says. One great strategy is to surround your kids with reading material that interests them. For example, if your kids have a fascination with dinosaurs, Kimber suggests letting them read, or at least pretend to read, their favorite prehistoric tales. If they’re interested in the story, they’ll be more inclined to push themselves when they stumble upon the parts they don’t already know by heart.
Follow the Leader
You’re a reader, too, so make time for some reading of your own! We all know how much children love to repeat the things adults say and do, and if your kids see that you’re interested in your own book, they’ll be quick to follow suit. You can also take reading on the road with you. Kindergarten teacher Nancy Singer finds that the best time to practice early reading skills is when you’re in the car. After all, she says, you’ll have a captive audience! “Parents are so busy. It’s so unusual now to have a mom that doesn’t work; there just isn’t a lot of extra time anymore. But everyone’s in the car,” Nancy says. Look for environmental print, words you see all around you on buildings and street signs. When you drive by a restaurant or store, call out the letters. When you roll up to a stop sign, say “Stop! S-T-O-P spells stop.” Nancy says efforts like this help your kids make the connection between letters, sounds and reading.
Help your kids realize that reading pertains to more than just books. Encourage them to get their hands on everything they can, including comics, game directions, cereal boxes and kid-friendly websites. “Even having them go online and search for things—it’s still reading. It’s still having them comprehend and synthesize the information from what they’ve read,” Nancy says. Just as you’d curl up with your favorite magazine, there are publications geared toward kids, as well. Nancy says Time for Kids and Weekly Reader are great magazines to keep your children in tune with the outside world. And don’t discount your local newspapers! The Detroit Free Press, like many other print publications, has a supplement for kids called Yak’s Corner—keep an eye out for your local paper’s version. Nancy says it’s more difficult to interest boys in reading than girls. Boys, she says, aren’t typically interested in narratives, and most of the books available for younger kids are just that. This is no excuse to let your sons off the hook. “For a lot of boys, it might Sports Illustrated, but it doesn’t matter what they read as long as they read,” Nancy says. Reading and writing go hand in hand at the early stages of literacy. In the past, according to Nancy, teachers have often been discouraged to allow students to write about bloody fantasies or violence of any kind, but in recent years, Nancy and other teachers have found that letting little boys write about topics they’re interested in is more productive than asking them to journal about their favorite memory.
Time to Read Out Loud
Your iPod or XM radio shouldn’t be the only thing you’re listening to. Ask your kids to read aloud regularly. That way, you can track their progress and stay aware of any difficulties they might be having. Teaching your kids to read is like teaching them to ride a bike, Kimber says. It begins with you by their side. Start by picking a text that’s just a little too difficult for your kids to read on their own. Cuddle up with them and read the book aloud in unison. “I think of this as riding the bike with training wheels,” Kimber says. “Your child begins to feel what it’s like to be a reader; they hear themselves reading the book, but they have the full support of their parent with them, which is really affirming and helpful to them.” When your kids become comfortable with this, Kimber says to read a sentence aloud on your own and then have your child repeat that sentence, echoing your pronunciation. “It’s like you’ve taken the training wheels off, but you’re still holding onto the seat: They have you if they need support. You’re letting them know what it sounds like to read, but then they’re feeling it on their own while reading the words on the page,” Kimber says. Eventually, your kids will begin to feel comfortable reading passages on their own. Let go of the bike and allow them to fly solo!
The Gift That Keeps on Giving
For birthdays and holidays, give your children books, just as you would a toy. Everything is more exciting dressed in wrapping paper and a bow. Thom says, from a parenting perspective, it’s as crucial to show children the importance of reading as it is to tell them. “One way to show them is by making a book into a gift, which they already know is something of great value,” he says. “We know kids having access to things to read is critically important to kids loving [reading]. Surround them.” The more enthusiasm you show about the book, the more they’ll appreciate the gift they’ve received. Think about the stories you loved as a child. Write a personal note on the inside cover so your children understand how much this book means to you. If you cherish it, they probably will too. And when your kids do receive a book as a gift, Nancy suggests keeping the book in a special place. Especially at a young age, kids are interested in anything—and everything—that belongs to them alone.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
All children learn to read at a different pace. Instead of asking your little ones to finish a certain number of pages, set aside a chunk of time during which they should read. If it’s a race to the finish, nobody wins. If you’ve ever been around early readers, you’ve probably noticed that many of them love to “read” their favorite books over and over again, essentially reciting the stories from memory. Contrary to what you may think, this is actually an important early step in the reading process. Children learn sounds before they learn the letters that represent those sounds. “It’s counterintuitive to us, as adults, because we associate the letter with the sound, but children learn that in the reverse order,” Kimber says. “You know for sure they’re beginning to understand and learn words when they read the same or similar words in a different context. [They’re beginning to understand] if they can take those skills and transfer them to a different book that they haven’t read before.”
The Monster Under the Bed
Leave your kids’ books next to their beds. If you encourage them to read for a few minutes each night, they’ll be polishing off books in no time. Even if they’re old enough to read to themselves, consider reading out loud to them too. After all, what’s better than a bedtime story? Nancy says no matter how busy you are, nighttime reading with your kids is a necessary activity that can be accomplished easily and painlessly if you make an “under the bed box.” Take a shoe box and wrap it up with colorful paper and ribbon; make it special, and keep it in under your child’s bed. When she receives a book as a gift or bring one home from school, add it to the box and let her know she doesn’t have to share any of those specific books with her siblings or friends. “Every year, parents tell me their kids are so possessive of their under the bed books. Even if I’ve just printed the stories off in black-and-white, the kids think they’re special.” At night, before your children go to sleep, go under the bed and pick out a book to read. Stay in the habit, even if you only have 10 minutes, “and hopefully,” Nancy says, “this will set up a lifelong pattern of reading before bed.”
Up, Up and Away
Although your children may believe that any school break is a break from learning, you know better. Reading regularly over the summer and winter holidays will ensure that all their hard work during the school year doesn’t go to waste. Jump-start their imaginations with a good book and show them how they can travel to exciting places without ever leaving home. As a teacher, Nancy says for every month children are out of school, they can regress that many months in their reading abilities. Although light summer reading may not push them sufficiently ahead of their class for the coming fall, “if they read, a lot of time they’ll keep status quo, which is what you want,” Nancy says. Thom also feels ready telling kids it’s important to read isn’t enough to get them hooked; reading with them every day matters more. “Reading with them demonstrates in an intimate and physical way that reading is a worthwhile activity.”
An Adventure of Its Own
To kids of all ages, there’s nothing like a good adventure. Turn a trip to your library or local bookstore into an anticipated event, and you never know, your little ones might even beat you to the car. Help your kids sign up for a library card. Not only will they feel more grown up, but they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and possession over their reading abilities. If, early on, you can instill in your children the value of print, they’ll carry it with them for years to come. Thom suggests choosing a book for yourself while your kids make their own decision. Leave judgment at home, he says, because the aesthetic appreciation many adults have for books doesn’t come as naturally to young children. “They may want a great big catalog of fiction. They may just want to read about this one animal and then go back 30 pages and read about another animal. Not judging what your kids are reading means letting them pick.”