Snuggling up with a toddler and a good book is far more than something that will create a happy memory; it’s something that can set up your child for success in the future.
According to the National Center for Families Learning, children who are read to daily from infancy reach kindergarten with approximately 900 hours of what they call “brain food.” Reduce the amount of reading to 30 minutes per week, and the same child is now 770 hours behind peers who were read to daily.
Why do those numbers matter? Because low literacy leads to adults who are underemployed or unemployed, families living in a generational cycle of and poverty future employment. Low literacy increases the odds of incarceration, balloons health costs for the entire nation, and even increases the risk of mortality.
In contrast, nations with the highest literacy rates (the Nordics countries of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland) have the lowest poverty and crimes rates in the world.
Literate children lead to literate adults. Literate adults create a healthier, more functional society. And the process begins by reading to children when they’re young — even when they can’t yet hold a book.
Tips for Giving Children Literacy Skills:
● Track the text with your finger as you read. This way the child intuitively learns that text is read left to right and top to bottom. Some children pick up on some words this way too.
● When reading a familiar book to a child of preschool age, pause periodically at simple words (still tracking the words) to see if they can predict the word. This works especially well when children are learning letter sounds and when the book has repetition, so certain words are more easily predicted.
● When not physically reading, play rhyming games with your child, throwing out simple words and taking turns coming up with rhymes — even if the “rhyme” they come up with isn’t a real word.
● While reading, pause periodically to ask questions that enhance understanding and comprehension: What just happened? How do you think Pooh Bear [or another main character] feels? What would you do next? What do you think will happen? Such questions improve comprehension, inference, and other crucial literacy skills.
● Hand a book to your child then watch to see what they do with it. Does your child know how to hold it right side up? When asked to open it, can they find the page where the story begins (rather than the title page)?
These activities help build a foundation for early childhood education and future reading — and life — success.
But the most important thing you can do as an adult in any child’s life is to read aloud — and regularly — to them.
Finding Books for Small Children:
● Visit your local library. Ask a children’s librarian for popular titles and authors.
● Browse Amazon.
● Consult Google.
● If you have have (or know!) older children or elementary school teachers, ask for book orders you can purchase books from at a discount.
● Watch for book fairs at schools and libraries, which often have discounts as well.
● Visit used bookstores and thrift shops.
● And remember that you can’t go wrong with the list of Caldecott medal winners.
Reading to children of all ages creates family bonds and enhances a child’s education in so many ways. In talking with many educators over the years, I’ve heard time and again that the best students have parents who read to them regularly.
Here’s another factor that influences a child’s literacy: Fathers and other male role models who read aloud to children.
It’s never too early or too late to begin. Reading to your child is a gift you’ll give to you both.
Best of all, the benefits won’t be only in the distant future; you’ll create memories and bonds that will last a lifetime.