Reading with Your Children: Why it’s Important and How to Start

In the world of “screens”—computers, smart phones, tablets, gaming systems—it would be easy to let reading to your child fall by the way side. Many of these devices will actually read TO your child, so you don’t have to, right?

Wrong!

Experts will overwhelmingly advise parents to keep reading. One of the most powerful things a parent can do to enhance a child’s learning is to read to him or her every day. From the time they are born, kids benefit from read aloud time. Babies, of course, can’t understand the words, but they love listening to the voice of mom, dad or another important person in their lives. They can develop important visual skills like tracking and focus by looking at the colors and patterns in a book. As kids grow, reading will promote memory and sequencing skills, build vocabulary, and help teach concepts like colors, numbers and shapes. The books you select can also convey the values and beliefs of your family. Reading also builds emotional health by providing that all-important physical contact and cuddle-up, snuggle time

Five Ways Parents Can Promote Reading

  1. The first thing parents should do is sign up for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program available in our area, sponsored by the Sioux Empire United Way. This amazing program will provide a free book every month until your child turns six! If you live or work in Minnehaha, Lincoln, Turner or McCook counties in South Dakota, you can sign up at www.seuw.org. If you live in another area, visit www.usa.imaginationlibrary.com to see if this program might be available for you.
  2. Designate a special place in your home for your child’s books. A sturdy, low shelf will make books accessible. With the advent of “board” books in the 1970s, even babies can handle books. As your child advances to books with paper pages, teach respect for books.
  3. Make reading a priority. At least once a day, turn off the screens, pick some books, and devote your undivided attention to your child as you read. Bedtime reading is perfect, because it is calming to children and meets their emotional need for cuddle time before the separation of sleep.
  4. Join the library—it’s FREE! Make trips to the library a family affair. When your child is old enough, get him or her a library card. You will not only be promoting reading, but responsibility as well. The children’s librarian can be a great resource to help you select books for your child.
  5. Let your child see you reading. You want your child to learn that reading is important, as well as fun. Sorry, but texting and emailing don’t count here.

Can You Read to Babies?

Many experts advise parents to start reading to their baby from the beginning. Here are some tips:

  • Choose simple books with large pictures that are not too “busy.” Use a soothing voice as you point to and name the pictures.
  • Turn the pages slowly, allowing time for baby to focus on the page for a while.
  • Newborns may like black and white books, because they have not yet developed the ability to see color and they see high contrast best.
  • After a month or so, colors will begin to catch their attention, with red often being a favorite.
  • Rhyming books are interesting to babies. There is some research that says a rhyming cadence helps pattern some areas of the brain.
  • You don’t have to use just books. Paging through your favorite magazine and pointing out interesting pictures works, too.
  • Don’t forget singing, which is just another form of story telling.
  • Give your baby hardboard books to handle. Don’t be surprised if he or she is more interested in chewing on them or just turning the pages

Reading to Toddlers

  • It is normal for toddlers to go through a very active stage when they may not sit long for a book. Continue reading out loud as your toddler wanders or plays.
  • Choose books with pictures and simple plots that are familiar to your child. Examples are books that feature animals, toys, household objects, bath time or eating time.
  • Choose books with only two or three sentences per page to start, and increase the number of sentences as your child’s attention span increases.
  • If the text of a book is too long to hold your child’s attention, just make up your own story to follow the pictures.
  • Toddlers like to predict things, so books with lots of repetition are perfect.
  • Make animal or motor noises to go with the story, or change your voice for different characters.
  • Books with “hidden” pictures, pop-up puppets, flaps or “feely” textures will allow your toddler to use all the senses.
  • Begin a ritual of bedtime reading. Allow your child to choose some of the books. Don’t be surprised if he or she wants the same books over and over!

It’s never too late to start reading to your child or to increase reading time. In our next blog we will give you some tips for reading to your older child.

By Betty and Doniese

Family Life Instructors at Avera McKennan

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