As adults who read and consider it fun, insightful, a way to relax, or a way to learn new and interesting things, it’s easy to take it for granted. It almost seems to come naturally, as if we’ve been doing it forever. Often, it’s easy to forget that reading and literacy has a starting point, one that usually comes in early childhood, when we’re exposed to all manner of books, from the classic picture book, to the heavier fare in the rhymes of Dr. Seuss. When we look at what encouraged us to become literate grown-ups, we can impart our experience and love of words on our children.
How young? As young as possible. There really isn’t a “wrong” time to start. There are books designed to be grasped by the smallest of hands, to be gnawed on, and to take to take abuse from little ones. And don’t forget it’s not always about the story, the words, the colors, or pictures. It’s about interactivity, both the parent/child relationship and learning about their environment. Many books for the youngest children focus on textures, color, shapes (both geometric and the shapes of letters) and occasionally, sound. In most cases, that’s really all a child can interpret and for a very young age, that’s a perfect start.
Focus on the visual experience
As they get a little older, the visual experience will become more meaningful. With guidance, they’ll begin to understand and grasp what they’re seeing on the pages. Over time that visual experience will help in transitioning to words. Visual books, such as picture and pop-up books, draw them in, capture their attention and imagination.
Give them a bookshelf
Or better yet, give them an entire bookcase. Make it accessible and encourage exploration. Let it be their space, but also show them how to care for their books. Not only will they learn that any time (well, almost any time) can be reading time, but it’s also a great time to teach organization. Perhaps the books are organized in alphabetical order.
Repetition, rhyme, and rhythm
There is always that one book, maybe two, which children have a habit of going back to again and again. And again. But it’s critical in their development. Repetition allows words and images to set in their minds, as does rhyme and rhythm. These are fundamentals that go back to the origins of human literacy, representing thousands of years of tried and true practices.
Make it an interactive experience
To reiterate an earlier idea, let the reading experience be a back and forth, a dialog. Ask your child questions about the story and have your child ask question in return. Make discoveries, learn, and teach. Let the act of reading flourish into other activities, such as art projects and games.
And most importantly… Read with your child
Yes, this is constantly reiterated, it’s essentially common knowledge that reading to your child will foster literacy, and expanded vocabulary, and an interest in reading as they grow. It’s worth repeating. We live in an era of distractions. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and the list goes on. It’s easy to bemoan all the current distraction kids endure in their daily lives and forget about our own. It’s critical as parents to take the time to be with our kids, to sit down, to slow down, and to read with them. Not to them, or at them. While a classroom is an excellent place to promote literacy, a place to hone, supplement, and expand their skills, literacy ultimately begins at home.
About the Author
Elaine Wynn is a former grade school teacher and mother of 3. Since taking time off to raise her family, she remains dedicated to education as a supporter of both literacy and the arts and has recently taken an interest in personalized books for children.