Although I don’t consider Happy Healthy Mama exclusively a food blog, food talk does tend to dominate around here. I’m passionate about health, nutrition, and feeding my family well, so you’ll always find healthy recipes and some fitness talk when you visit.
But I want to share another one of my passions with you, and it just so happens to fit under the parenting umbrella: kids and reading. Before Meghan was born, I was an elementary school teacher. While I feel blessed to be able to stay home with my children, there are many days where I miss teaching. What I miss the most is the magic of teaching a child to read.
I feel lucky to have an education background, as so many of my skills and knowledge naturally spill into my parenting.
I titled this piece How to Grow a Reader because helping your child become a lover of books and a lifelong reader is truly a process that requires care and intent and starts as a newborn. The great thing is that anyone can implement these tips. You don’t have to be a teacher and thanks to public libraries most people have access to great books. It helps if you like reading yourself, but even if you don’t you can fake it and your child will still benefit.
Have Designated Places for Books
No matter where my kids are in our house or in our car, they have access to books. There isn’t one play area that doesn’t have books nearby. Have books in a place where they are easy to reach and they entice your kids.
Have a lot of Books
If you are going to have books available in every space of your home, you are going to need a lot of books. You can achieve this a number of ways. Public libraries are awesome. As a teacher, I would check out 30-40 books at a time. I also went to every used book sale I could and I still do. I have bins of books in our storage room just waiting for my kids to grow into them. You can also request books for gifts for birthdays and holidays and if your kids are school-aged take advantage of book club orders that come home.
Have a Wide Variety of Books
A lot of times a child will latch onto a certain subject and only want to read those kinds of books. That’s fine. Let your child take the lead, but at the same time keep exposing him to different subjects and genres. As a toddler, read him interactive, lift-the-flap books so he can get involved. Find rhyming books, alphabet books, informational books, and books with stories that will make them say, “Again! Again!” at the end. (And make sure you do read it again and again!) The greater variety of books you can have, the better. “Look and Find” books used to be low on my list of books I thought my kids needed, but now I know how well they can increase vocabulary. Different kinds of books serve different purposes, so aim for variety.
Have Designated Reading Times
As a teacher, it was blatantly clear which of my students were read to and which were not. I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend time reading with your kids. You should spend 30 minutes a day reading to each of your children. It doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once, as many children don’t have an attention span to sit for 30 minutes at a time. It’s easier to make sure you’re getting enough reading time by having designated times for reading. You can do it before naps and/or bedtime and pick another time during the day or evening where you know you’ll be sitting to read. If you have multiple children who are close enough in age and/or interests, you can read to them at the same time. I often read to Meghan and Luke together, but I make sure to make time to read to them separately as well because Luke doesn’t always like to sit through the same books as Meghan.
I grew up watching my mom fly through 1-2 novels a week and my dad was always reading business books. It’s helpful for kids to see their parents as readers–they will want to become readers, too. Enthusiasm for books is contagious, so even if your children don’t get a chance to see you reading for pleasure that often, talk about books and get excited about the books you are reading to them.
Immerse Literacy into your Day
There are countless ways to help foster literacy naturally throughout your days. Have conversations with your kids. Talk to them often and go beyond instructional talk (It’s time to put your shoes on, dinner’s ready, come to the table, etc.) Talk to your kids in the car instead of having them watch a DVD or play a video game. It’s through natural, not dumbed down, conversation that kids develop vocabulary. Having a strong vocabulary helps children with comprehension when they become readers. Building up a vocabulary for reading starts way before they can actually read.
Build phonemic awareness (being able to hear and manipulate the sounds that make up words) at a young age. Both of my kids were able to identify all of the letters and their sounds before they were two. Sure, I think my kids are smart cookies, but most toddlers can pick up these skills with repeated exposure. I didn’t use flash cards or anything like that, I simply immerse the alphabet into our everyday play and we talk about the letters and their sounds. We have letter puzzles, magnet letters, the Leapfrog fridge phonics, foam letters for the bathtub, alphabet books, and blow up letters. You get it, right? Letters, letters, everywhere.
Phonemic awareness is also built through songs, nursery rhymes, simple sound games (“I spy something that starts with the letter g,” for example), and chants, so use those tools to help your child as well.
I can attest that these simple tips do help grow readers. While I studied literacy in college and practiced teaching it as a teacher for seven years, I have seen it firsthand with my children. Both of my children love books. Meghan learned to read at 4 and at 5 1/2 reads well above her grade level. Luke happily grabs books and brings them to me over and over again everyday. The love they have for reading is so important to me and warms my heart. As a parent, I will do whatever I can to foster the love of literacy and help it continue throughout their childhood and adolescence.
Reader Feedback: How do you feel about me expanding into topics outside of food, recipes, and nutrition? Also, tell me about your experiences with books either growing up or as a parent.