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Reading is essential. That’s the basic take-away in the latest reports from the world’s top child development researchers. This information won’t revolutionize parenting, as the nighttime kids book ritual is a cultural anchor going back generations. But as children enter our digital world, electronics compete for a share of their attention. Many put books on the shelf, power up the tablet, and rarely look back.
How do you fight back against the digital tsunami and get your kids to dive into books? One simple answer has two steps: help them form reading habits early and get them engaged by keeping them amazed.
Habits start early
“We read at least one book each night,” says Catherine Joyce, director of data management for The Urban Child Institute, and the mom of 11-month-old Jane. She also serves on the board for Shelby County Books from Birth.
“When she was very young, I’d read aloud to her despite her short attention span,” says Joyce. “I would read as often as possible, throughout the day and evening, without forcing her to keep still and pay attention. I wanted to introduce books in a positive way, so we avoided prolonging the experiences when she got fussy.”
What’s another key to fostering a love of books? Giving young children access. “I keep books accessible, on low shelves and allow Jane to explore them by pulling them off a shelf. Opening a book, holding it, even chewing on it is part of my daughter’s daily routine. I don’t worry if she tears pages.”
Access means sharing what you’re reading, too.
“First and foremost, let your child see you reading. It doesn’t have to be a book; it can be a newspaper, magazine, blog, or an e-book,” says Amanda McClusky, librarian at the Maxine Smith STEAM Academy. “Talk to your kids about what you are reading. Learning and reading do not and should not occur in a vacuum. Little things go a long way in encouraging a love of reading.” And look beyond the confines of literature with a capital L.
“Kids who like sports might be interested in Sports Illustrated for Kids, those who like construction and engineering would probably love Click, kids who are interested in nature and animals might like National Geographic Kids, and standbys like Highlights have something for everyone,” she says. “There are a lot of comic books out there for little kids, too, and those are almost always a surefire bet for boys and girls. The combination of familiar characters, plus pictures, a lot of action and silliness, go a long way for kids.”
Kick-starting a lifelong affinity for the world of words isn’t always flipping an instant switch. But with a vast world of options, something is bound to connect with your child.
“Be patient and keep trying! My youngest son, who is now a year-and-a-half, did not enjoy being read to or looking at books for his first year.” McClusky says. “As a librarian and total bookworm, this hurt. But, we kept trying, offered a variety of types of books on different topics, and now he loves to read.”
Ready, Set, Read!
Shelby County Books from Birth • Receive one book a month through Books from Birth when you enroll your child from birth to age 5. There is no cost to the family. • booksfrombirth.org
Memphis Public Library System • Sign up for a library card, it’s easy and free. With your card, you and your child can check out books each time you visit. Additionally, most branches offer book reading sessions, book clubs, and other language-heavy workshops to keep young children immersed in the world of word and story.
Reach Out and Read • A national program in which medical professionals give a new book to children from 6 months to 5 years at well-child check-ups. During each visit, trained staff discusses the importance of early literacy with parents. Studies conducted on the program show that parents who are enrolled are four times more likely to read aloud to their children. Available through UT LeBonheur pediatric specialists. • readaloud.