The best gift parents can give to their child is a love of reading. In the words of Mark Twain, “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” This wisdom applies just as well to children.
The following strategies may help you promote your child’s reading. Keep in mind that your primary job is to help your child to enjoy and feel confident about reading, not to teach him how to read.
Make time available for reading. Many children are over-scheduled, and have little time to pursue activities on their own. Reading is often a casualty of over-scheduling.
Read to your child starting at an early age.
This is the single most important thing you can do to promote your child’s literacy. Jim Trelease, author of The New Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin, 2006), believes parents should begin reading to their children as early as 6 months and should read to them daily by age 2. A child who is read to from an early age learns to feel comfortable and confident around books and begins to associate reading with warmth and security. And don’t stop reading to your child once he’s able to decipher words on a page.
Aim for pleasure rather than profit.
What you read to your child is less important than the fact that you do read to her. Your child should come to see reading as a pleasure, not a chore. Don’t read books you believe are good for your child if she doesn’t enjoy them.
Encourage your child read to you.
This not only gives him a chance to practice his reading but also provides you with an opportunity to praise it. Let the small errors go. You may want to help him sound out key words or supply the right word, but don’t turn quality reading time into a lesson.
Make it tempting.
Don’t force your child to spend time with books, but encourage her to do so by using these methods:
- Provide a comfortable, quiet place. Children especially enjoy beanbag chairs.
- Allow your child to stay up 15 or 30 minutes later at night if that time is spent reading.
- Have your child join a book club.
- Give her material keyed to her interests. Children love books about other children, especially from other countries.
- For birthdays or other special occasions, give your child a gift certificate to a favorite bookstore.
- Help your child make a paper chain (a “bookworm”) or mobile listing the books he has read.
Spend time together at the library.
New Jersey’s public libraries offer a gold mine of literary riches. You might schedule a specific time each week to visit the library with your child. Consider obtaining a library card in his name. When your child is old enough, show him how to use the computer to look up books.
Share the reading bug.
Have a range of materials—books, poetry, magazines, and newspapers—throughout the house. Let your child see you reading and talk to her about the content. You might even have a quiet hour in your house when the TV is off and family members are encouraged to read. Once your child acquires the reading bug, he’ll realize he need never be bored.
Dr. Kenneth Shore is a Mercer County, New Jersey school and family psychologist. For more information, visit his website at drkennethshore.nprinc.com.