By Stacy Whitman
Once upon a time there was a young child who loved books, eagerly devouring one after the next. His journey begins with a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle or a teacher who took the time to read to him, helped him find books he enjoyed and talked to him about the stories, characters and words. And it ends with a very bright, verbal and imaginative child who has an easier time learning to read, becomes a better reader and excels in his schoolwork.
It all sounds great, but how do you sell a kid on the concept of reading when there are so many other fun things to do, like rearranging your kitchen cabinets, bouncing on your bed, and playing with your iPad? We asked the experts to share their best strategies.
Choose the right material Your child is much more likely to enjoy books that he doesn’t have to struggle to understand, says Diane Frankenstein, author of Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read (2009). Stick to selections that are appropriate for his age and developmental stage—concept books with simple pictures of colors, numbers and letters are the place to start—and whose subjects feed into his curiosity and interests.
Make it a routine Make reading to your child a daily habit, and it’ll become a wonderful shared activity that will benefit her for years to come, Frankenstein says. Thirty minutes a day is a good goal, and you and your tot can meet it in short spurts. “The idea is to integrate the act of reading into your child’s entire day,” she explains. Recite a poem over breakfast, read silly rhymes at snack time, or curl up with your child’s story in the middle of the afternoon. Or carry a couple of books in your shoulder bag and try to sneak them in whenever you have downtime—say, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
Build his vocabulary The more words your youngster knows, the easier it will be for her to comprehend a story (and eventually learn how to read one to herself!). Along with reading to her, the best way to expand her vocabulary is to simply talk, talk, talk: Describe all the sights, sounds and smells around her. Sing songs, recite nursery rhymes and tell stories. Converse in short, simple sentences about anything and everything! And always respond to her attempts to communicate—give names to objects that she seems interested in and answer her even if she’s repeating herself over and over.
Turn off the tube It might keep her entertained (and out of your hair when you’re getting ready for work or cooking dinner), but spending time watching TV means tots two and under engage less frequently in brain-enhancing and vocabulary-boosting activities such as talking, playing, singing and reading. (After your child’s second birthday, total screen time—including TV, videos and electronic games—should be limited to less than two hours a day—and, whenever possible, the content should be educational.)
Talk about the tale How many books your child reads matters less than how many conversations you have about each one. “Discussing stories will help him find pleasure and meaning in them, as well as teach him how to express his thoughts with words,” Frankenstein says. Good conversation-starters take your child deeper into the story (“What character do you like or dislike?”) and help him make connections with his own life (“What would you do in this situation?”). “It’s less about trying to figure out the meaning of a story and more about what the story means to a child in his life now,” says Frankenstein.
Make it feel special If reading together makes your child feel good, he’ll want to keep doing it. Make story time a positive experience by give him your full attention—no checking your BlackBerry, answering the phone or glancing at the TV. Hold him close, look at him lovingly and offer lots of encouragement (by telling him “Good job!” for turning the page, for example). If he can’t sit still or keeps interrupting, don’t get mad—just calmly put the book down and ask him if he wants to continue. If not, take a break and try again later.