Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Valentine Message to All Parents: Advice From Your Friendly Neighborhood Literacy Specialist...

Happy Valentine's Day, all!  On this day where we celebrate love, kindness, friendship, togetherness, and all of those other good things that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, I have some advice to offer.  Consider this a love letter of sorts to all parents of young children.  Here it is... 

Read with your kids.  

That's it.  Just read with your kids.  This is the best advice you will ever receive.  I promise.  You will hear many pieces of advice concerning the education of your child in the coming years.  I'm sure you have already heard a ton.  As a teacher of reading, and now a K-5 literacy coach of other teachers who has been inside countless classrooms during reading time, the most important advice I have to give you is to read with your children every single day.  Kids who love reading are happy kids in school (and just happy in general).  To help your kids love reading, all you have to do is read with them- everyday, multiple times a day, whenever you can!  Please, I beg of you- avoid worksheets, skip the gimmicky "learning" apps, and just find a comfy spot, grab a stack of great books, and read with your kids.

It's never too early to start enjoying books together!  These two kiddos are my Godson and his
big sis... They already love books at 7 months & 3.5 years.  Their wonderful mom & dad make
 books and reading a big way of life at home.  Way to go, Katie & John Bedell!

This may sound like a simple, easy idea (and, really, it is).  The key to fostering everything great in the world stems from reading and helping your child develop a love of reading.  It's as simple as that.  Consider these four simple points:

  • Kids who love reading do better in school (see all the links at the bottom of this post for the research on that- if you need research to believe this).
  • Kids who love reading are consistently exposed to a endless stream of entertainment and engaging, educational experiences outside of their own immediate world.
  • Kids who love reading are more proficient readers than kids who do not love reading (yet).  Think about why I added 'yet' in there.  It's never too late to help your kids fall in love with reading.  Personally, I did not fall in love with reading until late middle school- and now reading is my career!
  • Kids who are proficient readers are more likely to have success in other areas of school- Can you think of a subject in school where reading is not required?  I can't either.  Reading impacts every single aspect of schooling and life in general. Try to notice every time you read during your day (street signs while driving, text messages, grocery labels, directions for anything, emails, etc).

There are so many ways to make reading a fun and engaging experience every single time you sit down with your kids, from early infancy to late elementary school (and beyond)...

  1. Read to your baby!  Giggle, laugh, and share an early love of reading with your littlest ones. It's never too early.  Yesterday, during a wonderful brunch with my friends Jenny and Erik and their 11 week-old son Logan, Jenny mentioned that she loves reading books to Logan- and he's not even three months-old yet!  To add to this idea, my dear friends, Leigh and Rich, told me a while ago that they even read books to their son Bennett before he was born.  How awesome is that! 
  2. Take your kiddos to the local library.  Make this a weekly habit.  The public library has something to offer children of all ages.  This can even be a fun bonding experience for you and your baby.  Once your kiddos are a tad older, you can make it an adventure to look forward to each week!  Give your toddler and preschooler free rein of the children's book section.  These sections of libraries, and even bookstores, were designed with accessibility for little ones in mind.
  3. The best books for your children are the ones they choose themselves.  Don't worry if a book is "appropriate" or not- trust me, it is appropriate if your child chooses it!  If free rein makes you nervous, pick out a large stack of books yourself, then ask your child to choose many books from that stack.  Choice matters. 
  4. Have fun with reading!  Make it theatrical- change your voice to match characters and invite your child to do the same.  Bring the characters and settings in books to life with your own interpretation.  Better yet, ask your children what they think the characters may sound like!
  5. When you read with your toddler, invite him or her to hold the book and turn the pages.  At some point, you can start pointing at words so your kiddos can see that we read left to right and top to bottom.  Eventually, you can invite your child to do this, too (it's completely ok if their pointing doesn't exactly match the words yet- think general directionality instead of one to one correspondence in the early stages).  These early concepts of print are critical to helping kiddos eventually become independent readers.  However, please remember that modeling an enjoyment of reading is much more important than reading accuracy or pointing  accuracy at this point.
  6. Make reading a joyous gift.  Take a look at this picture from a very happy two year-old's
    birthday party.  Rather than making goodie bags for birthday parties, make a book basket for all the kids to choose a book (nicely done, Hazelton family!).  This can even be done for books with your own child at home.  Every time you go to the library, put the books in a special reading spot... decorate the spot, celebrate the books, make reading a fun, joyous experience! 
  7. If your child wants to read the same book over and over again- this is a good thing!  This means your child has fallen in love with a book.  Encourage that love.  Chants of, "One more time!" after you finish reading that book together should be music to your ears.  Don't worry, eventually your child will discover new books.  Have you ever seen a 15 year-old insist on reading Goodnight Moon?  If books and reading are a way of life in your family, they will naturally learn to love new books as time progresses.
  8. If your child memorizes a book or makes up the words- this is also a good thing! This is one of the first steps to becoming a happy reader.  Approximation is reading.  Telling the story based on the pictures (even if it's a different story than the printed words in the book) is reading in the earliest stages.  Reading with little ones should be engaging, entertaining, and even experimental. 
  9. Once your child is a little older, introduce him or her to a book series- a series is a collection of books, usually from the same author, with the same characters and continuing storylines.  You can read the first book or two in the series together (maybe a chapter a night before bed), and then perhaps your child can take off with the next books in the series independently.  There is a direct correlation between children finding a book series they love and reading enjoyment and engagement when they're older (the actual research about this is found in one of the links below- if you're into that sort of thing).  If you're unsure of which series to recommend or have your child try out, take a look at this wonderful list from Goodreads or this list from Scholastic if your kids are a little younger.
  10. Don't overthink it.  When in doubt, grab a few picture books, find a cozy spot, snuggle up with your child, and just start reading.  It's as simple as that. 

I don't know for sure, but I can venture to guess that your kids will not remember that shiny new app (which will be a thing of the past next month).  They also will not remember the painful worksheets displaying dotted outlines of letter shapes for them to trace.  But, mark my words! They will remember sitting in your lap and falling in love with Elephant and Piggie or Houndsley and Catina.  They will remember being tucked into bed and whisked off to magical worlds with nightly read alouds by you of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Once they're a tad older, they will never forget falling in love with their first book series recommended by you- perhaps you'll recommend The Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Little House books, Magic Treehouse books, or the I Survived series.  They will remember these shared experiences with you for the rest of their lives.  

Plus, those shared experiences with you will help them develop their own independent love of reading, which will help them in their schooling and in life more than anything else possibly can.

Happy Valentine's Day & Happy Reading, Friends!

Here's a little further reading on the topic of reading with your kids:
Tips for Reading with Your Children from Seussville (love these fun tips!)
This is Your Child's Brain on Reading from Corina Storrs on CNN

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