Why parents need to read to their children – starting at birth
As a high school English teacher, I often read aloud to students when starting a new book. For my poorer readers, it was understandable why they liked this: their slow pace prevented them from comprehending but by reading aloud to them, they could follow along, learn words and practice pacing. But, when my best, most advanced readers also loved it when I read aloud, I asked them why. They said,” When we were young, we were read to; no one reads to us now.”
More advanced readers have often been given the gift of language from a very early age by people who read to them often. And, that means starting at birth. Some of my friends laughed at me when I read to my son on the second day home from the hospital. But, the most critical years for brain development are from 0 to 3 years old. I wanted to read my book; he heard language and had important cuddle time.
Reading to children develops better vocabulary, helps with later writing skills, builds listening skills and creates imagination.
It is hard to believe that teachers report so many kindergarten children arrive to school not knowing their colors, letters, numbers or basic words. These children start school behind grade level and will stay behind without intervention and increased focus on basic skills. Starting children early on the path to reading helps.
How can you help your children? Participate in the free 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program; the goal is to read 1000 books before your child starts kindergarten. Resources, suggested reading lists, log sheets and more are available at www.1000booksbeforekindergarten.org.
Recognize that TV is not a substitute for reading. Part of reading is the interaction that accompanies it – eye contact, voice inflections, etc. Television is passive; reading with a child is interactive and so stimulates brain development.
It is even a good idea to read to your child while still in the womb. For newborns, read aloud – your adult book, or a children’s book; it doesn’t matter since the importance is that they are hearing language. Sing-song wording and rhymes also develop language.
By age 4-6 months, babies begin showing more interest in books. Cardboard and vinyl books are perfect; let them hold it, even chew on it. Introduce picture books and point out items to help learn words, colors and images so the baby associates a picture with an item. By 6-12 months, babies begin understanding that pictures represent objects.
Let toddlers pick out books. And, when they request to have a book read over and over, do so. Repetition builds understanding and is often soothing as a bedtime routine.
As children move into elementary school age, read more advanced books, and create questions they can answer or discuss about a book. Let middle school children choose books. I realized that my love of fiction wasn’t what my older son wanted; he was more interested in biographies and sports as well as non-fiction books. Let them decide what they want to read. Participate in the library reading programs and contests.
Parents can engage with middle school and high school students by reading the same books and stories that they are reading in school. Read aloud together or read a few chapters separately and then discuss. This helps students see that the assignment is important and that you, too, will take time to read. In fact, reading yourself is important in developing readers; when they see that you enjoy reading, chances are they will develop an interest, too.
Review your child’s assignments throughout the year and design ways to enhance it. Reading Mark Twain could lead to a weekend trip to Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain grew up. Studying Lincoln can be enhanced with a tour of the many Lincoln sites here in Springfield.
Have books around the house. A 2010 University of Nevada study (as well as other studies) showed that a large selection of books in the home has a greater effect on the education level a child will attain than whether his or her parents are rich or poor, went to college or dropped out of high school. Even 20 books can make a difference. Check out books from the library, subscribe to magazines and have books and magazines set out on a table for easy reach.
No matter the age of the child, parents can help children succeed – by reading.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna is an avid reader and knows the power of reading for the success of students.