Pediatricians have said that reading to a young child every day—starting when they are six months old or younger--is as important as getting immunizations. It is essential to their later health and well being. Medical tests show that the neurons in a child’s brain “wake up” when someone is reading to them. When you read to your child every day, you’re helping your child’s brain to grow and form connections. Nor does the reading have to be difficult. It can be a loving and fun time spent with you and your child, something that you both look forward to.
Take it from us: "If books are part of loving parent-child interactions from an early age, children will associate the presence of books with all of the positive feelings of being held and loved. Undoubtedly, these associations are encoded in a profound way in a child's developing brain. Picture books provide an ideal context for parent-child interactions that are loving and stimulating." —Dr. Robert Needlman, Division of Behavioral Pediatrics & Psychology, Rainbow Babies' and Children's Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio "As President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I can tell you that pediatricians are acutely aware of the role reading plays in infant brain and child development. We strongly recommend daily reading to children from six months of age." —Dr. Robert E. Hannemann, President, American Academy of Pediatrics 1996-97.
Watch It: Parents TV and Scholastic Books talk about why it is important to read to your child starting when they are six months old: Youtube: Reading to Baby
Find three to five age-appropriate books.
While bookstores are great places to get books, there are also several less expensive options. Public libraries typically have children’s sections filled with picture books. Many libraries also have a used book store in which you can buy books very cheaply and sometimes they’ll even be free. Find out if there is a Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program in your community. RIF gives out free books to children who need them. Board books are great for children under two as they are designed for small hands to hold and even mouths to chew (though you won’t want to let them chew a library book). For toddlers, picture books with a sentence or two per page will match the child’s attention span. Preschoolers and kindergartners will often enjoy the longer picture books—as long as they are still engaging and interesting.
Set aside a time when my child is alert to read to her.
Many parents will make reading a part of bedtime routine. This can become a lifelong habit with older elementary children doing their own reading as part of getting ready for bed. There are many books designed to be read to young children at bedtime. However, bedtime isn't the only good reading time. You know your child best. When is he most interested in playing with you? Make reading part of your playtime together. Try to pick a time that can become a routine, whether it is immediately following breakfast, after an afternoon nap, or any other time of the day that works well for you and your baby.
Find a place that is free of other distractions.
Pick a place in your home that becomes a special reading area. Make sure it is well lit, comfortable, and lets you and your child cuddle. Turn off anything that generates background noise—the television, the computer, a radio, etc. If you can, keep the books in this location so that your child can eventually go there on his own to play with or read books.
Read clearly and slowly, making the most of rhythm and putting emotion and flair into your voice. Point to words as you read them and point to pictures when you talk about them.
Pack a book in my diaper bag.
Keeping books in convenient locations lets you pick one up wherever you are. Do you find yourself in a waiting room for an appointment? Or maybe in line at a grocery store? Pull out a picture book and read it to your baby.
Let my baby play with books.
Babies like to put things in their mouths. Many baby books are designed for this. They have soft pages that hold up well to getting wet. Eventually, your child will also like to turn pages and touch items on the pages. Encourage this behavior by letting them do so and rewarding them with smiles and cuddles.
Let my toddler pick out books.
While it can drive a parent crazy, young children like to hear the same story over and over again. This provides them with comfort and allows them to have some control over their world. Also, the more they hear the same story, the more it reinforces their vocabulary and helps them develop literacy skills. So let your child bring you a book to read or offer a choice of two or three books.
Fact: A baby or toddler really doesn’t have the neural connections in the brain developed enough to be able to understand complex text, sophisticated word meanings, or word formations. At this level, you are working on the alphabet, recognizing sounds, and gaining print awareness.
Let my preschooler participate in reading.
As your child’s vocabulary grows, you can do what is called “dialogic reading.” This is a fancy name for both of you reading and talking about a book. Take favorite books and read half of a line while letting your preschooler finish the line. Or try reading a different word into the book so that your child can “correct” you. The sillier your substitution, the more fun you will both have. The two of you can also start making up your own stories by pointing at the pictures and deciding for yourselves what you think the story should be.
Fact: The U.S. Department of Education’s National Adult Literacy Survey found that children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years.
Set aside family time for reading together.
It doesn't matter that everyone is a different age. Story time for the entire family creates memories to last a lifetime as well as developing a love for reading. Find books that everyone can enjoy. The beauty of good children's literature is that they have stories that appeal to everyone regardless of age. If you have older children, you can read a chapter a night from a longer story. The younger children will benefit from hearing the words. The more animated you can read, the more fun it will be for everyone. If you have readers in the family, everyone can take turn reading out loud during your family story time.
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