Reading is a basic survival skill in today's information society. But learning to read doesn't happen in the classroom alone. In fact, the best readers are introduced to books and reading long before they enter school. That's because parents are children's first and most important teachers. But you are not alone. Help is as close as your nearest public or school library. Whether it's surfing the Internet or finding just the right book for a reluctant reader, librarians are glad to help you and your family.
When something is fun, kids love to do it. Here are some tips to help make reading a valued and fun part of your life together.
Half of your child's brain development happens before age four. Children who are read to before school age are better readers. These activities are designed to stimulate your baby's mind and prepare him or her to learn to read.
Talk to your baby. Tell what you're doing at bath time or when changing diapers. Point out birds and trees as you walk ("See the yellow bird!). Use your normal voice and words. Babies understand more than you think.
Sing. Try childhood favorites or make up your own. Baby doesn't care if you have a good voice!
Read to your baby each day. Mom, dad, grandparents, babysitters, older brothers and sisters can all enjoy this special activity. Make it a habit before naps, bedtime or any quiet time. Pick sturdy books with pages that won't tear and can be wiped clean. Also try fabric or musical push button books that use baby's sense of touch. Many libraries have a special selection of books for babies.
Sign up for special "lap sit" storyhours at the library. They help parents share books with their babies.
Make reading cuddle time. Hold your baby in your arms, on your lap or sitting next to you.
Don't forget to tell your own stories. It's never too early to share your experiences, family lore and values. Your history is as important as what's in the books.
Toddler - Preschool
As your child grows, he will be ready for new reading adventures. But remember that all children learn at a different pace. Some learn slowly, while others will begin reading in what seems like no time. Some will finish a book in ten minutes, others need more time. Never compare your child to others. Share your child's excitement over learning each new skill.
Take your child to the library and bookstores often. Introduce him to the children's librarian. Take him to storyhours, even if he won't sit through an entire program. Let him wander through the stacks and feel good about being there.
As soon as your child is old enough, have him register for his own library card. Make it a special event. Call grandma and grandpa to tell them the big news. Serve his favorite dinner. Let him check out what interests him, not what you think he should read. Remind him when it's time to return the books (a great way to teach responsibility early on).
Limit television or videos to no more than one or two hours of carefully selected programs each day. Watch together and talk about what you see.
Make a special place for your child's books and library books - a bottom bookshelf or basket on the floor where she can reach them when she wants. Display books and magazines prominently in your home so they become a part of everyday life.
Take your child to plays, puppet shows, musical performances and other live entertainment. Programs like these are offered by many libraries to stimulate the minds and imaginations of young children.
Record your child's favorite stories on cassette tapes to play in the car or when you aren't around. Or borrow tapes of popular children's books, songs and nursery rhymes from the library.
Have your child make up stories and act them out using puppets or toys. Make up songs or poems together, then perform them for family and friends.
Take favorite books or magazines along wherever you go. Use waiting times at doctors' offices or in line at the grocery store to tell stories or read together.
Try educational computer games. Many libraries have computers and software designed for various ages.
Give your child books as gifts, and have your child give books as gifts. This reinforces the idea that books are fun and special and not just for school use.
It's important to keep reading together even after your child begins learning to read. The teacher will teach him how to read, but it's up to you to make reading fun and meaningful in everyday life so your child will want to be a good reader.
Use the library often. Encourage your child to ask the librarian for help finding stories she'll like. Make suggestions, but let her check out what she wants to read.
Let your child see both mom and dad reading and using the library. Encourage children to think of the library as a resource for fun and learning throughout life.
Enroll your child in a library summer reading club. It's free! Studies show that children who participate in summer reading programs are more likely to retain their reading skills over the summer.
As her reading skills improve, have her read to you, baby brother, even her favorite teddy bear. Some stories that interest her may still be too hard for her to read on her own. She'll let you know if she would rather read with you or by herself.
Look for ways your child can use his new reading skills. Ask him to read signs, menus, cereal boxes. Have him read to you while you do the dishes or fix the pipes. Ask relatives to write postcards to him. Put notes in his lunch box ("Thank you for helping me today! Love, Mom.")
Computer time can be reading time. There are many programs for children that build their reading skills. Let your child help you "surf the Internet." Have him point to colors, shapes and words on the screen. Send "letters" via e-mail.
Make holiday cards and party invitations. Have your child create her own special messages. She can write them or cut words or letters out of magazines and paste them on construction paper.
As your child gets older, have him write a daily journal. Suggest that he start by simply telling everything he does each day. He could write on any scraps of paper and put them together in a binder, or you might give him a notebook or blank page book to make it special.
Set aside a special read aloud time for the whole family. There are many books that everyone from toddlers to teens to moms and dads will enjoy. Ask your librarian for suggestions and remember that many classics like Charles Dickens "The Christmas Carol" were intended to be read aloud. Have family members read different parts. Make a bowl of popcorn. Turn off the TV. And enjoy!
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- The Indiaparenting Team