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Teach Your Child to Read
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Kids usually begin actively reading at age 5 or 6, but learning to read begins long before that -- and the earlier you instill a love of reading in your kid, the better. We tapped our Mom Congress delegates, who advocate for literacy and better education, and other experts to find out how to encourage early literacy skills in your child.
Lose the Baby Talk
"When I think about early literacy, reading doesn't necessarily come to mind although it does play a part," says Mom Congress California delegate Laura Taylor. "To have literate children, you must speak to them. You must speak clearly and directly, just like you would to any other human being. Yes, we've all dissolved into the 'cutesy-wootsey, cutchie cutchie coos' at the sight of an adorable baby, but baby talk need not be the lexicon of your communication with your child."
A Guide to Your Baby's Speech Milestones
Monkey See, Monkey Do
"I know that there is a lot of hype about reading to your kids at an early age, but I feel that an even more important part of this is that your kids have to see you read," says Mom Congress Iowa delegate Shellie Pike. "The more that your child realizes that their parents enjoy reading, the more they will read -- 'monkey see, monkey do'. I watched this first hand with my two kids."
Find a New Read
Looking for a new book to read with your kid? "A tool I love that helps with this is lexile.com," said Mom Congress Pennsylvania delegate Melissa Bilash. "You put in the title of your child's current favorite book (that likely you have read a thousand times), answer a few questions and are provided with a list of books that will be similar in interests and level. It has been a life saver that helped us foster a love of reading in our children."
Pick a Theme
This tip came from Mom Congress Nebraska delegate Brea Kniss: "On mornings when we did not have preschool, I would get out books on a certain topic and set them out on the kitchen table. The kids would see them in the morning and get so excited for a 'theme day'. The theme could be an outing we had planned, like the zoo or park, or just something simple like fish or dinosaurs. Then, I would do simple things to incorporate the theme through the day (like fish shaped sandwiches and goldfish crackers on fish theme day, dinosaur songs and games on dino day)."
Build Up Your Library
A 2010 study led at Nevada University found that children who come from homes with 500-book libraries are likely to stay in school three years longer than those with limited access to books. But the more encouraging find of the study is that having as few as 20 books in your home will make a difference. "Physical and psychological proximity to books and reading materials is critical. A child can't pick up a book that isn't there," said Susan Neuman, Ed.D., author of Changing the Odds for Children at Risk, in Parenting's Early Literacy Crisis Special Report.
Talk It Out
A key to helping your child learn to read and understand words is to say them -- often. It's said that kids from well-off homes hear 30 million more words by the time they enter school than those from poorer ones. "Talk to your baby," said Mom Congress Minnesota delegate Chanda Kropp. "Tell her what you see on a walk, tell her about the scenery, colors and animals." Kropp also considers anything with words fair game for reading: "Read signs, menus, recipes, comic strips and newspapers together."
Ohio Mom Congress delegate Emily Rempe suggests playing word games in the car: "Today while riding in the car, play a rhyming game with your child. As you see things along the road, point out an object and see if your child can supply the rhyming word. Let your child take turns pointing out objects for you to rhyme." Or, "see if your child can identify the beginning sound of his/her name. If so, continue to play the game as you drive, saying something like, 'I see something that begins with the sound ''B'." Can you guess what it is?'"
Start (Very) Early
You probably were talking -- and maybe even reading -- to your baby when she was in utero, but once she came out, the sheer task of keeping baby fed, healthy and happy can knock reading time to the bottom of the list. But you can start reading with babies as young as three months, says the AAP. She won't understand the story, but she'll hear your voice, see your expressions and get a tactile sense of books by touching (and chewing!) them.
Once your child is old enough (or has read a book enough times to fully grasp the plot), talk to him about what you read. Jumpstart, an organization that brings preschoolers and college students together for mentoring, suggests asking open-ended questions about the characters. The more engaging you make reading, the better. Mom Congress Massachusetts delegate suggests "allowing children to become active participants in the story." The National Institute for Literacy also recommends that parents "comment on what's happening in the book, ask questions about where the story is headed, and for children who are starting to speak, encourage them to talk to you about the story."
Play the Name Game
Mom Congress Nebraska delegate Brea Kniss suggests putting signs on objects to increase language and literacy skills. "During the preschool years, we labeled different household items. The house looked funny at times but it helped them sound out words and identify objects." The National Institute for Literacy explains that associating names with objects is key: "The key to understanding written language starts in understanding that objects have names. Name familiar items to your child as you are pointing to them. She'll catch on quickly when you do it over and over -- children at this age love repetition."
Stick With a Fave
It may be tiring to read a Thomas the Train Engine book for the millionth time, but repetition is actually good for early readers. "Children are more likely to enjoy being read to when they know the story or are captivated by the topic," says Jumpstart. "Repetition becomes key at this point, and children in the early years will want to have the same stories read to them over and over." Mom Congress Massachusetts delegate Heather Jack concurs: "Choose stories the children like (even if you've read them many times before)." The AAP also says that repetition is good for building language skills.
Make It Routine
Incorporating reading time into your daily schedule will make it like tooth-brushing or eating breakfast -- an important activity that's second nature. "Develop a 'Drop Everything And Read' (DEAR) time at home and so everyone can read together," says Mom Congress Minnesota delegate Chanda Kropp. And this doesn't necessarily mean bedtime -- anytime works. Jumpstart also recommends keeping a book on hand when you know you'll be waiting in a long line.
Something to keep in mind for those crazy days when you miss reading time: "Reading doesn't have to be a huge project," says the AAP website. "Just a 3-minute story every night before bed will help get your child interested in reading."
Create a Space for Reading
Your kid will probably be more willing to settle in for reading time if she's got the tools to get in the reading mindset. Keeping a well-stocked library in your home is great, but also make sure books are at the ready in bedrooms and play rooms. Having a cozy reading nook or chair can make it all the more enticing for kids. And while it's good to read out loud to kids, the AAP recommends leaving a child to her own devices: "Leave books in your child's room for her to enjoy on her own. Make sure her room is reading-friendly with a comfortable bed or chair, bookshelf, and reading lamp."