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Reading can transport and transform us, making us laugh (and cry), introducing us to different cultures, and encouraging us to see and think about the world in empowering new ways. It’s a precious, lifelong gift you can easily share with your children — and should.
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Studies found that approximately 88 percent of children who never graduate from high school were poorly performing third-grade readers, and high school dropouts earn less than half of college graduates. But aside from improving your children’s vocabulary, research shows that being an early reader helps kids develop comprehension skills, makes them more receptive to creativity, and better able to navigate change. And all that leads to success at school and in life.
You can cultivate a love of reading in your child by:
▪ Starting right away. Stash a book or two in your child’s diaper bag or in your car and take story time with you wherever you go. Children learn to love the sound of language, particularly from a parent’s voice, even before they’re old enough to notice the existence of printed words on a page.
▪ Making it fun. Use different voices for each character and talk to your child about the pictures, words, letters and sounds on the page. Be as interactive as possible by linking words to objects and gestures. Or go one step further and act it out. Another way to engage them: Have your child help turn the pages.
▪ Attaching reading to routine. Grab a book at bedtime, bath time or cuddle time to help make reading a habit. Not only will it teach your children to love books, it will establish an invaluable ritual of connection that builds on your relationship and promotes better communication skills.
▪ Having them read to you. Even if they can’t read yet, allowing children to share a story as they remember it from the last time you read it to them gives them a sense of autonomy and power. Having your child “read” to you also helps build word-sound awareness.
▪ Joining a book club. The Children’s Trust Read to Learn Book Club is a free, monthly book club for all 3-year-olds in Miami-Dade County (visit www.thechildrenstrust.org and search for “Read to Learn Book Club”). Online clubs, like clubs.scholastic.com and readbrightly.com, allow kids to upload book reviews and participate in interactive quizzes, and offer parents tips on creating and engaging young readers.
▪ Visiting the library. If they don’t have one already, get your child a library card and make going to your local branch a weekly ritual. Once they have a sense of the types of books they like, suggest that they seek advice from their librarian. Not only does this help children feel empowered, it also encourages them to develop another relationship based on reading. Visit www.mdpls.org for age-appropriate story times, author talks and other events meant to build reading excitement.
▪ Giving them space. Create a special nook where your child can read, whether it be a comfy chair by a bookshelf, a corner of their bedroom filled with oversized pillows and a shaggy rug, or at the foot of a shade-providing tree in your backyard. Make sure, too, to create a storage area devoted to books so kids can find them easily (and put them away).
▪ Setting a good example. Parents who read have kids who read, it’s that simple. So showcase what you’re reading to reinforce the notion that it’s an important part of daily life.
▪ Continuing to read together. Even after your child is reading on their own, make a point of continuing to read together. This strengthens your bond and provides lots of fodder for conversation. Look for series books which lure kids onto what’s next.
▪ Getting them into the collecting habit. Advise friends and family to opt for books when choosing gifts for your child’s birthday or other special occasions, to build their home library. You can also suggest that they save up their allowance for a special book, and be sure to make visiting a bookstore part of every vacation. Books make great souvenirs.
▪ Helping them tackle the next level. Choose engrossing, slightly more challenging books to further fuel your child’s love of reading – and inspire confidence in their abilities. Books they’ve outgrown can be donated to other young readers through community bookshelf programs like Read to Learn Books for Free, a partnership between The Children’s Trust and Miami Dade College.
Children’s Trust Senior Program Manager Bevone Ritchie, M.S. in guidance and counseling, oversees a wide range of parenting programs across the county. For more information, visit thechildrenstrust.org.