Judy Kent’s Column: The Greatest Gift – Read to Your Children

By Judy Kent

As parents we all hope to give our children the best: provide them with a happy and secure childhood and prepare them for all that this world may bring. What is one way to provide a significant leg up for children? Give them the gift of literacy. Literacy is the door to all knowledge, for once we learn to read we are able to spend the rest of our lives reading to learn. Literacy begins with an environment rich with print materials and the spoken word, filled with storytelling and communication, guided by an understanding of relationships. One great way to begin the literacy journey is to read aloud to children.

Reading aloud is about more than just learning to read; it is also about making connections between parent and child. Reading to children creates an emotional bond like no other, a bond that will provide an avenue to life-long communication, a bond that will withstand the often-challenging stages of growth and development.

Parents recognize the educational benefits of reading aloud. The act of reading aloud models language; it creates knowledge of the written word and the relationship between sound and print. Reading aloud introduces the patterns of language and provides an opportunity to stretch thinking skills by making predictions, discussing outcomes and identifying cause and effect. As education research shows, early literacy experiences improve student success in the classroom. And the best part – reading aloud is a gift all adults may give children, at a very low cost!

Start Young

The gift of literacy begins at birth. It may cost time and effort, but the rewards will far outweigh the expense. As soon as a parent holds a child, they may begin the joyful journey of reading aloud. Infants respond to many elements of the read-aloud experience: the human voice and its expressiveness, the touch, smell, and color of books, and the attention that is part of the endeavor. Start the reading habit early by reading aloud on a daily basis. Experiment by using different voices and creating different sounds with words.

Although the children’s literature repertoire certainly provides many wonderful options for books to read aloud, during infancy a child will respond to anything. Reading the grocery list aloud in the car with expression will captivate a child; even reading colorful ads from the newspaper will entertain. Children also need to see and touch books. Be sure to include books that are childproof so that children may handle them without adult intervention.

Establish A Routine

Humans love routine. We form habits simply by creating routines. To instill the lifelong habit of reading, make it a priority each day. Each family must find a convenient time for reading, each day. This may be snuggling and reading together just before bed or taking a few moments during the “bewitching” hour while dinner is cooking. With younger children it may be before nap time or the first activity after the nap. It is also important for children to see the adults in their life reading for themselves. Create a time when the entire family reads – even though a child may not be an independent reader yet, he or she will happily “read” books while the rest of the family enjoys reading time. Modeling reading for pleasure and reading for information is vital.

Create A Space For Books

Books are appealing. They call you to worlds unknown; they are a source of information; they are friends waiting to happen. Books deserve a special place in a home. Work to create a home library. The library could be as small as a special crate with a place of honor in the family room or a closet transformed into a “book nook”. If possible, include cozy pillows, cushions or chairs that will accommodate at least one adult and one child. Fill the library with reading material – a variety of selections to meet the interests of the child. Take advantage of the local library to keep the home library fresh and appealing.

Print Is Everywhere!

Stop for a moment and think about the world we live in. Print is everywhere! We are surrounded by words – street signs, billboards, grocery stores, the aisles at Target. Parents may open this world to children simply by talking about what is seen, hunting for letters, finding words together, or having children read the signs in the grocery aisles.

Don’t stop reading aloud just because a child can read!

Reading aloud is timeless. No matter what the age or stage of a child, there is tremendous power in reading aloud together. As a child becomes a fluent reader, take turns reading aloud to each other. Reading aloud creates a bond between adult and child, at any age and stage. It provides opportunities to share in adventures, predict outcomes, and analyze characters. Continue to read aloud stories that may be too difficult for a child to read independently, but will generate the opportunity for in-depth discussion.

Reading aloud is a gift that all parents may give their children. It is a life-long gift of literacy, an opportunity to bond, and a routine that parents will anticipate as much as a child. The best quality of this gift – it is never too late to give it. Begin today. Pick up a book and read to a child – it will make the world a better place.

For more information, please take advantage of the following excellent resources:
Reading is Fundamental. www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources
International Reading Association. http://www.reading.org/InformationFor/Parents.aspx
New York Public Library On-Lion For Kids. http://kids.nypl.org/reading

Judy Kent is Director of Admissions at Academy at the Lakes, a PK3 – 12th Grade independent school in the North Tampa area that serves students from Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, and Pinellas Counties. For more information about the school, visit www.academyatthelakes.org.