Gin Up the Joy of Reading

7 ways to help kids build their skills

by Maureen Mackey | Updated 24 Feb 2016 at 3:39 PM

In today’s device-driven culture, there are smart ways to help our children want to read, even crave reading.

As a little kid in a big family, I read everywhere. At the dining room table. On my bed. Squished down in the living room sofa as everyone around me went about their business. There weren’t smartphones then, though, nor tablets, laptops, Netflix or social media.

Great stories hooked me, and when I finished one, I started another. I couldn’t wait.

So how, in 2015, do parents and grandparents help children develop a joy of reading? How do we share the joys of reading when the culture pulls against it in so many ways and when reading seems “boring”? (And when more tests than ever in our schools drain the enthusiasm out of learning for learning’s sake?)

Reading is certainly far from boring, and today’s devices can help us if used properly. Good reading skills not only lay the foundation for a lifelong pastime, they help our children succeed in their school years and beyond. The reading habit “stimulates growth of the child’s brain, develops intellectual curiosity, expands a child’s vocabulary and gets the juices of his imagination flowing,” says pediatrician Meg Meeker, M.D.

Here are some savvy tips, inspired by experts in early childhood education, including Michiko Hikida and Jennifer Keys Adair from the University of Texas at Austin and the journal The Conversation, to help engender the joy of reading in even very young children:

  • Create routines for reading together, such as after bath time, before bedtime and after breakfast on weekends. Not only does this help develop your child’s reading skills, “it deepens a child’s bond with his parents because sharing an enjoyable activity draws the two closer together,” says Dr. Meeker.
  • Make reading a social activity. Read with other family members. “Isn’t deeper and more pleasurable connection with our children what every parent desires?” says Meeker. “Reading with and to our children makes this happen.”
  • Throughout the day, refer to characters in the books your children are reading to help “cement” the stories, build connections and develop literate lives.
  • Let go of your inner instructor. Resist the urge to constantly correct as your child reads. Reading at home with you in a relaxed and familiar environment should be about pleasure, not perfection.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you stories based on the images or pictures they’re seeing. That’s an important extension of their reading skills.
  • Allow them to read their favorite books over and over again. Repetition helps children recognize words quickly and automatically.
  • Find urgent reasons for your child to read to you. Point out road signs when you’re together in the car. Get them to read instructions to you for new toys or games. Have children read the recipes in your cookbooks while you’re making dinner together.

All of these ideas and more can help foster the excitement for the written word that our children can so benefit from, as long as we nudge them in the right direction as parents.

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