by Melissa Jaramillo
Reading can be a fun and imaginative activity that opens doors to all kinds of new worlds for children. It can improve vocabulary and boost thinking skills. A child's reading skills predict their success in school and work. Early literacy can take many forms. Here are a few examples:
• Your baby reading through a board book
• Playing peek-a-boo with the lift flap in a hidden picture book
• Your toddler bringing a huge batch of books for you to read
• Your preschooler "writing" and illustrating a book
• Your kids seeing you engrossed in a story
The benefits of reading start with the first book a baby hears and continues into childhood and throughout the child's life.
Reading time means happy time
Create a "cozy time," ritual of connection in which you both learn to associate love and cuddling with reading. Any time either of you needs a break, grab a book, snuggle up and read to your baby. A company like Cricket Magazine has loads of books you can choose from.
You might think your child's brain focuses on learning. It doesn't. Your baby's brain comes hardwired to learn but learning isn't the brains first priority. Survival is the brains most important priority and safety is the most important expression of that priority, according to Dr. John Medina, director of the rain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.
When you read with your baby and lovingly interact, you set the stage for a love of learning.
Talk and do
Building vocabulary, going places and doing things gives your child the experiences to follow along with a story. These four activities prime your toddler to enjoy books.
Make trips to the library, a kids' museum, or the zoo. Walk in the park. Visit with friends and relatives. Surround these events with lots of comments, questions, and answers.
Ask "what if" questions. "What would happen if we didn't shovel the snow?" "What if that butterfly lands on your nose?"
Talk to your 2- or 3-year-old about things that are happening. When your child "helps" by taking out all the pots and pans, ask, "Which one is the biggest?" "Can you find a lid for that one?"
Answer your child's endless "why" questions. If you don't know an answer, offer to look it up. When you say, "I don't know, let's look it up," you show books can be resources for answering questions.
Hurrah for play!
Reading with your kids encourages them to become readers. That's a start. Can you do more that might instill a love of reading and learning? Yes! You can give your child the behavior equivalent of MiracleGro™.
Creative, open-ended activities help a child brain grow just like proteins helps cells grow. Studies often show that kids allowed free time to exercise their imaginations were more creative, better at language, better at problem solving and less stressed.
One type of open-ended activity seems best at boosting learning. The child makes a plan like "I'm going to make a house and pretend I'm the mom." The second step involves your coaching, "I'm pretending my baby is crying. Is yours? What should we do?" Then turn your child loose. Later, talk about what they experienced and learned.
Let's see how activities, especially opened-ended ones can get your child headed down the road to reading.
Activities and events that promote reading
When your child enjoys an activity associated with reading, the brain makes a connection between that emotion and reading. Soon reading and pleasant become associated.
Story time at the library
Searching the shelves for books is wonderful, but many libraries also offer a host of programs to keep kids interested in reading. See what activities, contests and events your library has planned this month!
Think and act it out
Read a story and then play "let's pretend." Your child can gather props and act out a favorite part of the story or go all out and produce a family play. Other ways to bring the story to life include making puppets, stages and dioramas.
Have your child tell a story from a different point of view. What is Groundhog's Day like from the groundhogs perspective or a birthday party from a present's point of view.
Books as springboards
Did Aidan dig for fossils in the book? Head outside for a try yourself or take a deeper look into how fossils are made. You might even try making your own. You can also go to Cricket Magazine for more fascinating books on science!
Before you know it, you'll have an avid reader on your hands. You won't wonder how to encourage a few minutes with a book. Your concern will be getting your enthusiastic reader to put it down and go do something different!
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.