Our minds are constantly spinning thinking about everything we want for our kids. We spend time reading up on developmental benchmarks, educational trends, and enriching activities. We want our kids to be happy, well-adjusted, and well-rounded contributors to society. We want our kids to be inquisitive scholars who are passionate about their interests. We want our kids to be kind-hearted and empathetic to others. If we want our kids to be all of these things and more, we need our kids to develop a lifelong love of reading that will broaden their horizons, boost their intellect, and build their compassion for others. Reading can open a multitude of doors, and lifelong readers will begin to emerge the earlier we introduce this fundamental skill.
Reading to your little one from day one (and even before that!) is a great place to start. Dr. Nicole Caldwell from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, discusses early literacy experiences with her own daughter in the article, The Importance of Reading to Your Child1, and expands on the benefits of an early introduction to books.
Looking back, I read the book in an effort to soothe and calm her before bed, not realizing that this act would actually help form connections in her developing brain and encourage the development of cognitive skills that she would need to learn to read when she entered kindergarten. Research has shown that the first five years of life offer a critical window for learning, with 90% of a child's brain being formed within that time period, and over 700 new neural connections are formed every second.
That's a pretty mind blowing statistic to me; I definitely added a few extra books to the daily queue after reading it!
While setting aside reading time with your child each day is important, there are many other things we can do to encourage our children to gravitate toward books and see literacy as an integral part of daily life rather than an isolated activity within a busy schedule. Right now, we are our child's role model and hero, but our time on this pedestal is limited. While they are watching our every move and mimicking our daily activities, we need to make sure that reading is something they see us doing. This may be reading the newspaper, a recipe, an instruction manual, the latest best seller, or the side of the cereal box, but seeing reading as an everyday part of life is imperative. Nothing warmed my heart more than seeing my one-year-old grab a menu when we were out to breakfast, "peruse" it (albeit upside-down), and join the conversation with his adorable babble as we discussed what to order. Something inside his brain was saying, "This is what we do with these over-sized laminated books at the table. I need to look it over and put in my two cents too!" Experiences like this will lead to the heart-warmers later in life like when my twelve-year-old excitedly sat down to read the instructions, so he could reprogram the garage door opener at our new house. Reading has become a normal, necessary, and enjoyable part of his life. There's no moaning and groaning over it; it's simply become his natural inclination to read for instruction, information, and enjoyment!
Your local library is also a great resource for sparking the interest of a lifelong reader. Having a variety of personal titles at home is great, but the fun of picking out books to borrow is exciting too. Find out if a Story Hour program is available in your area, and let your child share the joys of reading time with others. If you see a specific interest budding in your little one, a quick conversation with the librarian can head you in the right direction for a multitude of texts on the subject. Talk about books, wonder about beloved characters and what they might be doing on a rainy afternoon, imagine what it would be like to take a vacation to Neverland, and continue this well beyond when your child becomes a self-sufficient reader. Books can be a great conversation starter with older children. While you may not read every title they do, you can always talk about what they're reading and ask them to compare characters, settings, or plots to stories you both know. Continually encouraging reading and setting aside time for our children to enjoy books will help pave the way for a lifelong love of reading.
Our children's interests will be developed by doing, viewing, and reading. Let's get them well on their way to becoming lifelong readers by engaging them in reading time, letting them see us read, and encouraging time with books on their own. By developing a love of reading from day one, we're ingraining a great stand-alone hobby for our kids, but also giving them the most important tool for exploring their interests in whatever subjects they may choose. It's time to grab a book, a box, or a brochure, and start reading!
Backpack Bonus: Ideas to tuck away for another day
Check out this list of 75 Books That Build Character from No Time for Flash Cards.
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. The Importance of Reading to Your Child