When I was expecting my first child, I had grand visions of rocking him in the glider and reading to him every night before bed, starting day one. Reality struck when we brought him home. This baby had no desire to sit in my lap and listen to a book. All he wanted to do was bounce. Oh, I tried, of course, but to no avail. Countless books we set aside unfinished— the Little Engine that Could never made it up the hill, we never said goodnight to the moon in the green room, and Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon never made it back home.
Finally when he reached nine or ten months old, we found a book he liked. It was a touch-and-feel book. I remember wondering at the time if it “counted” as a “real” book. After all, it was the tactile element that interested my son. But I realized later what I know now—that we had finally created a positive reading experience for him. And more would likely follow.
Tip: Make reading a family value and a family activity. Your enjoyment and enthusiasm will rub off on your children.
When it comes to creating these positive experiences, it’s important to set aside the myths that undermine our efforts—like my fear that the touch-and-feel book didn’t count. So here are 4 myths about raising a reader debunked:
Myth #1: Kids should spend less time playing and more time on the ABCs.
No one is going to say you can learn to read or develop an appreciation of reading without opening a book or studying the written word. The amount of time children spend in formal classroom-style training, however, has increased significantly over time—a disconcerting trend to some experts. “Play is where children discover ideas, experiences and concepts and think about them and their consequences. This is where literacy and learning really begins,” says Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of education curriculum and instruction, in an article for Science Daily. A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that free play can also provide a necessary break that enhances children’s cognitive capacity. Wanting our children to be successful is natural and admirable. Cramming them with more time spent in formal instruction at the expense of free playtime may be detrimental in the long run to their development and reading attitudes.
Myth #2: Kids who can read on their own don’t need you to read to them.
Kids love it when we read to them. But for some reason once they can read alone, we start to think they don’t need us to read to them anymore. A blog post for Huffington Post by Steve Leveen discusses the fallacy of this assumption. For most kids there is a gap of at least three reading levels between books they can read on their own and the books they can listen to. This gap doesn’t close until around eighth grade. So a first-grader may not yet be able to read The Chronicles of Narnia, but may be able to fully understand this series when read aloud. Continuing to read to children throughout the years can expose them to new literature they may come to love. Additionally, it’s simply enjoyable time together, which will help reinforce positive attitudes toward reading.
Myth #3: Kids who can handle chapter books should stop reading picture books.
Raising a reader also means letting children explore books they enjoy. An article in the New York Times discusses the gradual decline of the picture book industry. As the pressure to raise successful children increases, many parents try to push their kids into chapter books at an earlier and earlier age. Graphic novels for older children are often frowned upon as well and not considered “real” reading. Just because the book has pictures, however, doesn’t mean that it’s not as “smart.” Some picture books and graphic novels may have higher-level vocabulary and more sophisticated concepts than chapter books. Additionally, allowing children to read what interests them can help get them hooked on reading early.
Looking for new picture books to read with your child? Check out all the storybooks that come with Stuffies® plush toys. Each story features a unique Stuffies® character and a positive theme for kids. Other helpful resources are Guys Read, which recommends books that boys in particular will like, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, where you can sign up to have a free book delivered to your child each month as part of an effort to promote a love of reading.
Myth #4: Reading is a solo activity.
When reading becomes a family value—and a family activity—children develop a love and appreciation for it as well. I remember reading with my mom throughout my childhood—not reading the same book together, but being in the same room, each of us reading our own books. When I got older and had assigned reading to do for school over the summer, my family would read the books aloud in the car while we were on vacation. Today, my family still passes along books that we’ve read and enjoyed, and the books we’re currently reading are frequently part of the discussion when we’re catching up. Modeling reading and sharing reading with your children are some of the most important ways you can reinforce its value.
Share your thoughts: In what ways do you help your children develop a love of reading?
Becky Langdon is a senior columnist for Project Playtime and Stuffies®, America’s favorite plush toy with 7 secret pockets.