Part I: This first part of the series focuses on Infants and Toddlers
There are many reasons why reading to your child is important. The first and foremost is that it is a positive time to bond with your child. It is a social event that allows discussions. Over time, these interactions lead to conversations about expectations, social mores, understanding sympathy and empathy. You should begin when the child is still an infant and continue past the time the child can read independently.
There are also many academic considerations. Reading leads to increased vocabulary, exposure to other cultures, countries, and beliefs. It provides information about a variety of subjects.
Young children need to learn concepts about print. Books are made of sentences, words make up sentences, and letters make up words. We read books from left to right and begin at the top of the page and move down; understanding relationships of illustrations and text, and getting a flavor for syntax is important.
How to start reading to children
Reading to infants and toddlers should be a time of exposing children to a variety of illustrated books. Use books with pictures in categories and point to each one saying the name. Eventually, the child will repeat the names.
Then progress to “where is the …” game for each object by pointing to the object an asking for participation. Also at this stage, read short stories with a lot of illustrations and fewer words. Although you want to provide a variety of material, repetition of a few familiar books helps children learn the concept of print, anticipation
, and sequence of events.
Examples of books for infants and toddlers are: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and Corduroy by Don Freeman. There are many resources to find books for every age. Take advantage of Parent Magazine and Scholastic recommendations and book outlets such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Reading to Toddlers through preschool
During this exciting time, take advantage of the child’s natural curiosity. This is the time to begin stories with a simple plot. It is also time to introduce alphabet and counting books. Look for a variety of these books with different themes. This exposes the child to letters and numbers with interesting twists. Some examples of where to start include Chica Chica Boom Boom by Martin Jr. and Archambault and Ten Apples on Top by Dr. Seuss.
Another strategy during this time is to include rhyming books. Rhyming helps children when they transition into readers. Rhyming is helpful to use context and chunking when learning to read. These are two strategies used by teachers for emergent readers. This is the perfect time to introduce the recognition of rhyming. There are a large variety of authors that use this strategy. Some classic examples are from Dr. Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
Additionally, during this time, introduce colors and shapes. Begin with basics and work your way up to more complex. When reading these books, make sure to ask “where is the red circle?” for example, Begin with one attribute at a time and then combine them.
Some Additional Tips for Preschool Readers
Engagement is key for the reading experience to be effective. First, keep it short at the beginning. You need to gauge your child’s attention span, even if it is only a few minutes at the onset. Gradually increase the time.
Include books with pop-up features and flaps to life and discover what is underneath. It is important to include the reading time into your daily routine. Picking up something to read is fine at random times during the day, but make one time a day predictable. The best time is as part of the bedtime routine.
Reading is a relatively quiet activity and is good for settling down. Pick a quiet spot with comfortable seating. Keep the books in a special place that should be called the child’s library.
Remember you are creating a healthy habit for your child. Encourage your child from infancy until they leave the nest to read at least a little every night. Many parents provide sports, or music, good nutrition, homework time, etc. Reading is that important and should be a part of the daily routine.
As your child ages into adulthood and old age, the habit of reading will be a big part of mental health and intellectual development. So, make this a fun routine that lasts a lifetime!
Note: Vivian Lipari is a retired Special Ed teacher with a master’s degree in education.