Today is Read Across America Day! The birthday of one of the most famous and beloved children’s authors of all time, Dr. Seuss, Read Across America Day is a nationwide movement for motivating and inspiring our children to get excited about reading. To put it simply, this is a day to celebrate reading, and you only need two things to participate: a child and a book.
You might think that teaching children to read is best left to professional teachers. And yet, parent involvement is the number one predictor of early literacy success and future academic achievement. So toss aside your flashcards and worksheets; you won’t be needing those. If you want to raise your children to be readers, here’s how:
1. Fill your home with books
You don’t have to buy brand new books at full price in order to have a full, diverse collection. Shop second-hand stores, give books as gifts for birthdays and holidays, and trade titles with friends. We have several fabulous local libraries in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, just to name a few. Get you AND your child a library card, and visit as often as you can. This is one shopping experience where you get to say, “Yes! You can bring that home with us!” Keep small stacks or baskets of books in several areas of your home, not just on one shelf or stowed away in your child’s room. Make them accessible and in plain sight. Have some on hand in the car to keep your child busy during long road trips or short drives across town.
2. Be Choosy
Think of books as a way to offer your children doors to other worlds. To guide you as you choose, consider the Three C’s of book choice: comfort, curiosity, and challenge.
Choose books that cater to your child’s interests. Find books that will delight them and offer them a place of comfort and familiarity. Comfort books are the kinds your child will want to cuddle up with and return to time and again.
Add in some books that spark their curiosity and take them on adventures that they might not have considered before. Non-fiction books can offer endless information on topics that pique their interest, and it is through this exploration that your kids will realize that reading is the key to learning anything. Curiosity books are like the carrot dangling in front of their noses, urging them forward and encouraging them to never stop seeking.
Don’t forget to challenge your child. In middle school, I remember reading every single Babysitters’ Club book until there weren’t any left, and then starting over again. Why? Because they were my comfort books; they were familiar and easy. I am forever grateful to my intuitive and thoughtful librarian for challenging me and offering me books that I may not have picked up on my own. If your child is stuck in one genre or book series, add in some poetry, science fiction, or mystery. Don’t be confined to keeping your child within their typical age level; preschoolers can explore encyclopedias and middle schoolers might connect with short stories with pictures. Broaden your kids’ horizons. Show them new worlds.
3. Be a story teller
I look forward to that moment when my kids are all asleep in bed just as much as the next parent, but try not to rush through those bedtime stories. Make those pages come alive! Try out some goofy voices, add plenty of inflection, and go ahead and fake a little extra suspense and excitement! Your kids will be delighted, and your personal contributions to the words on the page will take an everyday story and turn it into a treasured memory. All ages of kids will benefit from being read to, from newborns to young adults.
4. Model the behavior you desire
Let your children see YOU read. When they ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to, let them help look it up with you. Even when you are just skimming something or reading in your head, verbalize what you are doing and invite your child to notice. Grocery shopping or going for a walk can be an activity FULL of words to discover together, if you let your child in to the world of literacy. Whether you are seeking knowledge, adventure, escape, entertainment, or just passing the time, show through your actions and words how valuable reading is to a rich and fulfilling life.
5. Bond through books
Share favorites from your childhood and tell your child what you remember about reading them when you were little. Find titles that invite your child to enjoy YOUR interests, and explore a subject together. If you go on vacation, read books about places you go, or find books that have characters that remind you of your family. There are SO many ways to go beyond simply reading a book…find a way to make a connection with your child as you read. Reading is a treat, not a task.
6. Go Beyond “The End”
The hallmark of a successful reader is the ability to meaningfully apply the information learned to other areas of life. To nurture this skill, don’t just stop after you read, “The End” and move on to the next book. Ask your child a question, which can be as simple as, “What was your favorite part of that book?” or as complex as, “What do you think is the moral of this story?” Use props, (stuffed animals, puppets, or even a paper and pen) to act out the plot of a favorite story. Play with language, making rhymes or even nonsense words. Sing songs. Any time you connect with your child through language, you are contributing to their vocabulary and literacy. The possibilities are endless.
Pick up any Dr. Seuss book and you will begin to understand his vision for reading, which was very similar to his vision for childhood. It is joyful. It’s silly and exciting. It’s social and playful and meant to be enjoyed together. If we, as parents, treat reading as merely one of many dry skills we have to cross off a checklist in order to make sure our kids are educated, we will have missed out on a whole world of joyful exploration, wonder, and amusement. Of all the experiences you can offer and interests you can nurture in your children, a love of reading might be one of the most powerful and life-changing.
But you don’t have to take my word for it…go read with your kids!