So here I am, ready to brag. This blog is part baby book, so I have to document all major milestones in my kiddos’ development, and this is a big one for me. Friday night the English teacher within me melted into a pool of literary happiness when my dear, sweet, brilliant son Jax read a book to us cover to cover. And it’s not a board book or one he has memorized. It’s an actual big boy book.
Go, Dog. Go! is a 72-page book that is geared for ages 4-8, and according to scholastic.com, is written at a Grade 1.4 reading level. And our little 3-year-old guy just plugged along, decoding and sounding words out, using the pictures for context clues, and generally rocked our world. JDubbs and I sat with bated breath to see if he was actually going to finish reading the entire book, and he most certainly did! Granted, the book has only 75 different words mixed throughout the book, so its repetition is a blessed thing, and we have read this book before–although it is a library book and not one we own, so it’s not a matter of having memorized it. He just straight up READ the damn thing, and I could not have been prouder.
If you’re wondering what you can do start your kid down the path to being a rockstar reader, I found the Scholastic website to be pretty helpful, mostly with ideas the average parent is familiar with and is probably already doing. I don’t have a lot of advice on this topic, other than what a brilliant friend of mine who is a literacy specialist passes on to me, but in case you’re interested, here is what we do and what I know from experience with my little guy and his little sister who is happily following in his footsteps.
1. When they’re asking for it and into it, embrace the moment and read!! There is hardly ever a time that I blow my kids off if they are asking to read a book–we read in the morning before we go downstairs, we read over meals–breakfast especially–and that has really cut down on the behavior issues at the kitchen table remarkably! We read before naptime and bedtime, and any time in between. Remember that if a kid reads for 10 minutes 10 times a day, that’s 100 minutes of reading! Before long, their attention span will increase; just let them know that you’re there and ready to read when they are, and believe me, they will.
2. Have a print rich environment. That means, have books everywhere. Not just in their bedroom, especially if their bedroom is not the area where they play most often. Have baskets of books in child-accessible spots in as many rooms in your house as ones your kids are allowed to roam free in. My kids have over 200 books just themselves, and they are constantly underfoot. They love to grab their basket and head to the heater in the kitchen and camp out while I’m cooking breakfast, warming up and reading a good book or two. They’ll look at them together, separately, or Jax will read aloud to Em. It’s no surprise that they have this kind of behavior–reading is a part of our day, just like any other. And you don’t have to invest a small fortune in books to have this kind of environment–I just bought 6 books today at a used book store for less than $10 and we all have access to a library, which is free.
3. Enforce appropriate reading behavior. My kids know how to behave in a book store or a library because we go there once a week. It’s part of our routine, just like the grocery store or gymnastics. They love the librarians, respect the library and hate to leave. We replenish our stockpile of books every week with a few new ones, just to keep the interest alive. And while we’re there, we get holiday books, non-fiction books, poetry books–whatever speaks to us that day. And don’t blame the library if yours isn’t up to par–ours isn’t, so we pay a yearly fee to be a member of the library in Woodstock, VT. Its staff love my kids, encourage them, and are another set of adults who teach my kids not only about reading and a love of books, but about proper behavior, good manners, and having fun. Pretty much one of our favorite places to be, any day. Also, my kids know how to treat a book, and don’t take them for granted. They pay dearly if they rip pages, especially if it’s a library book. Teach them to treat books with respect, and they’ll understand books are something to value.
4. Model good reading behavior. This is easy enough. READ in front of your kids. I read aloud to JDubbs in the car, if you can believe it. Talk to them about what you’re reading. Show them that reading is not just something boring to do to lull you to sleep before bedtime. We have reading picnics as a family, where we camp out on the floor and all of us read–and NOT on our computers or phones. JDubbs will read the newspaper, I always have something I can catch up on, and the kids each have a basket. It’s good to teach them to play with books on their own, too. Exploring a book is just as fun as any other toy!
5. Change it up. If your kids have lost interest in their books, move them around the house. I mean literally. Move the upstairs books downstairs. Put the bedroom books in the bathroom. Put a stack of books in the kitchen. Just like toys they haven’t seen in a while, if you put books in a new spot, your kids will gravitate toward them without you having to say a word. Just watch. And then pull out a book of your own and read, too. Don’t forget chapter books! As soon as your kids can sit for a long picture book, they may be interested in sharing a chapter book every night. Jax and I have read Stuart Little, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and are in the middle of Winnie-the-Pooh. Changes it up a bit every now and then.
6. Let your kids read in their bed. Whether it’s by the light of the nightlight, a reading light, or the hall light, whatever. Half of the words Jax learned by sight were words he memorized by staring at them in bed. He would have a book memorized, like Gossie and Gertie, or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and he would stare at the pages, knowing what each page said already. Soon he’d figure out that that word “bear” was bear, and that word “see” was see, because we read together and he understands how books work. So after a while, he not only had the story memorized, but the words that corresponded with the stories, too. And he is a very busy guy–he isn’t going to do this kind of in-depth study during the day, but at night for 20 minutes before he falls asleep, he is studying a very large stack of books that lay next to him in bed. We hear thump, thump, thump as he tosses each aside as he finishes reading them, and before long, I realized he was learning as much, if not more, at night, than he was with me during the day.
7. Word World & Super Why. Yes, you heard me. One of the best ways my kids have learned to read is through PBS. These two TV shows have given me more than one fabulous trick to teaching Jax a way to sound out a difficult word (like how -ing make the sound of ING! Great song). But that requires you to watch with them so you learn the tricks, too, so it’s not great for times when you need to take a shower or want to check your email. Super Why helps on a higher level of cognition, such as the way sentences work and rhyming, but it does help nonetheless. And they love them! I mean, Jax was Super Why for Halloween for goodness sake!
8. Make reading fun. There are a zillion ways to intrigue kids about letters, words, and reading. Jax learned how to read several words just by sharing the words that surround us, in stores and in the car. Home, food, stop, go, zone, east, west, baby are all words he knows just by seeing them while we shop, and by taking the time the talk about our world, I can help reinforce the words around him. You can’t have conversations with your kids like this if you’re listening to music all the time and talking on the phone–I’m just sayin’. You can check out some of my best ideas on Pinterest or the ideas I have pinned for my imaginary homeschool (and no, I am not home schooling my kids and no, I will not home school yours). Steal my ideas and steal other’s–that’s what’s so great about blogs! There are more ways to teach a kid the alphabet than you think. Start small and have fun. Your kid will thank you for it.
9. Know when they’ve had enough. If your kid isn’t digging it, then drop it. Don’t push it. Come back and try to intrigue them next week. We did flash cards because Jax asked for them, not because I was pushing him to learn to read before he was ready. The kid loves letters, more than cars and trucks. He always has. But the drill-and-kill method doesn’t work well with him, and it probably won’t with yours. Keep it interesting, and they’ll stay interested.
10. Don’t give up. That being said, think of it this way. Learning and loving to read is not an option. My kids did not have the choice, and Em fought me the hardest. But it didn’t matter if I had to introduce books to her every half hour; the girl loves to read, and will probably surpass her brother just in the fact that she wants to read what he’s reading–not a surprise–so even though she’s not even two, she prefers lengthy picture books to board books any day. Unless they’re about princesses. Then she doesn’t care if they’re printed on toilet paper; she’s into it.
So take my advice and teach your kids to love reading as much as you teach them to love the Red Sox. There’s room for both, and this comes from a Boston girl! Educate yourself and keep yourself interested–reading the same old board books is not going to inspire anybody–so do your best to spice it up! And when you have a minute, read this book: The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition. It was shared with me by my aforementioned brilliant friend, and I can’t thank her enough for it. Empowering, validating, and encouraging. So worth ten bucks.
Go forth and read! Share the news far and wide! Your kids will love to read, damnit! And if you read this entire post,then you’re obviously the kind of parent who gives a damn. I’ll be reading your success stories before you know it!
Now I’ve got to go see “The Hunger Games”–opening night tonight! Even my husband read it! See what a print rich environment can do for you? Get you a hot date!