How to Raise a Reader

With my background in speech-language pathology and library science, I have a special interest in reading and how reading aloud is crucial to promoting reading and language skills of an early learner. You can read more about my interests and background here: About Me.

When both of my children were under 5 years old, I had the advantage of working in the children’s department of a library. Working in that environment gave me access to all the wonderful picture books and chapter books I could get my hands on. The amount of books my family had checked out was embarrassing and upwards of 100 books at a time! My appetite for children’s books was driven by my knowledge of educational statistics and I wanted to make sure my kids could read by the time they went to school. Some of the statistics I found the most profound include:

  • By the age of 2, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive skills than their peers. Raikes, H., Pan, B.A., Luze, G.J., Tamis-LeMonda, C.S.,Brooks-Gunn, J., Constantine,
    J., Tarullo, L.B., Raikes, H.A., Rodriguez, E. (2006). “Mother-child bookreading in low-income families: Correlates and outcomes during the first three years of life.” Child Development, 77(4) as found on http://www.bookspring.org/literacy-statistics/
  • A study of 3- to 5-year-old who had been read to at least three times per week found the children:

With the statistical information in mind, I read to my kids constantly (and didn’t clean my house). While I read to both of my kids in fairly equal amounts, they took very different learning paths and have varying levels of interest in reading. My oldest read on her own with no instruction. She just seemed to absorb the words and was reading chapter books at age 4. My youngest took a more traditional approach. She liked listening to the books and was engrossed by the stories, but she learned to read using an instructional phonics-based method. She read well by the time she started 1st grade. My 12-year-old now performs well on standardized tests, but she has turned into a reluctant reader, which can probably be attributed to her use of technology (iPod) instead of books. My 8-year-old always has a book in her hand and is my voracious reader. In the end, all the early exposure to reading and books was successful despite the different learning paths they took.

In this post, I will share with you some ways that you can raise a reader.
Dr. Seuss quote

How to Develop Early Literacy in Children

or How to Raise a Reader

The American Library Association defines “early literacy” as

“the natural development of skills through the enjoyment of books, the importance of positive interactions between babies and parents, and the critical role of literacy-rich experiences.” http://www.ala.org/united/products_services/booksforbabies/earlyliteracy

To develop this”enjoyment of books,” here are some steps you can take:

(1)Read, read, and read some more to your children.

I don’t think you can read to your kids too much (unless it begins to interfere with everyday life, of course). When my kids were babies, I even read aloud from the grown-up books I was reading. The more your kids can hear the nuances and words of our language, the more they are going to benefit from improved comprehension and better reading skills in the future.

(2)Participate in your local library’s early literacy programs.

Sign-up for story times. Our local library hosts four separate storytime groups:

  • Lapsit: Birth to walking
  • Walkers: Through age three and not in preschool
  • Preschool: 3-5 years old
  • Family: For the entire family

Most libraries offer similar services. Some require registration. You can check for more information at your local library’s children’s department. The libraries tailor their story times to the needs of each age group. The parents interact with their children in the lapsit and walker storytimes while the preschool children sometimes attend the storytime without the parents in the room. While a huge benefit of these storytimes is exposing your child to a literacy-rich activity where they can engage with and learn new vocabulary, you also have the benefit of being around other adults and potentially making new friends yourself. Plus, the librarians love to share the newest books which can quickly become some of your child’s favorite books. While there is nothing wrong with Dr. Seuss’ The Foot Book, it can get tiring reading the same book repeatedly. And, there are many creative picture book authors which you might not hear of without the help of your children’s librarian.

(3)Read things besides books

As you bring your child to different places and while at home, show and read words in their environment such as business signs, traffic signs, food packages, etc. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to point out words to your kids.

(4)Encourage them to listen to audiobooks.

While there is no substitute for mom or dad reading with the kids, audiobooks offer some benefits:

  • It gives mom a break. Before my kids could read, they still wanted to hear stories when it was time for me to indulge in some “me-time.” We would check out audiobook cds from the library and they would listen to some great stories so I could clean the house, relax, or do other mom-related activities. Now, you can download audiobooks from many public libraries so you don’t have to worry about losing the individual cds (which we have sadly done on a couple occasions).
  • Children are exposed to  longer narratives often filled with sound effects and fantastic displays of vocal intonation. These additions further enhance the child’s comprehension of the stories they are listening to.

(5)Give books as gifts Garrison Keillor quote

Giving books as gifts can get kids excited about books. Creating a tradition of giving a book for birthdays and holidays helps build the child’s library and provides the expectation that books are special. As much as I love the library, my girls appreciate the books they own more than the books from the library. My youngest will read her own books repeatedly and will carry a stack with her each time she rides in the car.

Where to Find Great Picture Books for Young Children

Look for award-winning books on websites and blogs which focus on picture books. My favorite places to find picture books are the following:

Caldecott and Medal and Honor BooksThe American Library Association keeps a list of all the award-winning picture books from 1938 until now. To read an interesting history about how the Caldecott award started, you can check it out at ALA: About Caldecott. My family uses this list as a way to read the best in children’s picture books. I am a chronological person and I started with the list from 1932 and am working my way up from there. It is fascinating for me to see how picture books have changed over time. And, yes, we still read picture books at our house! (I will admit it is mainly because I love them). My library contains most of the Caldecott winners, but not all of the honor books.

ALA’s Notable Book ListsThe American Library Association also puts out a list each year of notable books from various age categories. You can find many delightful books for a young child in the lists for “Younger Readers.” And, the Caldecott is automatically added to these lists each year. The online lists span the years 1995 until now.

The Children’s Book Review: This site publishes review and book lists of the best in children’s literature. You can search by age group on this site and it will give you all the reviews in its database for that age group.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” —Emile Buchwald

Check out some of these resources for book lists and read to your kids. In return, you will improve their language skills and change your children’s lives by exposing them to hundreds of books and creating an excitement for the written word.

For other posts in this series, check out the following posts:

Alliteration Books to Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills 

Great Rhyming Books to Build Reading Skills

Rhyming Games and Activities

Please comment and let me know some of your favorite resources for picture books and how you incorporate reading into your child’s life. How will you raise a reader?


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