It’s never too early to begin raising a reader, a fact parents and early childhood educators are reminded of during National Reading Awareness Month. March is dedicated to helping children cultivate a love of literacy. Getting ready to read starts long before actually becoming a new reader and your role as an adult caregiver fosters those emerging skills. The benefits of literacy in early childhood are clear: reading a minimum of 15 minutes per day correlates with enhanced speech development, the understanding of pictures and print as symbols, better vocabulary and improved communication skills, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Basic phonics, comprehension and the mechanics of storytelling are also honed through daily practice reading aloud or being read to from a young age. “Reading is the single most important thing you can do to help prepare a child for reading and learning,” reports literacy skills advocacy organization ReadAloud.org. Fewer than half of children under age 5 are read to on a daily basis, according to leading statistics.
Exposure to language and imagination-based themes beyond children’s daily reality sets them up for success as well. Emotional benefits are less tangible within the grid of neat checkboxes on researchers' rubrics but still measurable. Bonding with a caregiver through the shared experience of reading together is also a positive emotional connection that can further a child’s curiosity about the world while feeling safe at home.
Here are five tips to jumpstart reading with young learners:
Find familiar themes: Start with topics children love. If baby animals or spring holidays are happy topics right now, take advantage of seasonal offerings at your local library to find books that will make the experience interesting. Babies too young to express preferences will still enjoy a variety of colors, textures and topics.
Visit your local library: Keep selections interesting by offering variety. Award-winning children’s books, age-appropriate selections and special sensory offerings are available through the Metropolitan and Pioneer Library Systems as well as other private libraries throughout our state.
Set a timer: Attention spans vary among young children. If sitting still is an issue, try a sand clock or time to count down those 15 minutes. Getting up and adding kinesthetic activities into the story is also a great way to reinforce lessons through play.
Allow children to be loud, ask questions and interact: The days of hearing a story in silence are largely past. Shushing librarians are also no longer as common as in previous generations’ childhood experiences. Adding in music, answering questions or practicing retelling what was just read can all be part of the fun.
Enjoy the time together: Take a break from screens, focus your attention and enjoy sharing a favorite story together. Making memories through storytelling is an activity enjoyed for generations, and with your help, a tradition that supports the next generation of storytellers.