Giving Children the Gift of Reading
In preparing for a recent meeting with our sales team introducing them to our new book line, I was transported back to my childhood when the joy of reading occupied most of my days and was a favorite pastime.
During long, hot summer months with the hours stretching out before me and no activities scheduled, there was nothing better than escaping into the magical world of a book right in my own backyard. That simple act brought a sense of anticipation and promise, providing an extraordinary gateway to expanding my horizons without ever leaving home.
Often I would close my eyes and pause as I held a new book in my hands, enjoying that feeling of excitement before opening the cover and entering an undiscovered realm. Reading took my imagination to places it had never been . . . places where I could forge relationships with unfamiliar characters and travel with them to unknown places. Many of those characters became my closest friends. And the places we traveled to became as familiar to me as my own neighborhood.
Books lifted me out of my burdened head and transported me into the lives and experiences of characters so different from me in certain ways, yet so similar at our core. It was my job back then to paint the picture of what was happening on those pages entirely on the canvas in my mind. Often those characters’ experiences became so entwined with my own, I couldn’t remember where they ended and I began.
I now see that books were the ultimate open-ended spark for those of us who allowed them to ignite our senses—for the connections we drew and the passages that resonated most with us. The stories that captivated our minds and wouldn’t let go were based on who we were at that moment and the unique mindset we brought to our reading.
Truly immersing oneself in a book required the presence of certain luxuries—time and patience. But in today’s fast-paced society with constant dopamine-charged stimuli bombarding us from all directions, time and patience have been replaced with a frenzied quest for that next big rush.
Today’s jam-packed schedules don’t allow us the time to even select a novel, much less enjoy the gradual unfolding of it. Today, it’s all about consuming content as quickly as possible, since it’s ever-streaming, offering thousands of new podcasts, movies, and TV series to digest each day. This wealth of content, combined with never-ending to-do lists and an overwhelming sense of obligation, makes us feel we are never doing enough or we never have enough time. Most everyone I know feels “on overload.”
This is where we are as a society today. Our minds are so continually attacked by stimuli that we aren’t able to make associations or draw conclusions, putting us into a purely reactive mode. In this state, we need instant gratification and the dopamine ping to feel okay. This explains why we crave the short, bite-sized, juicy morsels that we get from YouTube or social media rather than allowing ourselves the time and patience it takes to embark on a long, novel journey.
Research Shows Books Are Better Than Screens
A number of recent studies have demonstrated that addiction to content on screens isn’t good for us. In fact, new research makes it clear that print books are more beneficial than screens when reading with young children.
In short, reading physical books promoted more engagement with children and their parents and caregivers. Reading books prompted more dialogue and back and forth discussion about what they were reading, skills critical to nurture through early reading. The evidence shows that reading on screens, even just simple stories without digital enhancements, was distracting to young children and detracted from the ability to foster these important developmental and learning skills.
This is, of course, music to my ears. Coming from an age where each book I read became a portal to the limitless realm of my imagination, I long for a time when we can once again embrace those long summer or snowed-in days with no goal other than lifting the cover of an unassuming, well-worn book. And I look forward to the moments when we allow ourselves, and more importantly, our children, to feel that surge of wonder as they dive into the remarkable depths of a good book.
10 Ways to Engage Your Child in the Magic of Reading
Helping our children develop a lifelong love of reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It starts young by spending quality time reading and interacting with books.
- Make Time for Reading Every Day
Whether it’s a daily ritual of bedtime stories or a post-breakfast read-aloud routine, try to get in the habit of reading with your kids each and every day.
- Use Books as a Spark for Conversation
Talk about what is happening on the pages. Experts say it’s these rich conversations and close physical interactions that build vocabulary and a sense of safety and security.
- “Read” the Illustrations
Even before kids are able to read the words on the page, they can develop skills to “read” illustrations. What do they see happening in the pictures? Linger on each page a little to take a closer look at specific details to foster observation skills
- Ask “What Do You Think Happens Next?”
At critical moments in the story, pause before turning the page to ask your child to predict what might happen next.
- Describe the Characters
After becoming familiar with characters in a story, ask kids to describe them. Are they kind? Stubborn? Someone you could imagine being friends with in real life?
- Create Alternative Endings
Let your child experience the power of authorship by coming up with a different ending for the story.
- Let Them See You Read
Be a role model and let kids catch you in the act of reading. In today’s world, where many adults are reading books and articles on devices, it’s important to let kids know what we’re doing when our attention is on the screen. (It used to be that they could see the novel, magazine, or newspaper in our hands.)
- Visit the Library
Some families I know regularly visit the children’s section of their local libraries. Getting a library card was one of the most momentous events of my life and is a wonderful way to foster a love of reading! Libraries are perfect for story hours, meeting new friends, and on hot summer days (or chilly snowy ones, for that matter!) pulling some books off shelves and cozying up together to read.
- Seek Out Engaging Books Series
There is nothing more exciting to a reader than becoming captivated with a book series. I was truly obsessed with Little House on the Prairie and Nancy Drew, to name just two. Try to entice kids with different series until you find that one that will make them want to keep coming back for more! My younger kids loved Berenstain Bears and Curious George, and we literally read every single one!
- Don’t Stop Reading to Them
Once your child learns how to read, don’t stop reading to them. Take turns reading each other pages or chapters. Everyone loves to be read to once in a while!