As a mother to two young boys, I learned quickly that children will imitate what they see other people doing – especially their parents, caregivers, and older siblings. As the Child Care Solutions Literacy Specialist, I’ve been able to help parents and child care providers use this “monkey see, monkey do” phenomenon to their advantage—as a way to introduce and encourage a love of reading into their homes and centers.
One of the easiest ways to use this mimicry to engage your children in reading is to let them see you read. If you enjoy reading, use this as an excuse to pick up a few new books and give yourself permission to make time to read. What you read is not important, so find books on topics that interest you, magazines about your hobbies, or catalogs that you enjoy looking though. It is great to read with your children, but let them see you spend some time with yourself, reading what you enjoy. When your children see you making this effort, it teaches them that reading is enjoyable and important.
“When I say to a parent, “read to a child”, I don’t want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” – Mem Fox
But what if you don’t enjoy reading, or struggle to make the time to read? Please don’t let this deter you. There are many ways that you can still read around, read with, and show your children that reading is fundamental. Literacy is sprinkled everywhere in our world. With a little creativity and effort, you will start to recognize reading opportunities and easily incorporate them in your interactions with your children. Some of my favorite examples include:
- Talk about what you see when you are in the car together. Talk about the street signs (names), the speed limits (numbers), traffic signs (colors and symbols). Naming things that your children see allow them to increase their vocabulary, and helps with reading. (If you don’t know what something is, how can you recognize the word for it in print?)
- Cook with your children. Whether you are cooking from scratch using a recipe book, or warming up chicken nuggets in the microwave, read the directions with your children and let them help you. Showing your child that reading and understanding directions allows them to do new things is a great way to show the importance of literacy.
- Let your child touch, feel, chew on, stack, and enjoy books. Yes, books have words that we can read, but books also create an experience, and it’s important that children’s experiences with books are pleasant. So, if your 1-year-old enjoys chewing on board books or touch and feel books, allow her to do so (as long as there is no choking danger). If you 2-year-old likes to turn pages from the back of the book to the front, let him. Soon enough, with your example, they will learn to enjoy the printed words. Until then, allow them to just play with books and enjoy them as they will.
Being a parent, child care provider, or both is hard work! A little effort to support your child’s development of print-awareness and their love of reading will be worthwhile. Remember, we shouldn’t limit our children’s exposure to reading to “quiet time” or structured “reading time.” Make reading fun, make it silly, make it personal. For more ideas, please visit the Reading is Fundamental website.