By Anne Cunningham, PhD, and Jamie Zibulsky, PhD
If you want to help a child get ahead in school and in life, there is no better value you can impart to him or her than a love of reading. The skills that early and avid reading builds are the skills that older readers need in order to make sense of sophisticated and complex texts. National Reading Day targets pre-kindergartners through third graders for a reason — reading interventions are most effective with young children, and reading skills and engagement are much harder to change once a child enters mid-to-late elementary school. It is never too early to support an avid reader, but unfortunately, it is sometimes too late.
Research suggests that the amount one reads has a profound impact on our cognitive development, and that people who read more are likely to score higher on tests of verbal intelligence. The relationship between reading volume and intelligence is in fact reciprocal, meaning that regardless of initial cognitive abilities, the act of reading itself serves to develop intelligence. One way to think of this reciprocal relationship is that reading serves as a type of mental strength training; it’s not just the case that “smart” people read more, but rather the act of reading more can make people smarter.
So today, pick up a great book and read it with a child you love. Take a family trip to the library or bookstore and let the kids in your life pick out books, and then have them read those books to you. Ask lots of questions about what they are reading, and make lots of comments about what they are reading. Cuddle and drink hot chocolate while you do it, so that the child in your life realizes that reading time may sometimes be solitary, but can also be interactive and social, bringing us closer to the people we love as well as the characters who draw us into new worlds.
Here are some tips you can keep in mind that will help the children in your life become successful readers:
Revisit the books that you loved as a child. One way to create a mutual love of books is to share stories with your children from your own childhood or books that you relish yourself. This strategy is inherently motivating to you as the reader, and your enthusiasm will be contagious.
Read books that are interesting to your child. You can encourage a love of reading by providing a variety of books that center around a topic of interest, such as dinosaurs, cooking, construction vehicles, or insects.
Talk with your child about the books that you read together. Reading is a vehicle for building so many literacy and social skills, and talking with your child about the books you read together can help your child begin to rhyme words, identify letters, learn new vocabulary, make predictions, and puzzle about why a character acted a certain way.
Read electronic books, which often motivate children to read independently. Children can follow along visually while listening, expanding their vocabulary and knowledge about a topic. The same is true of magazines and comic books, so be open to giving your child a wide range of reading options.
Choose books and reading strategies that are age appropriate:
- Babies love to explore with their fingers and mouths as well as their eyes. Sturdy board books, with their different textures and flaps, are an ideal way to introduce your baby to literacy. Don’t worry if he turns the pages incorrectly or gnaws on the corner of the book – getting cuddle time with you, and the chance to explore, is still a great introduction to the world of books!
- Toddlers love to show off what they know. Instead of reading a picture book straight through, pause to ask your child questions about the story. See if she can predict what will happen next, and give her a chance to “read” the story to you.
- Beginning readers, in kindergarten and first grade, often become interested in chapter books that are a bit more challenging than they can handle on their own. Ask your child to pick a book he would like to read and take turns reading paragraphs or pages out loud to one another, or read to him until he is more comfortable with the book. You’ll help introduce him to new vocabulary words he wouldn’t come across in easier books.
Anne E. Cunningham, Ph.D. and Jamie Zibulsky, Ph.D. are the authors of Book Smart: How to Develop and Support Successful, Motivated Readers. Anne Cunningham is Professor of Cognition and Development at University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education and Jamie Zibulsky is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University.