April 2nd 2013

February is the month for love. What better time to share your literary passions with your family?!

Read together every day and share the love.

Family reading time fills your home with love and provides necessary literacy experiences for everyone in the family. The tiniest baby needs to hear millions of words before beginning to talk, toddlers’ ears seek the cadence of different kinds of speech; their brains are connecting the sounds of speech to meaning. Children of all ages learn new vocabulary and gain knowledge of the world. Adults as well as children are soothed by being read to.

How does reading together look in your family? Take turns sharing something you read this week. You might share a magazine article you found interesting, your child can read a chapter of a library book and great-grandma can recite a poem she memorized in her youth. The idea is to share and talk about what you read. Make this literary conversation part of daily dinner conversation or use it as your family’s special good night ritual.

Jan Reed is CRF-DA Director of Volunteers and Book Donations. She explains how she learned to love reading long before she learned to read.

I still blissfully recall Sunday mornings and the comics. Half a century ago in Los Angeles, the paper boy would pull a wagon full of papers down the street calling out “Times, Examiner, get your papers.”  Pajama clad, my brother and I would rush out, change in hand, to make the purchase.   Discarding all the rest of the paper’s contents along the way, we’d dive into bed and snuggle between our parents.  There, Dad in his most dramatic voice would go falsetto for Little Orphan Annie, guttural for Daddy Warbucks and “Arf, Arf“ for Zero bringing to life each comic character.  Later in the day, I’d spread the paper on the floor and pretend to read each strip to my dog.  I knew I was a reader at the age of three, before meeting Dick, Jane and Sally or phonics lessons.  Years later, that warm fuzzy feeling remained as my grown son and I drove to Massachusetts and traded driving and reading aloud Watership Downs.  It is a family legacy we treasure.

Our cold, dark, winter evenings provide a great time to start or rekindle a family reading tradition at your house. You and your children are never too old or too young to enjoy getting cozy together to share the adventures of well-loved characters in books. Take a moment to remember your favorite series when you were your child’s current age. Is it time to share those tales with the next generation? Show the whippersnappers that Harry Potter and the Hobbit are even better in the author’s own words.

The classics are called that for their timeless appeal. They provide the kind of literary language that builds vocabulary and strengthens the attention span.  One of my favorites for children in the early elementary grades is The Adventures of Pinocchio, Tale of a Puppet by Carlo Collodi translated from Italian by M.L. Rosenthal. For the most fun, read aloud with lots of expression and different voices. Beware: this is not the Disney version so some of the characters and adventures may surprise you. Each chapter, just long enough for a bedtime story, involves the misadventures of a bad boy and there’s a morality lesson hidden within. It’s fun to predict what choice Pinocchio will make next. Anticipating the next chapter each night can make it easier for all members of the family to wean themselves off of electronic devices before bed.

For small children, choose short colorful books that can be completed in one sitting. Your children will want to hear their favorites over and over again, especially those written with rhythm and rhyming words.  The repetition is an important part of language development. So bite your lip, snuggle together and know that you are building literacy skills for a life time. Don’t worry if toddlers can’t sit still for a whole book. The important thing is for them to see you enjoying it.

Reading together twenty minutes every day is like getting a great big multi vitamin of love.

Reading aloud to your child strengthens skills by exposing your child to words and ideas not often found in day-to-day conversations or electronic screen time.  Reading aloud gives children the opportunity to practice listening – a crucial skill for kindergarten and beyond. Reading aloud builds imagination, curiosity, communication skills and memory which are necessary skills for school success.

Even tiny babies profit greatly from being read to everyday. They learn to associate reading with the love and security of being in your arms.  You can share the value of reading with your child from birth forward by singing songs, reciting nursery rhymes and talking about pictures in books and magazines.

Here’s what experts have to say on the subject.

“What happens during the first months and years of life matters because it sets either a sturdy or fragile stage for what follows.” National Research Council & The Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press.

When a child is born, only twenty-five percent of the brain is developed, and the rest develops within the first year of life. This is an extremely crucial time in a child’s life where reading aloud and simply talking to the child will help tremendously with brain development along with their speaking skills. Research shows that the more words parents use when speaking to an 8-month-old infant, the greater the size of their child’s vocabulary at age 3. The landmark Hart-Risley study on language development documented that children from low-income families hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers before the age of 4.

Have fun reading and make it a special time for both of you. Tell us about the books you remember fondly and the person who read them to you so we can share your favorites in future columns.