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When my first child was just a few weeks old, I strapped him in the Baby Bjorn and walked a few blocks to my local bookstore. I was determined to raise a child who loved to read as much as I do. I hadn’t been in the children’s section of a bookstore in years, and it was fun to see my old favorite like Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary were still around. I bought a few board books and went home–imagining the mother/child book clubs we’d join in future years.
I was pushing it with the 8-week-old, sure. But as the months passed and my little boy reached the age where books should have begun to appeal to him–they didn’t. We had lots of books with big pictures and simple words, and yet, he could care less. I wanted nothing more than a little guy who’d curl up in my lap for story time. But after a page or two, he’d lose interest and run away.
Four-and-a-half years later, I’m happy to report that he loves to read. We’ve read Richard Scarry’s “What Do People Do All Day?” so often that I could recite it in my sleep. And a trip to the library is a real treat in our house.
Here are a few tips I learned along the way to encourage a love of literature among toddlers.
- Start early and stick to it. Reading to infants seems pointless when they can barely hold their heads up, but babies begin learning language development the moment they arrive in this world. I heard once that babies love to look at books with photos of other babies’ faces. I have no idea the scientific reasoning behind this, but I know it was true for my oldest two. When my first child became mobile, reading was low on his priority list. But I’d keep reading even as he crawled away. He could listen and toddle at the same time, right?
- Make time for it. I’m home with my kids most all day long, and some days I really look forward to bed time. So many nights I’m tempted to brush their teeth, kiss their heads and escape downstairs for some me time. But repetition is key to developing good habits. Most nights we make time for at least one or two books before tucking kids into bed. It’s good bonding time, and it helps them calm down. I admit that when I see my 3-year-old girl bringing me “Clifford the Big Red Dog’s Christmas Present” for the 19th night in a row, I want to scream. But I know the day will come–sooner than I can believe–when we can delve into chapter books together. And then after that, she’ll be reading to herself and won’t need my help.
- Keep lots of books around. I try to keep books in several places throughout the house, and it thrills me when I pass the den and see my little boy sitting in front of the shelf flipping through one on his own.
- Set a good example. Kids learn from parents’ example, so I try to let my kids see me reading. I had an interesting discussion recently with friends about how iPads and Kindles affect that modeling. I read about one mom who said she was going to give up her electronic reader so her kids could see her engaged in books. It’s a worthwhile thought.
- Visit the library. My toddlers love going to the library, and we try to make it every few weeks. Honestly I think they like the train table in the children’s section more than they like the books, but whatever gets them there! At our local library, kids can get their own cards at age 4. My little guy was so excited that we took a picture of him on his “get his own card” day. My hope is that if they go often enough as kids, when they’re adults they’ll seek out libraries on their own.
What about you? What are some ways you encourage reading among your preschoolers?