Benefits of Reading

How to Develop Your Child’s Interest in Reading

Teaching kids to love reading - photo

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy

Reading is something that almost every child eventually learns.  Our schools do a pretty good job of building a child’s basic reading skills.  But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about teaching kids to really enjoy reading.

Personal story:  My oldest daughter, Anne, was born very late in the calendar year, meaning that she started school as one of the youngest kids in the class.  She’ll always be very young compared to her classmates.  In the junior grades, a year is a big deal.  She was slower to learn to read.  But after Grade 2 she suddenly fell in LOVE with books.  She devours them.  She reads nearly a full chapter book every night before going to sleep.

When you enjoy reading, you get smarter faster.  You end up being more successful.  Who doesn’t want that for their kids?

The Benefits of Reading Include:

Better vocabulary. When a young reader comes across unfamiliar words, he’s more likely to ask what it means or look it up in the dictionary (or in Google these days!).  This helps kids learn new words.  Or if they don’t look up the word, they eventually learn it through context, just as we learn language by speaking.  Nobody tells us the meaning of words.  We learn them by hearing them and figuring out their meaning.  Reading exposes kids to new words.

By the way, some some people think only writers benefit from an increased vocabulary.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The writer rarely looks up new words.  Se writes from her existing vocabulary.  You learn new words by reading, not writing.

A faster brain.  Reading is very much like a workout for the brain. Reading (and comprehending) makes your brain focus on the words.  But to make sense of them inside of the brain, the reader has to turn them into a visual representation (like a mental movie) or imagine the words being read aloud.  When the brain learns to focus, kids can think on their feet and learn quickly.

A powerful imagination.  Reading lets your imagination soar without the over-stimulation of TV.  When you watch a movie or a television show, your imagination is limited to what you’re seeing.  If Edward Cullen is shown with Robert Pattinson’s face in the Twilight movie, then that’s all that you’re getting. You’re force-fed the full visual and auditory sensations.  With a book, the human brain gets to create whatever scene it wants.  The words get turned into a wonderfully imagined movie complete with sounds and feelings.  Modern TV is problematic because the scenes change so fast.  It is designed to over-stimulate our minds.  It is not restful.  Reading is great before bedtime.  TV is not.

Quality entertainment.  You can let the hours float by while reading a book.  Once kids move past basic reading, a good chapter book can last for hours.  Compare this to a TV show or movie that has a much shorter duration.  Books can be enjoyed longer.

Flexible thinking and being open to new ideas.  Reading is fantastic for letting you learn from stories.  Kids get to discover conflicts of opinion, emotions and different ways of solving problems – all by reading someone else’s experiences!  When kids learn to see both sides of a story it helps them to be more emotionally intelligent.

Better discipline. Kids who read benefit from the skill of focus. Kids who can focus on tasks require less discipline. And for those times that discipline is required, they’ve got the skills to cope.

Better performance in school. I put this last because I don’t think we should measure our kids based on grades. But it sure is nice when they do well on their report cards. Kids who read will be better problem solvers. Surprisingly, they’ll do better in math and science compared to kids who don’t read. My own daughter started getting amazing math scores ONLY after falling in love with books. As a father who’s first university degree was in engineering, I really want my kids to learn to love math, so I was proud!

How to Raise Kids Who Love Reading

Ok, so we agree. A love of reading is one of the most amazing gifts we can give to a child. It’s also budget-friendly. You’re giving your child the power to visit castles, islands, rivers and oceans. They can dance with kings and sail with pirates, or travel to outer space. Reading allows your child to experience a lot of things without having to be there. It’s a rare magical feeling that only people who read can experience.

How do you make it happen?

Read in front of your kids. Kids love to copy their parents.  So even if your child can’t read a single word, go ahead and show your kids that you read books.  Curl up with a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and enjoy a book.  Have some kids books (picture oriented) in the same room.  Your goal here is simply to show your child that you love reading.  No pressure.  You can even encourage your child to sit beside you and pretend he’s reading too.  Children are such great copycats.

Here’s a part of an email sent to me by my reader:

“I’ve always been a wide reader myself, and I never specifically intended to teach my children to read but they’d always see me with a book. They started just sitting with me while I read until they ask for their own books when we go to the bookstore and now they’re both readers themselves.”

Everyone says this, and it’s true:  Read with your child from an early age! Make reading out loud to your child a part of your daily routine. Studies have shown that listening to sounds is one of the earliest ways a baby can learn, especially when the sound they hear comes from their parent. When you read to your child, you are not merely talking but you are also incorporating a visual aid (by pointing to the pictures). Learning is just much easier when you’re both listening and watching at the same time.

Keep books all over the house. Give your child easy access to books by having books around the house. Have a couple of books on her bedside table, in the living room and other places she frequents. Exposing your child to books is one of the best ways to develop her interest in reading. Don’t be surprised if your child has a favorite and wants to keep coming back to the same book.  That’s fine!  The point here is to ENJOY the reading.  If your child is picking a book himself you’re winning at this goal!

Let your child drive the bus.   It would be helpful to have your child choose which books she likes when you go to the bookstore. Engaging your child in decision-making when it comes to books/ reading will make her feel that you are asking for her approval and not merely pushing her to read books. You can also have your child flip the pages of the book and make sure to give her enough time to look at the pictures and ask questions.

Interactive reading makes it FUN.   Young children have short attention spans, so you need a couple of things on your side.  First – pictures!  Kids love pictures, and the visual stimulus helps hold their attention.  Second – use interruptions to reset their attention!  Stop the story after a couple of pages and ask questions about what’s happening, or talk about the picture.  Resetting a child’s attention helps re-establish focus after, while keeping it fun.

Choose books according to your child’s interest. Children always have something that they’re crazy about – dinosaurs, dolls, Dora the Explorer. Choose books that you know your child will be interested in reading. It will be easier to interest them in a book about dinosaurs, if that’s what they’re into, instead of making them read books about planets.  My own daughter is a MAJOR dog lover.  She started reading a series of books called “Puppy Place”, and they never grow tiresome for her.  Every book has beautiful pictures of dogs on the cover.

But Be Careful About…

Immediately correcting your child. While teaching a child to read, be careful about correcting mistakes.  Remember that your goal is to establish a belief in your child’s mind that reading is FUN.  Anything you do to wreck the fun will wreck the formation of this belief.

Proper lighting.  Read with enough lights on, or in daylight.  You don’t want your kids reading in the dark, straining to see the pages. I’m no doctor, but I got this advice directly from our eye doctor.

Being pushy and setting expectations.  Nothing good ever comes out of pushing a child to do anything – the more pressure you put on your child, the more it will make her want to fight you.  You’ll get more flies with honey than with vinegar (as my mom always taught me).  Keep your child interested by making sure that reading is an unconscious cue for a positive emotional state.  If reading is fun, your child will want to read.  The fun is attached not just to the books and the words.  It’s attached to everything that contributes to their feelings.  How YOU act is perhaps the biggest factor here.

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