Bonnie Y. Mueller, M.S., and Melinda Matthews
Luke Waites Child Development Center
Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children
Reading to your child or grandchild provides quality time with an adult, one of the greatest pleasures of childhood. Reading to your child also furnishes new information, vocabulary and humor, and may stimulate creativity. The child will cherish this time spent with a special person in his or her life. Children, after all, are great seekers of attention, and reading aloud is a way to give this attention.
The Importance of Reading
Reading is a rich source of information. As you read to your child, you also are expanding his or her knowledge of people, places, and things. This new knowledge builds self-confidence and makes the child more comfortable with his or her place in the world.
Literature introduces new words, concepts, grammar, and sentence structure to the child. New words play an important role in your child’s intellectual development since vocabulary is a necessary tool for thinking. Reading to your child also may be a supportive way to help him or her cope with anxiety and tension. For example, before a child is admitted to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, we recommend several books that describe in detail what he or she may expect during a stay in the hospital. Special situation books also can provide support for the child when a loved one dies, members of the family are separated, or a new member of the family comes into the home.
Reading will create a lifelong inheritance of a love for books and learning.
The time spent reading to your child increases his or her motivation to read. Helping a child find pleasure in reading requires the cooperation of parents and grandparents long before the child goes to school. Teachers acquaint children with reading and the joys of listening to stories; however, this process should begin at home. The child read to at home comes to school knowing that books are a source of pleasure, and thus he or she has an advantage over the child who has little or no experience with books.
Establishing Reading Time
Ideally, a child should be read to daily. Reading at bedtime is usually a pleasant way to relax and get settled for bed; however, you should select a time that is best for you and your family. Try to establish a regular pattern for your reading.
The length of time spent reading to your child need not be substantial. Ten to 15 minutes is usually enough time to read one picture book and talk about it afterward. If your child is older, do not hesitate to read a long book in segments. He or she will enjoy the anticipation of what will happen next in the story.
As you begin to read to your child or grandchild, start by looking at the book’s cover. You may ask the child what he or she thinks the story will be about. Read the title of the book. Encourage your child to look at the illustrations. This gives the child time to reflect and ask questions.
A pleasant tone of voice and some change in vocal inflection and quality to indicate characters and situations add to any story. If your child begins to lose interest, a softer tone or whisper may captivate his or her attention once again. A child will notice your interest or lack thereof when reading. A book that is boring to you also will bore your child. Discontinue reading if either of you becomes tired or bored.
If you have more than one child, there are several alternatives to consider when arranging reading times. If your children’s ages are quite different, you may alternate reading to each child at the agreed time. If your children are close in age, read to them together.
Selecting Books For Young Children
Preschool children typically have short attention spans; therefore, you should select books that can be completed in one sitting. Babies and toddlers respond best to short books filled with colorful pictures of similar objects. These books should provide opportunity for pointing, touching, naming, and repeating phrases. Preschoolers and early elementary school children enjoy stories that personify inanimate objects, for example, everyday objects that come to life and animals that talk.
Selecting Books For Older Children
Too often we stop reading to a child when he or she enters school and supposedly begins to read on his or her own. Most schools use basic textbook readers, books unlike the rich, illustrated texts that engage a six-year-old. Your child or grandchild is able to think and comprehend far beyond his or her ability to read and needs more intellectual challenges. Listening to someone read aloud is the only opportunity for exposure to complex literature within this age group. Some of the world’s greatest classics, such as Treasure Island, Little Women and The Yearling may be too difficult to read alone but very rewarding to hear and enjoy.
Other Reading Resources
According to the 1985 report, “Becoming a Nation of Readers,” one of the most important activities for building the knowledge required for your child’s eventual read- ing success is reading aloud. When selecting books to read aloud, an excellent resource is “The New Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease. Also, most libraries and book stores distribute reading lists of books that are age appropriate.
Parents and grandparents who, for whatever reason, cannot read to their children or grandchildren, might consider books on tape, which are available through most public libraries and retail book stores. Using books on tape, you and your child or grandchild can listen to books at home or in the car. These are helpful during long car trips or when running errands in the car together. They also might be a fun rainy day activity. You can pause the cassette during a break in the story and discuss the action. Asking open-ended questions about the action or plot of the story will help stimulate the child’s imagination and strengthen language skills.
There are also many local organizations throughout the United States that produce books on tape for the visually impaired or learning disabled. These organizations have many taped books on file, and will record books by request of a parent of a child with a visual or learning challenge.
A Lifelong Inheritance
Reading to your child or grandchild is a stimulating and rewarding pastime for both you and that special child. An adult who takes time to read to a child is creating more than memorable and close moments. A child who is read to will always cherish time spent with that person and will develop a genuine love for books. This lifelong love for books is an inheritance, a lasting gift that costs nothing and will be passed down to future generations.