Guest post from Amie Carlson, Product & Marketing Manager for Focus on the Family Kids/Media and Faith That Sticks.
I have always loved to read. Ever since I was a small child, some of my fondest memories involve my storybook “friends” like Alexander (and his terrible, horrible day), Harold (and his purple crayon), Anne (of Green Gables fame), and Laura in her little house on the prairie. While it is true that some children are more prone to loving books and reading than others, this is a habit that can be taught with some simple intentional practices.
It is never too early to start reading to a child. I started when my first child was still in utero—reading aloud any book I was already reading just to get him used to the rhythm of my voice. There were books everywhere in my house. I was fortunate to have a mother who worked at a bookstore, and she brought new books home every week. We quite literally had hundreds of children’s books to choose from all the time. As a matter of fact, one of my son’s favorite things to do at naptime when he was two years old was to pull all the books off the shelf, lie down on the big mountain of books, and fall asleep!
Having all these books didn’t stop me from making the library a regular part of our week. As soon as my child was toddling about, we were attending story time every week and coming home with yet more books. We kept them in the car, in the living room, in the kitchen . . . anywhere we might have a spare moment to read.
Beyond sheer accessibility to books, I was also intentional during reading time. I used a different voice for each character and injected energy when I read. I asked questions along the way to keep him engaged and had him find pictures and sound out words as he got older. As he grew, questions went from “Can you find something red?” to “What would you do if you were the main character faced with this situation?” Connecting personally to a story and learning how to use imagination is a valuable skill that children can learn and use in their adult lives.
As my second child was born, it was not uncommon to find my son lying on the blanket next to his sister, reading her a story. She loved hearing her big brother’s voice even when she couldn’t follow the pictures.
When my children got old enough to read on their own, I continued the tradition of weekly library visits so they could choose their own books, but I didn’t stop reading to them. While it wasn’t as regular as before, they still enjoyed sitting and listening to a story and discussing it along the way. This was especially true of my youngest daughter, who was an audio learner. She listened to books on tape every night when she went to bed—allowing her mind to create pictures from the stories. She is nineteen now, and still pulls out the old favorite childhood books for me to read to her when she is sick or just wants to walk down memory lane. She even reads the books aloud to the dog—although he doesn’t sit quite as attentively as she would like.
Instilling the tradition of reading aloud while my children were young allowed me to have conversations with them and help plant good values in them without them even realizing it. When a character in a book was facing a moral choice, we would discuss it. We would talk about what the Bible would say about it. We would problem solve together and discuss different outcomes and consequences of decisions. This was a great way for my children to figure out their faith in a way that helped them make it personal.
You can help your children fall in love with books, no matter their age. One easy way to encourage young children to read is to introduce them to the Faith That Sticks story and activity books. Each book is short and filled with activities and questions that will help your child learn how to make connections and develop the skills of a reader. Creative stickers will keep your child engaged along the way. As you share regular story time with your children, you will soon see that they have their own cast of storybook friends, just like I did!