Just like exercising strengthens the muscles in our body, reading strengthens the brain. Children who continue to read throughout the summer continue to strengthen their literacy skills. Kids who don’t usually experience what educators call the “summer slide” – a drop in reading ability.
For strategies to keep your child reading, here are tips from pediatrician Catherine Wiley, MD, Connecticut Children’s division head of Primary Care and medical consultant for Reach Out and Read Connecticut.
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Picking Out Books and Reading Material
- Let your child read what they like. To help kids develop a lifelong love of reading, encourage them to read what they love – whether or not it shows up on a “recommended reading” list. This includes age-appropriate popular fiction, graphic novels and comic books, joke books, and books about one specific interest. And with this in mind…
- Encourage your child to choose their own books. When kids get to pick their own books, they’ll be developing their own identity as a reader, and more motivated to stick with their selection even if it’s challenging.
- Get to know your local library. Many libraries, including Hartford Public Library, now offer contact-free pickup in response to COVID-19. Libraries are a free way to introduce your child to a world of books. They’re also a great resource for age-appropriate recommendations – check your library’s website or call to speak to a librarian.
- Try audio books. This can be a great option to build a love of books, even in reluctant readers. You can borrow audiobooks from the library, both electronically and via CD. Listen to them together at home or in the car, or help your child find time in their day to listen alone (ex. building a puzzle, cleaning their room or taking quiet time).
- For older children, check out current event magazines and newspapers. There are magazines out there for just about every interest, whether it’s National Geographic World or Sports Illustrated for Kids. Many are available at the library, too, including via digital download. They can be a great way to talk with your child about their interests and their reactions to current events: Ask your child which articles they liked best, and what they think about what they’ve read.
- Don’t forget babies and toddlers. Babies are learning right from birth. Your voice and the words your baby hears form early brain connections that are critical for the development of language and reading skills. Being cuddled and read to helps foster a lifelong love of reading. Board books, high contrast books and “touch and feel” books are best for this age group.
Strategies to Encourage Your Child to Read
- Start with 15 minutes a day and build. It takes time for readers to build up stamina to read for longer periods of time. Start with just 15 minutes, pick a time of day when your child isn’t too tired, and provide a quiet, distraction-free setting. Eventually, aim for at least 30 minutes per day.
- Have your child read aloud to you. Beginning readers may not be interested in reading alone, but will be engaged if they can read to a loved one.
- Provide incentives. Is your child a reluctant reader? Plan a treat once they do their daily reading, like some one-on-one time playing with a favorite toy.
- Read in different settings. Read outdoors, at the beach, in the front yard, on a park bench.
- Join a summer reading program or “challenge.” Check out your local library, museums or your child’s school website to see if they have any reading challenges set up for the summer. Or create your family’s own game or contest by logging the books you read, and planning a reward after each reader completes a certain number of books.
- Connect your child’s reading to family outings. Plan a day trip inspired by a favorite book. If you take your kids to the beach, read a book about the ocean later that day. If you go to a science museum with an exhibit on dinosaurs, find a book about that.
- Establish reading as part of a daily routine and family tradition. Set a time and place during the day when all members of the household gather to read. Everyone can read their own book, or take turns reading a shared book aloud. Let young children turn pages or act out the story. For older kids, choose a book as a family and hold book club discussions, a great way to develop literacy and thinking skills.
- Be a reading role model. Let your child see you reading any type of print, from newspapers to magazines to letters to books – not just on a screen or electronic device. Keep lots of reading material around the house, and make reading part of vacation and leisure time too.
The key? Fit in a little bit of reading every day, and find ways to keep your child engaged in the material. What your child is actually reading matters less than their enthusiasm for it. The more they’re interested, the more closely they’ll read. That will build their reading skills, and set them up for a lifelong love of books.
For book recommendations, free e-books and other reading resources, visit reachoutandread.org – there’s even a free e-book to help kids understand germs!