Monday, November 9, 2009

Building Better Readers: Getting Them to Sit Still

Sometimes it can be hard to get kids to stop whirling around the room long enough to really enjoy a book. This is especially true when they're very little and books are just brightly colored hinges to them. It's true a little later on when they hit the toddler years and are often too busy for reading.

This is when it's helpful to take advantage of natural down times and use them to read to your child. Even better, take advantage of that time when they are literally a captive audience.

I'm talking about meals.

When kids are eating, particularly when they're strapped in a highchair or booster, pull up a chair across from them ( or beside them) and start reading. Pick a meal, pick something brightly colored and jump in. Trust me, they will be riveted. And you will have built all sorts of lovely connections and bridges in their little brains, just by providing them with Dinner (or Breakfast, or Lunch) Theatre a la Mom.

You can do this during snacks, too. Much better than plopping them in front of the TV, with lasting benefits for them and that warm glow for you that comes from doing something really good for them. Like making them eat bran muffins, only more interesting.

When you do this, you will probably find that they can sit for longer books than normal. In the picture above, my son, who was just 15 months old, was listening to a Mr. Putter and Tabby, an early chapter book. This book was about 5% longer than the books he would sit for if we were reading before bed or naptime.

You will also find that your children will feel more positive about reading in general. You are showing them that books are valuable as entertainment and that attitude will carry over to their school years. A 1987 study found that kids from book-rich homes felt more positive about books and reading than other children (Wells, The Meaning Makers, Hoddard and Stoughton 1987). That's powerful stuff -- RIGHT NOW you can influence how they'll feel about reading when they start kindergarten or first grade. And you can influence how they'll perform in elementary school as well. Another study of children and reading showed that children whose parents provided them with the most exposure to books scored higher on tests of reading and writing than other children (Tizard, Blatchford, Burke, Farquar, Plewis, Young Children at School in the Inner City, Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 1988).

Now get out there and raise some readers!

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