Introducing Reading Early: Bring On the Books
People are always so surprised when I tell them (in response to the question, “What’s his favorite show?”) that SuperBoy doesn’t watch TV. Or have any screen time, really, except Skype with relatives out of town. I don’t think we’re that “out there” as parents to not have screen time for our less-than-two year old. Especially in light of the AAP’s serious recommendation of no-screen-time-before-two (see my post on that here).
But because he’s not accustomed to being entertained by something, most of his activities are self-driven. He loves to pounce upon a pile of blocks, books, cars, and start sorting, or just wading through them. He directs his own play, instead of being a passive participant in it. (I’m not judging parents who do screen time; I’m passionate about ensuring parents make the most informed and best decision they can for their family lifestyle.)
Does my child perfectly self-entertain while I do all the other things that parents need to do around a house? No way! I wish! But I will say that introducing books early has been my saving grace. Even if he doesn’t want to read by himself, he loves to read aloud to me. At almost 20 months, he’ll plop down in a chair in the kitchen and read to me so I can be at a hot stove, wash sharp knives, or blow my nose without his assistance. Sometimes the entire story is “mama, dada, baba, nunu (my mom’s name), NINA! (his beloved Great Dane).”
1) Introduce books early.
We’ve read to him since I was pregnant with him. We read the same books every night to my enormo belly: Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Minnesota. Obviously this is a luxury that first-time-pregnant folks can do. Nowadays, I try to remember to rub my belly occasionally and play our daughter’s birth song (Bach’s Violin Concerto No.2 in E Major). But ever since J was born, we’d hold up books in front of him and read aloud. Daily.
A teething baby, he’d pull on them (get out the books with dangly soft thingies), and tug, and sometimes not be interested. That’s okay, don’t force it. Take advantage of in-the-zone moments, or just before bed after a bath & massage. It’s just a habit to form.
2) Don’t worry about age appropriate books.
We’d read aloud from the newspaper, a book we were reading, one with pictures, an “age appropriate” book, or anything (the cereal box). I always look at the ages on the back of a book and think, Really? Does this mean like don’t read to your kid until 3 or don’t expect your kid to read it until 3? Why so restrictive?
It’s all about exposure to the cadence of sentences, the arch of breath, the shapes of letters, the funny voices you can do. Let go and be completely goofy with reading. It’ll get a laugh and it’s good for us not to take ourselves too seriously.
3) Don’t force anything or it will be a chore for a child.
Like I said, take advantage of down moments when your squirmy firecracker is relaxed, and bust out the book. But if it’s an obligation or chore in your mind, that will come across to the child. SuperBoy says no to literally every question right now, so we try to make more declaratory sentences than interrogatory ones. “Now, we’re going to read while we drink our morning smoothie” or “Please bring Mama Peter Rabbit so we can laugh at Mr. McGregor.”
NEVER underestimate your child’s intelligence, or absorption level. He or she gets just about everything you’re saying around 15 months. They may not respond accordingly, but trust me, those neurons are FIRING.
Many of my “unschooling” homeschool family friends don’t push learning letters and reading, but allow the child to come to it naturally. I’m not opposed to that approach. It’s all about making it available and interesting to the child, and letting the beauty of the written word and all the images it can conjure up take hold.
Our favorites right now are Corduroy and Peter Rabbit. We literally have to read Corduroy before every nap & bedtime.