In our house, we choose books over screens. We have been reading to our son since the moment we brought him home from the hospital. For instance, every single night that I nursed him to sleep (which would take somewhere between 20 minutes to 1 hour), I read to him. One book after another.
During infancy, we had tons of opportunities to read together. Throughout the day, we would lie on the floor while he practiced tummy time and we would read some more.
Why did we choose to start reading to our son immediately?
Because my husband and I both love to read but also because early language exposure significantly affects the way language networks are built in the brain.
As a result, he LOVES books. Also, at 17 months old, he understands pretty much everything we say to him. I know that all the reading we do has vastly attributed to his brain development.
Now, I’m not writing this article to boast or brag about my son and how much we read together. It’s simply just a part of our lifestyle I want to share with you mainly because two-thirds of children in the United States, and 80% of those below the poverty line, fail to develop reading proficiency by third grade.
Don’t you remember what it was like watching certain kids struggle to read in school?
Maybe you were one of them.
I can vividly recall the sheer terror in my schoolmates’ eyes as they frantically counted heads in order to prepare for the paragraph they would be asked to read aloud.
Alas, counting ahead would fail again. There they were, trapped in a hot pool of their own sweat, foot shaking, hands trembling, as they stumbled and stuttered over each painful word. Some kids even skipped full sentences. I remember being a second grader and watching this happen, just wishing I could save my classmate who was now completely mortified.
It’s painful to watch a child struggle with something the rest of his peers know how to do. Even worse, it’s painful to BE that struggling child. (I never received higher than a C- in math. Ever. #strugglecity)
My heart aches just thinking about it. Not only does my heart go out to children who struggle with reading and comprehension, but it also goes out to their parents and caretakers. Being a mother now, I meet tons of other mothers and even grandparents who share with me that their child/grandchild is behind in language and speech and is involved in a special program in order to get caught up.
Most likely, these programs will help and these children will eventually turn into adults who can read just fine.
However, as a parent or caretaker, there are ways to prepare your children for life and to set them up for success the moment they come into this world.
Reading to your child is one of the easiest, most effective, and inexpensive activities to do together. Not only does it increase your child’s reading proficiency, but it will also provide them with the love and security they need in order to thrive in this world.
Some of the greatest moments with my son have occurred while he is sitting on my lap, getting lost in his magical land of baby farm animals and Pete the Cat. I often catch myself leaning to one side so I can get a better look at his face as he snuggles in, holding onto one of my fingers. The sparkle in his eye as he smiles and turns the page fills my heart with so much love.
The feeling of his little body resting in my lap brings tears to my eyes because I know that in this moment, he feels safe. He feels LOVED.
Like I said, we read all the time and books are always at his disposal.
For example, every room in our house has at least one little basket full of books. He has his playroom books, his couch books, his bedroom books, and his tub books. I’m constantly donating old books and bringing in new ones. Aside from being pulled around in a toy wagon with his stuffed buddies ALL DAY LONG, I’d say reading is one of his favorite things to do.
Not only do we read a lot, we also read the same books often…even when I want to toss “Mr.Brown Can Moo! Can You?” out the window. (I mean, it’s a great book the first 67 times you read it). However, we keep reading his favorites because one, he chooses them off of his bookshelf and two, repetition increases children’s vocabulary and word recognition, pattern and rhythm, fluency, comprehension, and confidence.
The science behind reading the same books often is pretty cool.
Another benefit to reading my son’s favorites over and over again is that I now know them by heart. This has become super helpful during our everyday life together because it allows me to recite certain rhymes, rhythms, and stories to him when I feel that whatever we are doing can apply to one of the books he loves. Observing him while he makes the connection is awesome and it always makes me laugh.
I’ve witnessed his vocabulary rapidly develop as he repeats certain words he likes the sound of. He lies in bed and hums or sings songs we’ve taught him or songs from his books.
When we are out, I can visibly observe when the synapses in his brain make specific connections as he notices something in real life that he has seen in one of his books.
I’m not afraid to share that we are pretty much anti-television and cell phone over here when it comes to our son.
Although there are a lot of educational programs out there on platforms such as PBS and YouTube, it doesn’t override the fact that too much screen time is harmful to developing brains (and even adult brains for that matter).
I’m not even sure when we will introduce television and movies to him. I mean, I’d love for him to enjoy himself while indulging in some awesome, educational cartoons but that time is not now.
There are several reasons why we have chosen to raise our son this way…
and the most important reason lies within the research behind reading to your children and also the research behind children having screen time.
Here’s a quick look at the American Academy of Pediatrics Media Guidelines:
- For children under 18 months old, no screen time.
- For children 18 to 24 months old, parents should choose only high-quality media and watch it with their child.
- For children 2 to 5 years old, less than one hour per day of high-quality programming is recommended, with parents watching along.
Another reason we have chosen to raise our son this way is because growing up with a mother who was a reading specialist, I witnessed firsthand the impact reading has on kids.
Reading was introduced to my brothers and me at a very young age. Our mom read to us all the time and we loved it. I can still recall certain colors and images from some of my favorite childhood books.
Most importantly, I remember exactly what it felt like to sit on the couch as a loving family as we eagerly awaited to find out what was about to happen on the next page. I remember how safe, secure, and happy we all felt in those moments.
Yeah, we hated the fact that she wouldn’t let us play outside until our summer reading was done but it taught us some solid, valuable lessons such as how to develop a work ethic and reap the rewards once our duties were fulfilled.
Partly because of reading, we grew to become patient, kind, loving, good listeners who could entertain ourselves when our mom was busy.
Now, reading to my son has just come naturally. It’s not something we force or schedule into our daily routine. It just happens organically whenever he feels like reading – which is several times in one day.
When I need to do something around the house, I do not hand my cell phone to my son or turn the television on. Instead, I leave him to his own devices while keeping a close eye on him. He will consciously choose to sit and flip through a book while pointing and laughing at the pages. He will practice speaking by himself and when he doesn’t feel like reading anymore, he will pick up a toy and play until he realizes he would like my attention.
He entertains himself longer and longer with each week that passes. Along with reading to him, I play with him. A LOT. Although there are things I need to get done around the house (like working from home), I set aside as much time as I possibly can for him.
He has grown to appreciate my undivided attention while also understanding when and why he cannot have it (minus the few meltdowns he has had when my girlfriends and their kids come over – after a few hours of dealing with not having my undivided attention, he’s had enough!)
With all this being said, I want to encourage you to set your kids up for success by introducing books at an early age. But, it’s never too late to start reading together no matter their age.
If you are a working parent, encourage your child’s caretaker to read to him/her as often as possible and if you are able to make it home before your child’s bedtime, reading a book (along with snuggling) should be one of the last things they get to do before laying their head down.
In conclusion, start taking the time to consistently read to your children if you don’t already. The bonding experience and benefits your child will receive from reading several times a week will be monumental to his/her development throughout life.
Above all, you will without a doubt be providing them with a solid foundation that builds their sense of safety, sense of love, and confidence.
The world needs more of that.
Here are some of my top picks for the first year of life:
- Jellycat Soft Cloth Books, Peek A Baby
- Noisy Farm (My First Touch and Feel Sound Book)
- Ten Little Ladybugs
- Snuggle Puppy! (Boynton on Board)
- Babies Love First Words Chunky Lift-a-Flap Board Book (Babies Love)
- All of the above, plus…
- I Like to Squeak! How Do You Speak? (My Little World)
- Custom Board Book of Names & Faces from Pinhole Press
- Baby Chipmunk: Finger Puppet Book (Finger Puppet Boardbooks)
- Peek-a-Boo Jungle
- All of the above, plus…
- Moo Baa La La La
- Touch and Feel: Never Touch a Dinosaur
- Noisy Diggers
- Pop-Up Peekaboo! Colors: Pop-Up Surprise Under Every Flap!
- Amazing Animals: Play-A-Sound (Disney Baby Einstein)
- Can You Say It, Too? Woof! Woof!
- Goodnight Moon
I have SO many more recommendations – hundreds. Please feel free to leave a comment below with any questions or requests for more recommendations.
I’d also love to hear what some of your favorite children’s books are!