Reading is vital to a child’s growth, according to Bethany Hoglund, head of youth services at the Bellingham Public Library. So, we tapped her expertise on different aspects of reading.
Q: At what age should a child be introduced to reading, and how?
A: Learning to read begins at birth. Children are born learning and ready to learn. Studies show that 85 percent of brain development happens during the first three years of life. This critical window in brain development helps form the “wiring” necessary to think, communicate, move and form attachments with those around them. Reading aloud exposes children of all ages to new words, ideas, concepts and helps deepen the important loving bonds between parent/caregiver and child.
Babies often are first most interested in high-contrast books, the books with black and white illustrations, which are great for a baby’s developing eyes.
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The Bellingham Public Library staff also like to say that learning to read begins at birth, as learning to read is so much more than the decoding of letters and sounds. Learning to read comes after building a strong foundation of skills surrounding language and communication.
There are five practices that build a strong foundation to get ready to read: talking, singing, reading, writing and playing. We encourage parents to intentionally talk, sing, read, write and play with their child every day. Parents/caregivers are a child’s first and best teacher – beginning to read begins at home, not at school.
We also like to tell parents that it is never too late to start reading with and to their child. If it is not something you have done, start today. Visit your local public library for book recommendations and suggestions to get you started.
The Bellingham Public Library offers 15 free storytimes weekly to children ages birth to 8 years. Storytime is a highly interactive experience between parent/caregiver and child that features stories, songs and movement. Storytimes help to develop early literacy skills as well as a love of books, stories and the library.
Q: What is the best way to get a child interested in reading?
A: The best way to get a child interested in reading is to read with them and form a love of books and story early on. Make reading together and sharing stories an important, fun and special time together. Find stories and topics that the child is interested in. If the child is a struggling reader, empower the student to choose books they are interested in, not just those at their reading level.
Q: Why is reading so important?
A: The ability to read is a key to success. There are numerous studies that show correlations between being below reading standards in school and not graduating high school.
At a basic societal level, we want to have a country with literate citizens. There are too many doors of opportunity that are closed if one is unable to read. Reading together as a family forms strong, lasting bonds and memories. Adults that were read aloud to as a child by a parent or teacher can often fondly remember a book that mattered, even how that book made them feel at the time.
Reading in general also is important, as books are windows into the lives of others. Books give children and adults the opportunity to put themselves in another’s shoes and/or situation – to have an experience with which you are unfamiliar and uncomprehending of the situation.
I love how books have the ability to more authentically place you within a life/country/world/occurrence as an active participant in the story, to have direct insight into the thoughts and experiences of other more so than a movie or television show can do.
Books also can be used by parents/caregivers to gently introduce difficult topics, such as death. Shared reading allows for the child to ask questions of the parent/caregiver to help deepen their understanding and provide clarity. Conversely, the parent/caregiver can ask questions of the child about the story or characters help not only build comprehension skills, but to introduce important life skills such as empathy and compassion.
Q: How does it help with a child’s overall growth?
A: For me, it all goes back to the beginning. Shared reading helps build and strengthen the bonds of attachment. Strong bonds of attachment between parent/caregiver and child lead to the child feeling safe and secure; ready to grow, learn and flourish. Reading together early builds a strong foundation of early literacy skills upon which a child will be able to learn to read when ready. After learning to read, children move towards reading to learn. This progression leads to confidence in children and overall feelings of accomplishment, opportunity and success. We want all children to be confident and succeed; to be given the opportunity to do so from the beginning.
Q: What does a parent do if a child simply won’t pick up a book?
A: Have books around and available for your children. Have them in a place that kids can get to them on their own. Also, use your public library. Get your child a public library card of their own, and have your children explore the library and choose the books and topics they are interested in. Allowing kids to choose their own books is empowering and motivates the child to spend time looking at the books they’ve chosen. Come visit the Bellingham Public Library – we have a great staff who love to help match books to readers/listeners.
Spend time reading as a family. This can be as traditional as having a read-aloud before bedtime, or ensuring that there is always a book or story playing in the car while running errands or going on a road trip. Make stories part of your daily routine.
If television shows captivate the interest of your child, there are plenty of books featuring the same characters and storylines available. Additionally, the same is true for movies. Many movies are based upon books; after watching the movie try reading the book.
Additionally, remember that reading books is not the only way for a child to become a reader. Be intentional about talking, singing, writing and playing with your child every day, in addition to reading. For fun suggestions about incorporating the five practices into your daily routine, visit the Bellingham Public Library’s early literacy webpage for videos and tips at bellinghampubliclibrary.org.
Q: With the advent of smartphones, apps and TV, has reading books become obsolete?
A: No, reading books is, and will continue to be, relevant. That said, smartphones, apps and TV play a large role in our society and lives and are pretty amazing tools. Reading books requires us to slow down and use our imagination and critical thinking.
One of the best ways to model the importance of reading is to model it for the young people in your lives. Do your children always see you on your phone or tablet, or do they see you choosing a book, magazine or newspaper?
Much like a well-balanced diet, I think we should strive for a well-balanced use of media, both digital and print for children and adults. For many (myself included), this is harder than it sounds. Set the stage and expectation for your family by consciously and intentionally setting your device aside and choosing a book.
Ready to read
Bethany Hoglund, head of youth services at the Bellingham Public Library, has a few tips for parents in regards to reading:
- Reading is supposed to be fun. Make reading a special, enjoyable time together, rather than a chore. Use your local library staff to help recommend books that your child (and you.) will enjoy.
- Read books over and over. While the titles may get repetitive for you, children learn from repetition and love listening to stories over and over. Ask them to help retell the story.
- If you only make it through one or two pages of a book, no problem. Don’t force it, but don’t give up. Feel free to not read every page or every word, do what fits the attention span of your child and slowly work up to the whole story.
- Try reading the pictures rather than reading the words. Feel empowered to just talk about the pictures in books rather than reading the words. This is a fun way to draw attention to the nuances in the pictures and ask your child to help discover what is going on in the story.
- It is important to talk, sing, read, play and write in your home language (the language most comfortable for you).
- We like to ask the question “what does reading look like at every age?” This honors the child at whatever stage of reading development they are at, and acknowledges that there are many stages within a child’s development. For example, babies can be readers. Reading for a baby is often chewing on a board book. A toddler retelling a favorite story as they turn the pages is reading. Celebrate these successes and accomplishments to help encourage the child to continue on their journey of learning to read.