Column: Compelling benefits come from reading to kids

To compete globally, young people today need literacy skills far more advanced than have been required of any previous generation. Strong reading, writing and thinking skills are essential not only for success in school and the workplace, but also for participation in civic life. Additionally, today’s economy requires students to possess a high skill set in both literacy and numeracy to be successful.

Dr. Mary E. Wolverton

Dr. Mary E. Wolverton

Parents and educators have a long history of being partners in developing and fostering literacy skills with our students. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to build a strong literacy foundation with their children at a very young age. Research is compelling on the positive impact that reading to young children has on developing literacy skills for our children. I have fond memories of reading to my children at a very young age. While it was a part of the bedtime rituals, I remember the excitement of the first words they read, as well as the first book they were able to read to me.

As a new grandmother, I see many similar experiences with our new grandson. While he is not yet 1-year-old, he is already familiar enough with books in that he is turning pages while we read to him. I additionally see equal excitement with books we read on our iPad. Technology provides another opportunity for our children to interact with varied literacy opportunities.

By reading aloud together, by being examples, and by doing other activities, parents are in a unique position to help children enjoy reading and see the value of it. It is never too early, or too late, to start reading to your children.  Children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice the existence of printed words on a page. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. Language acquisition is greatly enhanced when children have increased exposure to reading.

Students entering kindergarten who possess 4,000 to 5,000 vocabulary words have a solid foundation for success with mastery of reading. Vocabulary development is critical for our students each year progressively.  Children who read on a consistent basis have a higher likelihood of reading at or above grade level, and performing well in an academic setting. As summer vacation is fast approaching, families can continue to support their children by encouraging reading opportunities.

Here are some easy ways to keep your children reading over the summer break:

• Take advantage of the summer reading programs available at public libraries and visit them often to borrow books with your children.

• Set aside a short period of time each day for reading and get the whole family to join in.

• If your child is a reluctant reader, encourage your child to ask the children’s librarian to help find books that would appeal to him or her. When someone has personally time taken to recommend a book, your child is more likely to read it.

• If your children feel they are too old to be read to, ask them to read to you.

• Find a book the whole family will enjoy. After each family member has read it, spend time discussing it.
Share with your child some of the books you cherished as a child and explain why they appealed to you.

• If you take a family road trip this summer, ban the personal music or video devices for a portion of the drive time and instead read aloud a book everyone will enjoy.

Scout out any “Little Free Libraries” in your neighborhood and use them to exchange books with your neighbors. If you don’t have one in your neighborhood, enlist your children in creating your own. Details are available at www.littlefreelibrary.org.

Most important, make it fun. You may create wonderful summer memories around good books that your children will pass on to their own children some day.

Dr. Mary Wolverton is the associate superintendent for elementary schools in the Anoka Hennepin School District.

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