- Bathtub Fun - One of our favorite "pre-reading" activities was playing with foam letters in the bathtub. William would line them up from A to Z and then hide his eyes. I would remove a letter and he would try to guess which one was missing. Sometimes instead of removing a letter I would rearrange them. As he got older, we would spell words for each other and then read them.
- Letter Art - Kids love to make art using all kinds of media. I invested in alphabet rubber stamps so that William's art could be adorned with letters and words. In the beginning, the artwork contained his just his name stamped on the page. Then, the objects in the scenes were labeled. Now, the art is fully described or sometimes forms the pages of a story.
- Tell Stories - Listening and speaking are important tools for developing literacy skills. Children are born storytellers. Sometimes all it takes is a prompt or open-ended sentence to get the ball rolling. While preparing dinner my son sits at the kitchen counter and we tell stories in tandem. I usually begin with "Once upon a time there was a boy named William who ..." William then chimes in with the next sentence. Then it's my turn. If he doesn't like my sentence, he often offers to "fix it" for me. We continue this way until the story is finished. This is a great activity that is portable. We do this in the car, while waiting for appointments and other times when we need to fill gaps in our day.
- Write Stories - When you find a book or character your child loves, try to imagine together what the next adventure might be. William was very fond of Henry and Mudge and Mr Putter and Tabby books for quite a while. Every so often he'd speculate on the kind of story he would like to see. I made him several blank books and wrote the title Mr Putter and Tabby __. William filled in the blank and then set off writing and illustrating his own story. We have many of these homemade books that became part of our regular reading routine. For a young child, there is often nothing better or more than reading your own words on the page.
- Cook Something Up - We need to recognize that today reading occurs in many different forms and media. We read maps, music, recipes, signs, notes, letters and more. When I can’t commit to a novel I read poetry and cookbooks. Since William loves to help out in the kitchen, particularly when I’m baking, he is my official "recipe reader." In addition to telling me what ingredients I need and how much, he delights in reading the introductions and notes about what we’re cooking.
- Sign Poetry - Travel is actually a very good time to practice reading skills. We keep a pen and paper in the car and often play a game where we collect words and phrases for poetry. We read and write (not me silly, I’m driving!) words we find on signs, billboards, bumper stickers, license plates, etc. Once we have a decent list, we make up silly poems using the words. Lately the words Ben Franklin, fresh, gas (yes, he’s 8–enough said), stop and target keep reappearing in our poems. To keep them new we try to find rhyming words to flesh out the poem, and when we can’t think of words, we make up our own!
- Never Leave Home Without It - No, I'm not talking about a credit card, I'm talking about a book. When I was growing up my father never left the house without a book. These days, neither do we. Anytime we leave the house for errands we carry a bag that holds plain paper, crayons or colored pencils, and a few books that William has selected. Now the mantra before heading out is "Go to the bathroom and then grab a book." There always seems to be time to read in the car, the doctor's office, the restaurant, you name it. Develop this habit now and it will last a lifetime. William packs books in his backpack every morning so he has something to read while waiting for the afternoon bus.
- Check It Out! - Get your child a library card. When William turned five I promised him he could have his very own library card. On his birthday we went to the public library, filled out the paperwork, and he signed his name. This is a big responsibility and one that he takes very seriously. He has his own book bag for transporting books to and from the library. He loves to use the automated systems to return and check out books. Since our library has such a great web site, we can go online to look at his reading history and even get neat little printouts of the books each week.
- Use That Card - Once your child has a library card, you need to use it. I know that this isn't always easy, but if you can make time for piano lessons, swim team and the myriad of other outside commitments your children have, you can make time to visit the library one day a week. William and I go every Friday when he gets home from school. The key here is to pick a date and make it happen at the same time each week. Your child will not only have something to look forward to, but also have a deadline for finishing some of those books. While you're there, check out some books for yourself. Modeling the importance of reading in your own life will send a powerful message.
- Hey, What's This? - My son is at that age where he generally turns his nose up at most books I recommend directly. However, I am smarter than the average bear. Now when we go to the library I check out books I think he'll like. When he asks about them, I simply say they're MY books. When we get home from the library our routine is to look over our books. I make a big deal out of looking at mine. Then I leave the ones meant for him on the counter or at the table where he sits. Works. Every. Time.
- Can You Hear Me? - I have an iPod dock on my kitchen counter. While I generally listen to NPR while cooking meals, I listen to audiobooks while cleaning up and baking. William is generally with me in the kitchen when the good stuff is cooking, so we listen to stories together. At first we started listening to audio for which we had the companion book. Now we listen to all kinds of pieces. The best part about audio stories is that they too are portable, making for a great listen in the car. They also fill a nice gap in the evening when we need some quiet time. Now William often lets a story lull him to sleep instead of music.
- Light Up the Night - Buy your child a flashlight or book light and let him/her read under the covers. William will actually go to bed early if I tell him he can have time reading AFTER lights out. Reading undercover is fun and helps build independence.
- Expand Your Horizons - Sometimes I think reading should be like the buffet at my favorite organic grocery store–there’s a whole lot of variety and one day I hope to taste it all. We need to encourage kids to try more than the same old stuff on the menu. Don't get me wrong, as I love picture books as much as the next person, but only reading from the same genre or format can get pretty old. Introduce your kids to nonfiction, poetry, folktales, biography, comic books, graphic novels, and anything else you think they might like. Eventually you will connect with the right stuff, even for the most reluctant of readers.
The most important and obvious piece of advice I can give you is to read TO your child every day, no matter how old he/she is. Make time to do it, make it routine, and make it mandatory. It should be the one thing that isn't missed, no matter what. Even though William and I frequently read throughout the day, the one time we do not miss reading together is at bedtime. We curl up together under the covers, read the books he selects, talk about them, and then talk about the day that is ending and our plans for the next one.
One more thing–Make sure your child has books of his/her own. While libraries are a wonderful resource, there is simply no replacement for owning your own books. Every child should have this opportunity. William and I spend a lot of time at consignment shops and yard sales looking for used books. We also buy online and in the bargain book section. I send book lists to relatives looking for ideas for birthdays and holidays. The gift of a book is one that will keep on giving, so make sure books get their due right along with the toys and games that are so popular.
Today's subject on Raising Readers is being hosted by Terry Doherty at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog. You can find other entries on this topic at the following sites.
- Share a Story-Shape a Future: It all Starts with Raising Readers - Terry Doherty
- Making Time in the Classroom for Read Alouds - Sarah Mulhern @ The Reading Zone
- Look for the Clues - Tips and Tricks to Uncover and Help a Remedial Reader - Sandra Stiles guest post on Scrub-a-Dub-Tub
- It's Bigger than the Book: Building Strong Readers at any Age with a Daily Dose of Read Aloud - Cathy Miller interview on the Share a Story - Shape a Future blog
- Minding the Gap: Engaging Gifted Readers - Donalyn Miller @ The Book Whisperer
Day 3 is dedicated to read aloud.
Day 4 looks at visiting libraries.
Day 5 is all about the future of reading and the role of technology.
Be sure to check out the entire schedule for the week at the Share a Story - Shape a Future blog.