You know you should read to your child. But how?

Reading to your child is one of the best ways to expose your child to language – the foundation for reading, writing and higher-level thinking later on.

Even more importantly, though, reading together is “a way to develop warm, fuzzy, good feelings associated with books and learning,” says Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.

“That’s more important than reading all the words on the page. It’s the experience that matters,” he said.

Here are some tips for sharing books with babies, toddlers and preschoolers:

▪ Make sharing books part of every day. Read stories at various times and places, not just at bedtime. Take books with you to the park or on the bus.

▪ Snuggle up. Sit your child on your lap or comfortably beside you. Make sure your child has a good view of the book. Especially in the early months and years, reading is more about creating a peaceful, loving environment than what’s on the page.

▪ Show children the cover. Explain what the story is about. Talk about the author or illustrator. Ask older children what they think the story might be about, based on the cover.

▪ Point to the words. Run your finger along the words as you read them, from left to right and top to bottom. This helps children learn how books work.

▪ Let children turn the pages. Babies need board books or cloth books and help turning pages, but a 3-year-old can do it alone. And note: It’s OK to skip pages! Always follow your child’s lead.

▪ A few minutes is OK. Don’t worry if you don’t finish the story. Young children can sit only for a few minutes, but as they grow they will be able to sit longer.

▪ Talk or sing about the pictures. You don’t have to read all the words – or any of the words – to tell a story. Point at and name colors, shapes and objects on the page. Or make up your own story.

▪ Make the story come alive. Create voices for the characters and use your body to tell the story. Show surprise or other emotions that might reflect what’s happening in the book.

▪ Make it personal. Talk about your own family, pets or community when you are reading about others in a story.

▪ Ask questions. As you read, stop once in a while to talk about what’s happening in the story. Ask questions that make your child think. For example, “What color is the ball? … That’s right, the ball is red!” or “Where is the mouse? … There’s the mouse!”

▪ Let children ask questions, too. Use the story to engage in conversation and to talk about familiar activities and objects. Respond to your child’s comments or questions.

▪ Build on your child’s interests. If your child exhibits a fascination for certain things – dinosaurs or trucks or dogs or koala bears – go to the library and get some books about those topics.

▪ Above all, have fun. Don’t treat reading like a chore. Children can learn from you that books are fun, which is an important ingredient in developing a lifelong love of learning.

This content was created with support from Impact Literacy, a strategic initiative of the Wichita Community Foundation.

Sources: BrainWonders, a joint project by Boston University Medical Center, Erikson Institute and Zero to Three; Boston Basics; and Reading is Fundamental.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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