As a parent and a children's author, I often think about ways to encourage reading in children. Several of my books are written for the youngest--babies and toddlers. So this week, as time allows, I'll post several ideas on how to encourage reading and literacy in the very young.
The first and best advice is to make reading a natural part of a child's day. Children thrive on routine and stability, so start by building reading into the routine of your child's day.
When my son was young, we had reading time before naptime and before bedtime every day. Every afternoon, even when he was at the age when he started resisting naps, we still had our reading time. He would snuggle close on the couch, and we'd read a pile of books together.
Some of our favorites when he was a toddler were: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, any Richard Scarry book, the Berenstain Bears books, Curious George books, P.D. Eastman books (especially Go, Dog, Go! and Are You My Mother?), and so, so many others.
For young toddlers, one sentence or just a few words on each page is enough. That keeps their attention, and allows them to begin experiencing what reading is all about. As they get older, they can handle longer and more detailed storybooks, like Mike Mulligan or The Story of Ping or Make Way for the Ducklings.
One of my favorite memories of my son as a two year old was listening to and watching him "read" books that we'd read together many, many times, so many times, in fact, that he'd memorized them. Sometimes he even just said nonsense words, but he knew the rhythm of the story, what was coming next, and the ending. He had already, at that young age, discovered the strength of story--that a story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
We used to read a book together called "Wheels Are Everywhere." There wasn't much to it, just something along the lines of: "Wheels are in the city, in the country...wheels are on bicycles, cars, and trucks...etc." But he knew the ending: WHEELS ARE EVERYWHERE! And he'd say it with such enthusiasm, throwing his hands up in the air and shouting it.
Setting aside time for reading every day has so many positive benefits. You share with your child your joy for reading and stories. You get time with your child to bond and share a special time. Your child develops good listening skills. Your child has a calm, relaxing time to prepare for sleep. Your child learns about his or her world, and begins to experience the world through story.
In addition to home reading times, take advantage of story times at the library. Story times are often offered for children as young as 18 months, and most of these are staffed by wonderful librarians who love children and books.
Take a look at this blog for more information on children's literacy and promoting reading with children.