"Children are made readers in the laps of their parents"


I always like to begin my classes on children’s literature by asking students to reflect on their own experiences of being read to as a child, to look back at the books that built them. 

But you know what? Every year I’m taken aback by how few have this experience, reminding me that it is not something to be taken for granted. And for those who did have the privilege of being read to, the experience pretty much ended sometime during Grade 1 or 2 when they had acquired the skill of reading. 

And every year that makes me kind of sad, because that early reading process is so incredibly important. And special. And magical.


Recently I was asked to contribute to a short article on encouraging young children to read and that got me thinking. Here are some of the things that came to mind and which, for me at least, make all the difference:

As writer Emilie Buchwald stated, “Children are made readers in the laps of their parents”. This sums up the incredibly powerful role parents play in establishing a love of reading in young children. Books represent quality time with mom or dad, be it with cuddles before bed or to calm down and bond after a tantrum, or to giggle and laugh about together during the day. It’s about so much more than just a book or a story at this stage, so it’s important to foster the relationship as well as a love of books.

Books should be everywhere in the home (not just neatly stacked on bookshelves) – on coffee tables, on beds, on the couch, on the kitchen counter, even on the floor. It may seem contradictory, but when children see books everywhere, they become part of their daily lives which is more likely to foster a love of books later on. Bored, in need of distraction or just curious – just grab your nearest book!

Young children, in particular, relate to books as objects first before they fully understand how they work or what they do. They are attracted to the bright, cheerful covers, they want to explore them in a tactile way – what do they feel like? Are they heavy or light? Perhaps even, what do they taste like? There is nothing wrong when toddlers treat books like objects to play with. Learning how to treat a book gently comes later, so for now, books are about fun, exploration and learning. This is where tactile books, books with holes, pop-up books or books with flaps become very popular and can provide endless entertainment for curious fingers and curious minds.

Reading to toddlers and young children should be about interaction, so mom or dad should get creative for story time! There’s no need to stick to the script – much amusement can be had when a familiar story is told with a new twist. The ensuing argument is a great opportunity for language development. Repetition, rhyme, word play and prediction are all part of the parental tool box when it comes to story-telling and language. The child can complete sentences, guess what will happen next, think up reasons why something happened, repeat words or phrases and, in a general sense, let story-time become more of a conversation than about making it from beginning to end.

Probably the most important, yet often forgotten, element of fostering a love of reading in children is for parents to show an interest in books themselves. Little eyes are always watching and they notice the objects that occupy the hands and minds of the adults around them – is it a cellphone or is it a book? What fascinates mom or dad is more likely to draw the attention of children too. Parents should remember, that buying lots of books doesn’t automatically encourage reading, becoming a reading role model does.



(Originally posted on my blog 19 May 2019)

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