As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was reading. I devoured books by the dozen! Before family vacations, we'd max out our rental limit at the library and I'd finish all of them before we even got to our destination. My parents had to fight me for the Reader's Digest that was delivered to our house every few weeks. I even hoarded every Highlights magazine and I stalked our biannual book fair at the school. My childhood was filled with lots of Personal Pan Pizzas from the BookIt Club - does anyone else remember that awesome reading program?
My love of reading held up through middle school and high school and like many, waned when I hit college. Not because I needed the escape or the exploration any less - but because I just had to shovel in so much required reading that I found it hard to make time for my own recreational reading pursuits. I've started to read again - albeit, often in the form of audiobooks - but I wish I had never stopped.
Did you know that kids in lower socioeconomic classes hear 30 MILLION fewer words by age 3 - although that gap narrows to 4 million words by age 4. This statistic drives home the importance of instilling a love of reading and encouraging early literacy in your kiddos. No matter their start in life, kids with strong reading skills have a step-up on their less-literary peers. But how can a parent make reading exciting for their kids? Is it a matter of routine? How early should we be expecting kids to participate in storytime? Are there certain magical books that will captivate our kids' attention and make them lifelong readers?
I'm no literary critic, and I find it hard to believe that there is a single answer to this question: What makes a children's book a great book? Based on my own experience as a child, and reinforced by my exposure to early childhood reading through my own kids, I have a few ideas.
Although this particular criteria fades in importance as kids get older, I cannot emphasize enough the significance of sensory stimulation. In those early days, touchy-feely books are a fantastic introduction to reading. Because they prompt interaction, they are more likely to hold a child's attention. They also elicit some self-guided exploration of the material. My son would always flip back to his favorite pages when we would read together. Flap books, pop-up books, and soft fabric books are all great examples of the type of sensory play that ties reading with fun from day one!
Let's talk about the king of childrens' books - Dr. Seuss. His whimsical stories captivate audiences of all ages, and for good reason! A huge part of his appeal is the freedom to dwell in one's imagination. The silly illustrations and the wacky names open the reader to the unexpected, the playful, the nonsensical. You know, the stuff of childhood innocence! The world can be just as colorful as we pretend it to be - and kids have the strongest "pretending muscles" of us all.
The moral of the story is simple: a great children's book has a moral of the story. It needn't be tragic (like The Velveteen Rabbit) or heavy (The Giving Tree). I should add - it can be, and those are both fantastic kids' books. But reading can be a way to impart life lessons in a way that the reader can easily grasp. Wholesome content drives home the importance of treating others with compassion and putting ourselves in others' shoes. It also promotes the safety and security that is so critical to a healthy, happy childhood. Even silly Seuss managed to pack a punch in his tales.
Whatever books you prefer, read to your child. Even if it's the newspaper - or esoteric poetry - the path to literacy begins at birth. You can be your child's guide to a lifelong love of reading! All it takes a little bit of storytime and a few magical moments.
Did you enjoy reading as a young child? What were your favorite children's books? How have you inspired a love of reading in your own little ones? Quote your favorite line to me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3 and I'll try to guess which book it's from!