An early start, as most of us know, is the key to nearly everything in child-rearing. It's all about the formation of good habits, and good attitudes (in the parents as well as the children). The same thing holds for literacy. The first day your sweet bundle is brought home from the hospital is a first opportunity for you to read to them. Lay them on the bed next to you, hold a brightly colored book in their line of sight, and with great excitement and animation...read it. Ask them questions like, "See the red balloon?" as you point it out. Get excited, "Oh, my...isn't that puppy CUTE?!" You won't believe how soon their eyes find the spot you point out. You won't believe how soon they get excited about a favorite picture, or a favorite book and begin to kick and coo in response.
The dog-eared volume below was our first baby's first book, a simple collection of nursery rhymes with old-fashioned pictures. Somehow, I had never memorized all those old-fashioned poems with rollicking rhythm. But I read them to her - pointed out the sheep, the cow, the red barn - and soon found myself reciting them whenever we saw - a sheep, a cow, a red barn.
Have you ever noticed that the things in life that are truly important are not the same things that are seemingly urgent? The tyranny of the seemingly urgent often keeps us from the things that are truly important. I know. I've been there. Here are five key ideas to help build more time for reading into your family evenings. They worked for me - maybe they'll help you too!:
- Bathtime. Yup. When they are splashing and playing...you can be reading. Hold that book up for them to see. Talk about it with them. Let them scoop water, play with a toy duck or boat, and generally soak the dirt off while you read. You know they'll be in the tub for long enough to read through at least one story, and you can't leave them alone.... So, just do it!
- DVR that show. Yup. Never watch live TV again. Just by DVR-ing your favorite show - or the evening news - you will gain 15 minutes for every hour by skipping through the commercials later. Promise. And that's plenty of time for a bedtime story - and a nursery rhyme or song too!
- Think about all the activities that crowd your family evenings. Is there any way to streamline? To divest? We made a family decision that our children's weekday evening activities were limited - only one night out per week for AWANA at church. We also got rid of the T.V. for almost a decade, before bringing it back for movies and planned DVR'd shows only. When sports became an issue as they grew older, we had all of them in one sport. Dinner was simplified during the week. Re-prioritizing is hard, sometimes crushingly so. I also understand that a spouse's needs and wants take priority. However, being purposeful and aware can in and of itself bring change. When we first thought about giving up TV, my husband resisted. After we talked about it, though, he realized that most of the time he didn't approach the TV with a purpose - it was just a habit. It's the same for any screen-time, including computer, youtube watching, gaming. He became the advocate for change in how we approach screentime.
- Enlist technology - but don't abandon them to it. We used tape books and CD books (borrow at the library, and ask for them as presents)- right until we hit on the bright idea to MAKE OUR OWN. Yup. Even better yet - get Grandma and Tia or Auntie to make a CD reading a book - it will be such a hit! With an inexpensive computer mic, and some free software (like Audacity), they'll soon be ready to create a story CD. If they can say hello, talk to the child as if they are together, read the book with inflection and excitement - it is a win! Label the CD with a sharpie, bag the CD and the book together in a gallon-sized ziploc bag to help keep them together, and you are set! These are great for car rides, and you can discuss the story with them after listening. There are also sites online (including Red Couch Storytime!) where storytellers will tell a story to your child. While these sites are not substitutes for reading to your child, they can help you increase the language interaction your child is receiving.
- Enlist help! When my kids were little, I often would ask an older sibling to sit with a younger sibling and read to us both while I made dinner. I would plop them on a nearby couch with a few books, and I was always amazed how long the baby would sit to listen to a sibling read to him/her. In fact, as you can see in the picture below, my olders didn't just read board books to the babies. They read BOOKS. There is something entrancing about an older sibling - harness that power for good! (And yes, why, yes that IS a chip bag my son is holding while he reads. Hey. No judging. Dinner was late! )
Join me there, won't you?
Not all rigor is mortis!