Reading to me has become some form of a rescue raft . At a young age I realized that reading gave me joy and made me feel good. The more I read the more success I achieved, which boosted my confidence. The more books I read the more knowledge I gained allowing me to have conversations with people from all walks of life. You see, reading allowed me to deeply comprehend the lives of people I would never truly appreciate in my daily life growing up in an Armenian private school. It gave me the ability to be more open minded about several topics including opening my mind to cultural diversity.
Growing up I didn’t care for reading leisurely. In fact in my early years I avoided reading books seeing them as a nerdy pastime. But my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Khechoumian, taught me how to read a book properly. She helped me analyze books so I really understood and enjoyed what I was reading. She would give a reward (movie tickets, trip to McDonalds) after you read a certain number of books and wrote a book report summarizing the book. But the true gift that came out of this experience was how much joy I got from the act of reading. It gave me a place to quietly escape in the comfort of my own home. It broadened my imagination and expanded my vocabulary.
Needless to say, I’m now on a mission to have my daughters relish reading as much as I do. My husband and I always read to our daughters and they love it. But was that enough? I enlisted the help of a woman I admire as an educator and a book lover herself, Dr. Natalie Berberian.
My interview with Dr. Berberian discusses how to raise a child who embraces reading in an age where iPads, iPhones, video games, TV are all competing for their attention.
Q: How early can you start reading to your child to make an impact?
Dr. Berberian: From the moment your baby is born, reading has beneficial effects. You literally can read anything to a newborn (cookbooks, self help books) the key here is the number of words an infant is exposed to. Research shows that the number of words an infant hears is directly linked to stronger language development and literacy. No TV/YOUTUBE does not count. The language heard has to be live, in person and directed at the child.
I also recommend allowing your infant to hold and feel the book (preferably a board book). Babies love using their senses by touching the pages, visualizing the illustrations, hearing the sound of the parents’ voices (even better if you change your voice for various characters). All the senses are being stimulated which is key for brain development. I recommend texturized books to really enhance the infant’s tactile senses as well.
Babies should be surrounded with BOARD BOOKS they can hold and touch and won’t fall apart easily. It should be part of their surroundings much like rattles and blocks are.
(Here is a personal favorite book I enjoyed reading to my daughters when they were babies: Where is Baby’s Belly Button. )Toddlers…
Q: How often do I need to read to my toddler?
Dr. Berberian: Read to them as many times a day everyday! Reading to your children at this age allows them to slow down and learn how to focus. It also allows your child to feel a sense of closeness snuggling up to a parent while hearing your beloved voice read a story. And don’t forget to be animated.
Q: My daughters have a tendency to interrupt several times during the story, should I tell them to wait till I finish reading the book?
Dr. Berberian: It’s completely OK to interrupt. This means that your child is engaged and that’s the goal. If they don’t seem engaged enough, ask them questions about the story (for example if a character’s facial expression appears sad ask your child what they think the character is feeling in that picture).
Q: How can I engage my toddler when I read to them?
Dr. Berberian:There are so many ways to engage your child. Point to the words, change your voice for different characters. Make it a fun experience. Don’t just pick it up and read in a monotone voice. At this point, book reading should be a part of their daily life. I also recommend selecting high quality picture books that are engaging, have illustrations, a range of vocabulary, and writing that is clever that the children can get into.
Q: How can parents encourage children to enjoy story time rather than playing on the iPad/iphone.
Dr. Berberian: The most important thing you can do is make book reading magical. Parents are role models, so if your child sees you reading regularly and enjoying it, that’s the first signal to a child that reading is a natural part of everyday life. If you want to raise a child who loves to read, be a reader!Emerging Readers…
Emerging readers is that magical moment when your child begins to recognize letters and is able to make out words on a page. This typically starts in prekindergarten (ages 3-5).
Q: How can I engage my child more when reading to them at this age?
Dr. Berberian: I like to divide the reading experience into 3 stages: pre-reading, reading, post reading. Pre-reading starts with looking at the cover and guessing what the book is going to be about. Ask who the author and illustrator is. During the reading portion I would stop 2-3 times max and ask them “what do you think is gonna happen next?” Use words like “predict”. Also allow your children to analyze facial expressions in books and ask them “How does the character feel in this picture?” These questions are more thought provoking and improves your child’s analytical skills.
The post reading part is the funnest. It doesn’t have to be immediately after reading, it can be the day after. Have activities for the book, let them draw out parts of the book, have them retell the story (tip retelling the story is one of the best ways to improve your child’s vocabulary/speaking skills, and it’s a great way to assess your child’s level of comprehension). Also make connections in your daily life to remind them about the book. For example if you read to your child “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” and a few days later you’re cooking pancakes for breakfast remind them of the book so they make connections.
Q: What kinds of books do you recommend at this stage?
Dr. Berberian: I recommend books with rhyming words and lots of repetition. This allows the child to recognize words and even memorize the book. Soon the parent will notice the child reading with them. The child will feel like they are actually reading and it will provide them the confidence to know that “I can read.”
I also love to introduce social, emotional books and multicultural books. These kinds of stories allow our children to have a glimpse at other people’s lives which is so important.
Q: As a kindergarten teacher can you tell which student is being read to at home?
Dr. Berberian: YES!!!!! It’s very obvious which students are being read to regularly and those that aren’t . Those who tend to watch more TV at home have a harder time focusing and sitting still.
Q: What are the differences between students who are read to regularly at home and those that aren’t?
Dr. Berberian: You can tell from the very first day of school which child has been read to from an early age just by their behaviors. Those kids who have been read to at an early age are able to just stare at a book and everything around them just disappears. They have the ability to sit still for longer periods of time because they’ve been accustomed to that and they know the process of reading a book: you sit still, you listen and get lost in the story. These kids are also more focused, ask insightful questions and use big words.
BOTTOM LINE: The earlier your start reading to your child the better, Their school readiness will be off the charts. Their vocabulary, comprehension skills, and their experiences are all improved because they’ve heard about it in a book. These children I’ve noticed tend to be more thoughtful, mature, more equipped to comprehend situations, and are better able to express themselves.
Q: What about e-book readers like Kindles and reading apps on tablets.
Dr. Berberian: For small children you are doing a disservice when you use reading tablets, mainly because the physical experience of holding a book, turning the page, is taken away. The idea that every book has a front and back cover are things we assess in children when starting school.
Q: For school aged children how much screen time do you recommend?
Dr. Berberian: I don’t know about the research backed recommended screen time but from a teacher’s perspective of what I would do for my own children in the future is to extremely limit it during the week (20-30 min max) and on the weekends it can be a little longer especially if as a family you want to watch a movie together. The key here is that the TV is a form of entertainment not something to be used all day to subdue your child.” A child must hear a thousand books read aloud to them, before they are able to read a book on their own”
“Early TV exposure in children ages 1-3 is associated with attention problems at age 7, according to a study from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle published in the April issue of PEDIATRICS. The study revealed that each hour of television watched per day at ages 1-3 increases the risk of attention problems, such as ADHD, by almost 10 percent at age 7.”