Summer is in full swing and every day children are gleefully running in the sprinkler parks and playing outside until way past bedtime. With school as a distant memory, it’s easy to forget to sit down with a book when it’s not an assignment or part of your family’s summertime routine. Here are ten quick tips for making reading a fun and relaxing part of every day:
1. Snuggle up. This one is #1 for a reason! A large part of young children’s enjoyment of reading is the comfort and security of being wrapped up in your lap, listening to your voice, and generally feeling snuggly! This is why reading is such a great activity right before bedtime. It’s an added bonus for parents who don’t have typically “cuddly” kids - built in cozy time! You’ll actually feel calmer from this quiet, close time as well. Win, win!
2. Pick a fun location. There is no rule that says reading has to be done sitting on the couch! I’ve seen the most reluctant readers happily crawl into a pretend tent with a flashlight and a book and sit for story after story. While my daughter loves to sit on my lap under a fuzzy blanket to read, she also likes “reading like snakes” (on the floor on our tummies), reading in a pillow fort made of blankets and couch cushions, and even reading in the tub (waterproof books, obviously!). We almost always have a book or two with us when we’re out and she gets a kick out of reading in a new place!
3. Let your child choose. This is a hard one and definitely the one I struggle with the most. Often, it means reading the same book until you can recite it backwards, forwards, and upside down. That’s ok! Children get something new out of a book every time they hear it and enjoy the comfort of repeating familiar pictures and words. If you don’t know where to start, think of something your child is interested in and capitalize on it! There are children’s books about literally any topic you can think of. The topic absolutely does not matter! Children are obviously learning from nonfiction books about dinosaurs, animals, and trucks but amazingly, they’re also learning from Paw Patrol, Disney princesses, fairy tales, and superheroes. As a general rule, reading anything is better than reading nothing at all!
4. Get the gist: Don’t read every word! When my toddler brings me a book she’s chosen from the library shelf, it’s almost always far too complicated and wordy for her 20-month-old attention span and understanding. In these cases, I make it up. I tell the story based on the pictures we see and don’t even glance over at the words. If I know the story, I’ll try to size it down for her but, more often than not, I just make up a brand new plot. It rarely makes sense and I’m certainly not on my way to writing any award-winning literature but she enjoys it! I try really hard never to tell her “That’s too old for you”. Looking ahead to her school years, I want her to have the confidence to approach any book, even challenging ones, with enthusiasm.
5. Talk about the pictures. This one relates well to #4. When I’m really at a loss because the book is too complicated or even if I can’t bear to read the same book again for the 46th time today, we chat about the pictures. Instead of reading at all, we flip through the book and play “I spy”. We find animals that are hiding (very common in children’s books!), we spot things in certain colors, and we generally chat about the pictures. A simple, natural question like “What do you see here?” is an easy icebreaker to start a conversation. The best part: there is no right or wrong answer!
6. Wonder out loud. I’m going to preface this by saying you’re going to feel really silly doing it. Especially if this is the 100th time you’ve read this book and you and your child both know the story. This is a great way to keep your child engaged with the plot and a great tool for him or her to have in school when reading complicated books. It looks something like this: You see a page with a dog climbing through a door in a fence. The words on the page say “Come back, puppy!” Pause on that page a minute and just narrate your own thoughts: “Hmmm I wonder where the puppy is going. What do you think is through that fence? Let’s see… maybe he sees his friend! Or maybe there’s a yummy treat on the other side! What do you think? Let’s find out.” Then just keep reading. Soon, your child will join right in and you’ll have a different conversation every time you read the book.
7. Relate to normal life. My daughter loves to chat. “Mommy, talk!” is one of her favorite requests. Lots of our talking happens in the stroller and, quite honestly, often it’s me monologuing. That’s where our repertoire of books comes in! Luckily, children’s books often relate to regular life events, like going to the grocery store, to the doctor, to the beach, etc. Sometimes I find myself saying “Remember when Maisy went to the grocery store? What did she get?” It gives us something different to talk about and helps her make connections between books and her real life.
8. Read alone. This is an easy one! Adults do not always have to be involved in children’s reading! Children are able to flip through the pictures in a book independently, even if they don’t know the story. Most pictures are colorful and interesting and grab children’s attention. Even very young children can flip through a familiar book and point out parts that they remember.
9. Get into a series. This one sort of speaks for itself. Children love familiarity and immediately enjoy a book if they know the characters. My daughter loves to know everyone’s names in a book. It also makes it so easy to take books out of the library! Right now, some of our favorite character series are Spot (by Eric Hill), Maisy (by Lucy Cousins), Biscuit (by Alyssa Satin Capucilli), and Stanley (by William Bee). We’re always looking for more characters to get to know and love so suggestions are welcome!
10. Don’t force it! Sometimes it’s just not the right moment to read. Maybe your child is too energetic, engaged in something else, overtired, or just not interested at that moment. No problem! Put it away and try again another time. If you want to give it one last try, sit in an accessible place with one of your child’s favorite books and start to read out loud and chat about the book. If your child still doesn’t come over on his or her own, put it away! It’s not always the right time to read!
One last reminder: this should be FUN! Happy reading!
Kristen Cronheim is a contributing writer for the Little Bee Learning Studio blog. She holds a BS from Cornell University in Human Development and a Masters in Early Childhood Education from Hofstra University. Kristen taught both PreK and Kindergarten for 5 years and created curricula devoted to play-based learning. She lives in Hoboken with her husband and daughter.