One of the most important things parents can do, beyond keeping kids healthy and safe, is to read with them. That means starting when they are newborns and not even able to talk, and continuing well beyond the years that they can read by themselves. Study after study shows that early reading with children helps them learn to speak, interact, bond with parents and read early themselves, and reading with kids who already know how to read helps them feel close to caretakers, understand the world around them and be empathetic citizens of the world.
We spoke with Liza Baker, the executive editorial director at Scholastic, which just released its Kids & Family Reading Report.
“It’s so important to start reading from Day One,” she says. “The sound of your voice, the lyrical quality of the younger [books] are poetic … It’s magical, even at 8 weeks old they focus momentarily, they’re closer to your heart.” As they begin to grow, families should make sure books are available everywhere in the home, like it’s your “daily bread.” (Amen.) But it shouldn’t end when kids begin to read on their own. “As they become independent readers, we tend to let them go, but even kids in older demographics love nothing more than that time with their parents,” Baker says. “We’re blown away that kids time and again said the most special time they recall spending with a parent is reading together.”
Pediatricians say: Read to your babies
Here, Baker shares highlights of the report and offers tips for parents on how to turn their babies and children into readers.
Read aloud early — and keep it going! The good news, according to the new Kids & Family Reading Report by Scholastic, is that more than three out of four parents who have children ages 5 and younger start reading aloud before their child reaches his first birthday. This practice increased to 40 percent in 2016 from 30 percent in 2014 among parents who read aloud before their baby is 3 months old. The research also showed that more parents of 3- to 5-year-olds are reading aloud frequently, with 62 percent of these parents reading aloud five to seven days a week, compared with 55 percent in 2014.
Tips for encouraging kids to read, from parents who know a few things about books
But it’s not all great news: There’s been a drop in parents continuing to read aloud after age 5.
Tip to keep it going: Have fun and be playful. Use this as an opportunity to ham it up and perhaps create different character voices to really engage the child. Don’t be shy about not perfecting the read aloud — especially with little ones. Don’t feel discouraged if a younger child gets distracted or interrupts story time with questions. That’s all part of the learning journey and reading process. In fact, books like those in the new StoryPlay series feature prompts and questions for the parent to ask throughout the story to keep young kids engaged and to enhance early reading comprehension.
As for kids in the early elementary level, it’s still important to read aloud, and there are many books to choose from. Try Dog Man by Dav Pilkey, to associate reading as a laugh-out-loud experience. For kids ages 8 and beyond — who still love being read to, according to our research — go for modern classics like the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, a perfect family read aloud, including the new illustrated editions with art by Jim Kay.
Be a resource to your kids for book ideas — even if they don’t ask — especially for infrequent readers. Scholastic’s research shows that parents underestimate that kids need help finding books. Only 29 percent of parents agree “my child has trouble finding books he/she likes,” whereas 41 percent of kids say finding books they like is a challenge. This number increases to 57 percent among infrequent readers.
Tip: For younger kids, see which titles they gravitate toward. Do they like animals? Try Duck on a Tractor by David Shannon, or Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs by Eric Litwin, or books by Nic Bishop. Do they like interactive books? Try Are You My Cuddle Bunny? by Sandra Magsamen, What’s in My Train? by Linda Bleck, or I Love Music: My First Sounds Book by Marion Billet.
Research shows kids of all ages want books that “make me laugh.” Parents can also get in on the fun with these silly books. For younger kids, go with King Baby by Kate Beaton or I’ll Wait Mr. Panda by Steve Antony. For the elementary level and early chapter book stage, go for the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey or check out the Branches series with Press Start: Game Over Super Rabbit Boy! by Thomas Flintham. For middle-grade readers, try the Crimebiters series by Tommy Greenwald or the Swindle series by Gordon Korman. For the Young Adult crowd, go for Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky.
Don’t forget adding books in your home library that showcase diverse story lines and characters. When looking for children’s books to read for fun, both kids (37 percent) and parents (42 percent) mostly agree they “just want a good story” and a similar percentage want books that make kids laugh. One in 10 kids ages 12 to 17 say they specifically look for books that have “culturally or ethnically diverse story lines, settings or characters.”
Tip: Look for stories that showcase different experiences, backgrounds, religions, identities and more to help your child find him or herself in books — as well as learn about other people’s lives. This will teach children the importance of empathy and kindness. Some top picture books include Cleonardo, the Little Inventor by Mary Grandpré, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! by Carmen Agra Deedy, and Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock. Some great chapter books include Ugly Cat and Pablo by Isabel Quintero and Emma is on the Air by Aida Siegal. For middle grades, check out Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan and George by Alex Gino. For YA readers, go for Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self.
It takes a village — look to teachers, school librarians and more for book suggestions. Scholastic asked kids where they get the best ideas for books to read for fun. Overall, kids say teachers and school librarians (51 percent), followed by their peers (50 percent). Younger kids (6 to 11) are the most likely to get great picks from school book clubs and fairs, and older kids (15 to 17) are the most likely to find book suggestions on social media.
Tip: Ask your teacher what she or he has heard of that will help even the most reluctant reader stay engaged. Teachers see firsthand what works. Don’t forget your public or school librarian. They are vital to the community, as research showed 95 percent of parents agree that “every community needs to have a public library” and “every child deserves a school library.” I’m so grateful for our town library and the wonderful librarian there. She is a central force in our town, and I am in frequent touch with her for book suggestions. Recently, my eldest son became very interested in history, but he craved a story framework. Our terrific librarian, Carolyn, introduced him to the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis, and it was a total fit for him age-wise and content-wise. She knew the perfect book to get him started — and off he went — tackling that series book by book.
Never forget — choice rules when kids read for fun. Eighty-nine percent of kids ages 6 to 17 agree that the favorite books “are the ones that I have picked out myself.” And book choice starts early, as 67 percent of parents with kids up to age 5 reported that their kids choose the books for read-aloud time. This goes up to 81 percent of parents with kids ages 3 to 5.
If you are stumped for great books for kids to choose, the top books that parents reported reading aloud over and over again for little ones include Dr. Seuss books such as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
For all kids, parents with children up to age 17 recommend that the books that every child should read are Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Magic Tree House and The Chronicles of Narnia. Book series are a great way to get kids hooked on story lines and characters.
Tip: Make books accessible. Make sure your bookshelves are low enough for kids to reach the book that they want to read. Keep books by your children’s bedside, in the playroom — all over the house. Bring books with you on car trips, to the grocery store, or even to the doctor’s office waiting room. Rather than handing them a device, hand them a book they love. The more accessible you make books, the more you’ll see their reading frequency grow. Also, if your child needs a bit more guidance on choosing books, narrow it down to a nice range of selection and invite them to pick the book they want for that moment. It will change day to day and month to month, so be open and ready to grow and change along with your budding lifelong reader.