You have done your fingerplays and your puppets. You try to read to your young child on a daily basis and, really, it is not so bad after all. In fact, you kind of enjoy sitting down on the couch with your child and having your child snuggle in close to you and listen to you weave a story out of the pictures and words in the book. It is relaxing, comforting and fulfilling for the both of you. But it just does not last long enough since your child just cannot sit still for that long. After a few minutes of relaxation and comfort, your child becomes a raging ball of energy that just wants to flip the pages and chatter about the pictures. You think to yourself: “I like the first few minutes. They even help me unwind. But what is the point of finishing a book when I have to wrestle with my child through the last half of the book?”
As I wrote in a previous article, even if this is happening to you and you get frustrated because your child does not seem to be following the book, it is important that you do not give up out of frustration. So what if your child does not want to hear the story but would rather point at the picture of the bird on the page? That is ok. So you point back at the bird and talk about that with the child. Make your own little story about that. Get your child’s feedback on the picture. If you are looking at the book and sharing from the book, even if it is not the printed words, you are still building a couple of the key early literacy skills.
First, you are teaching your child to love books. This may not seem like much but our experiences in early childhood can shape our future actions and activities even if the memories fade to the point where we cannot retrieve them anymore. Sitting with your child and enjoying a book can lead to a lifelong enjoyment of reading even if the child is too small to understand the words written on the page.
Second, you are teaching your child that the pictures and words in the book have meaning. This will lead them to further explore books as they grow older. Even if they are too small to read the words, simply pointing at the pictures and talking to them about the pictures lets the child know that what is in the book has meaning. This will spark their interest and imagination so that the natural inquisitiveness of your child will kick in and lead them to explore books further. Children are natural puzzle solvers as they learn about the world around them and familiarizing them with books gives them another avenue that they can explore. Books come natural to their exploration if they are presented to a child in this manner as all children have some desire for order and routine and the natural progression of a book through its pages provides this order to them at some level. Through repeated exposure to books, your child will come to recognize the patterns and lay the groundwork for reading even before they can read the words for themselves.
Lastly, pointing at the pictures and talking about them is a great way to reach a young child but also make it a point of emphasis to point out the words to your child so that they will come to understand that the words as well as the pictures have meaning. This again will appeal to your child’s natural curiosity and give them a drive to figure out the meaning behind all that lies inside a book’s cover. The pictures will stand out more to a young child as the pictures are colorful and more easily understandable to a young child, but letting them know that the words have meaning also will lead them to explore the letters and engender a lifelong desire to expand on their knowledge through the written word.
These points will be expanded upon further and I again refer you to the Hennepin County Library’s website at hclib.org for more material about reading to young children. As parents, especially parents of one child, it is important to understand that you are not alone in the raising of your child. Make sure that you take any help that is available to you in teaching your young child and preparing them for the years that lie ahead.