So, the other night I was tired from a packed day of fun activities and cooking and cleaning up. I was pushing baths and bedtime hard, when my oldest said, "Please, read to me, mommy." Such a simple phrase, but my reaction was not so simple. I chirped a big, loud, "No, not tonight!" and went into a long explanation as to why I wasn't going to read.
This of course led to a pout then a cry. See, I had hurt my child's feelings. I stopped what I was busily doing and realized that we had gotten so busy with life since school had started back that we hadn't been consistently reading every night. I know it sounds simple, a book or two a night is really no big deal. But, some days, it seems like a HUGE deal because we never slow down. So, on the verge of holiday season, in which we are about to leap, I thought it would be a good time to write this blog. See, my message to you is two-fold, one I want to share the importance of early literacy (being a former teacher and literacy trained coach), and the second is the importance of stopping and being in the moment, especially during the busiest time of the year.
First of all, early literacy is so important to children. Hearing language and stories read over and over is how one builds vocabulary, and skills to learn to read in the future. It also creates a love for books. I will start off by plugging Imagination Library, created by the one and only Dolly Parton! Check with your local United Way and sign up your children or anyone you know who falls in the birth-5 years old age group. It awards you a free book every month until the child turns 5. It is one of the best and fastest growing early literacy initiatives. It helps foster a love for reading at a young age and gets books in children's hands absolutely free!
The success in school and in life is directly related to a child's ability to read and write well. By age 3, a preschooler's vocabulary consists of an average of 2,000-4,000 words, and by age 5, 5,000-8,000 words, (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997, 107-109). 3-4 year olds begin to have an extensive vocabulary that uses language to convey feelings, desires, and to ask questions, and much more. Through books and story time children can be taught about their feelings and how to handle situations that teaches them to use words instead of hitting or biting. Reading also begins teaching them how words and writing are extensions of each other. Oral and written language can them be explored and shown that they coexist as children begin to read with you. They will not only notice the pictures and illustrations, but also the words on the page.
To encourage early literacy development and language development, begin reading to your children everyday. 20-30 minutes a day is a good amount of time. We like to read after baths, right before bed. Find a good time that works for your family and make it consistent. Just make sure you're giving your full attention to your kids; no phones, no electronics or tv...no distractions! Talk about the cover and what the book might be about, and look at the pictures on the pages and talk about them. Have them answer questions as you ask things about the book. Have them notice the words on the page, and explain that you are reading the words (writing), as they are looking at the pictures, and listening. Just the routine of seeing language on the page in a natural setting such as reading each day will begin to allow them to notice things you have not even intentionally taught them, such as, how to hold a book, how to turn a page, along with many others. They will eventually notice even more detailed things like, every sentence begins with a capital letter, and ends with some sort of punctuation. Through reading, these lessons that they must learn, wont be taught in isolation, but instead in a natural manner. Children retain information better when things are taught naturally.
Remember, as you set this routine and make it consistent, it will become easier to do. If you miss a day, don't beat yourself up. Just make sure you get back at it the next day. Your children will love this time with you, as well. I always let each of mine pick one or two books each depending on length. They love picking their books each night. Its okay if they want to read the same books over and over. (insert eye roll :) ) It helps them begin to learn new words and language. If they have a book that they want read over and over and they know a lot of the phrases, stop reading and let them say the phrases aloud. I promise, they will love participating in the reading. This also begins fostering early oral language skills.
Lastly, on the verge of our holiday season, I want to stress the importance of slowing down. I know that is easier said than done for most of us, but it is important. You see, what else did I have going on the other night that made me feel like I didn't have the time to read to my children? The truthful answer is that I wanted to shower, relax, and watch my shows. But, the realistic answer is that all of that stuff really could have waited. People always remind me to "Enjoy them while they are young. They will grow up so fast." Its true! For those of you who have new babes remember this and try to slow down. Time is something none of us can get back.
I honestly think Thanksgiving and Christmas are so blown out of proportion because they've become these commercialized entities. If we forget about all the pomp and circumstance that businesses make of these holidays and remember why we celebrate these traditions, it becomes a more meaningful experience for us and our families. So, yes it is a pain to pack up the house to go somewhere else to celebrate whether its out of the country, out of the state, or across town, remember it is about time and family, and try to slow down and enjoy it. Enjoy and cherish the time you have with your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents if you are lucky to have them, and especially enjoy the memories you make with your spouse and your own children. And, if they want YOU to play that game or toy, read that story, or watch that movie with them, try to stop and indulge them. They might be too little to remember that moment when they get older, but you will never forget it!