Four Reading Habits to Start in the First Year

As a high school English teacher, I get to see the results of what years of reading or not reading to a child can do for his or her vocabulary, intellect, creativity, and attitude. There are of course exceptions and other factors, but most of my students who are actively involved in their own education are also active readers. As a parent, I have been delighted that Will already loves reading, but over this first year, my husband and I have also worked together to start some positive reading habits that will hopefully instill a lifelong love of reading in Will (and probably also make him the most patient, tenacious, inquisitive child ever).

Habit #1-Finish What You Start

This first habit is short and simple. Just finish the books that you start. William loves to sit on our laps and read, and he's been an active participant for months now. But he also loves to reach over and pick out a new book and can get distracted by Lola or his urge to never stop moving, so we have a rule that if we start a board book, we have to finish it. With a little redirection, he can usually focus long enough to finish the book we started. Sometimes we have to delay our own desires in order to accomplish our goals, and my hope is that this habit will help start to teach William some of that necessary patience and self-control. And it's a pretty easy rule to follow...with board books, at least.

Habit #2-Read Challenging Books

As a teacher, I believe in providing students with challenges that are just out of their comfort zone.  I know that with my guidance and their hard work, they will be able to accomplish much more than they would if I kept everything in their comfort zone. I think the same idea can work well with some aspects of parenting. This habit is also pretty easy to establish because in the first couple years, your child can't actually read. Every book is a challenge, right? Not exactly... Will can't read, but he can sit still and follow along with most board books, so why not challenge him a bit.

I knew that I eventually wanted to make reading one chapter of a book each night to Will part of our routine but was unsure of when to start that tradition. Then, I realized that I could start it now even if Will can't understand all the words or even sit still for an entire chapter. So after dinner and before bath time, Jason, Will, and I all head upstairs to play and read. Jason and I take turns reading a chapter (or two or three) each night while Will sits with his own books on the ground or plays with his toys. Every few weeks (or if he crawls up and asks), we try putting him on our lap to listen, but so far, he still just wants to rip the pages. Right now, we are just modeling reading longer books for him, which is an important part of him learning to read.

Another great thing about reading "challenging" books with your kids is that it can make reading a family activity. Last night at dinner, without any prompting from me, Jason announced, "We're going to finish Edward tonight," and then went on to tell Will and me how he thought the story would end. (I had begged Jason to let me finish it the night before. It's that good!) We spent the rest of the dinner discussing The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and then we got to go upstairs and finish reading it together.  I think my little English teacher heart almost burst! My family was reading and discussing literature without much prompting from me, which brings me to the next habit.

Habit #3-Question and Make Connections

At the beginning of each semester, I review an entire list of different reading strategies that can help my students be more effective readers, strategies that we hone throughout the semester, but really, I feel like asking (and answering) questions and making connections are the most effective reading strategies that you can easily get into the habit of using. And you don't have to make it a chore.

Questions are easy. Most nights, before we start the next chapter of our "challenging" book, Jason or I will ask William what happened the night before (and then one of us answers... and sometimes the other of us adds stuff on). Or when we are reading a Hippo Says "Excuse Me" for the second or third time, I'll ask Will if he thinks there is going to be any room for the chick in the elevator, and then I'll ask him to show me on the picture where there might be room. And then, I'll ask how it must have made the chick feel when the animals said, "No room." I don't ask questions every time we read a book, and I'm still the one doing most (okay, all) of the answering, but at least he is hearing the dialogue and starting to think about the characters. And I know it won't be long before he starts answering me.

As far as connections go, just start thinking about them yourself and talking to your child when you notice any. After reading Charlotte's Web, I always think of Lurvy giving slop to Wilbur every time I clear off Will's plate and put it in Lola's bowl, so I talk to Will about that. When we see a truck on our walks, I ask Will if he thinks it's bigger or smaller than the Little Blue Truck. Again, something that is really simple that I know will help in the long run, which bring me to our final habit.

Habit #4-Make Reading Routine

Read before bed, before naps, after breakfast, after lunch. Play an audio book every morning on the way to school or the babysitter. Do whatever work best for you, but try to make reading part of your daily routine. In the first few months, Will and I would read during his first round of quiet alert time for the day after his first morning feeding. Now, we read before each nap and before bed as well as any other time he brings me a book. When nap time eventually goes away in a few years, I'm hoping to read with Will every morning or every afternoon, not just before bed. (I can't tell you how many times a student has told me that something I assigned was "so boring that I fell asleep while reading," and when I ask where and when they were reading and they answer, "in bed around 10 o'clock," I have to repeat the same chat I had with them at the beginning of the year about different times and reasons for reading. This little tirade is to tell you to teach your kids that reading doesn't just have to happen before bed. Now, back to routine.)Libraries and bookstores should also be part of the routine. Every afternoon/evening, weather permitting, my sister Maggie and her daughter Piper take a walk to the library, return books, check out new ones, and visit their librarians. When I learned about this, I was so jealous that my library is not within walking distance of my house. So instead, I have been trying to make it to the library or book store at least once a week. Over the winter, we have visited three different libraries in towns all around us, and Will has had fun reading and playing at each one. We also love to visit our local used bookstore Afterwords. I eventually want to make going to Afterwords' story time part of our routine, but for now, we just go once every two weeks on a free afternoon.  Will literally giggles with delight when I set him down in the children's room and always finds a new book or Melissa and Doug toy that we just can't leave without. (The great thing about Afterwords is they have both new and used books, and you can sell any books you no longer want to them for a store credit, which means everything I ever buy there is cheaper than anywhere else. Also, Luann and her store remind me a bit of Kathleen Kelly from You've Got Mail, which is just so much fun, and Luann is the one who recommended The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which is the best book I've read this year.) Allowing children to have a chance to explore, discover, and pick out books on their own is a great way to get them to love reading. So there they are, four easy reading habits that you can start in the first (or second or third or fourth) year of your child's life. I'd love to hear if you have any other reading habits or traditions that you have started with your children (or spouse!).
Also, I love reading, but Jason does not. Both of us have been able to easily implement these habits with Will. I don't think you have to necessarily love reading to help your child be a successful reader...but I do think Jason is enjoying our "challenging" books more than he thought he would, so you never know, helping your child become a successful reader might just make you a lifelong reader too.

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