The Book Connection
Reading to your preschooler reinforces the basic mechanics of delving into a book. A child learns that words are read from left to right across the page and that the pages of a book are turned the same way every time. At this age, a child is constantly tuning her ears to new words and patterns and using her newfound language to make sense of the world as well as to communicate needs and feelings. If she's grown up in a book-rich home — one in which books have an important place and reading together is a cherished tradition — she's also much more aware of words and numbers.
Books afford myriad ways to connect with a child that go far beyond sounding out words. They are invaluable tools for helping youngsters cope with life's inevitable ups and downs. How can you continue to nurture this cognitive and emotional connection? As a parent, your job is not to teach your child how to read, but rather to teach him to want to read. These suggestions can help:
Make reading an anytime, anywhere activity. Create a reading corner complete with pillows, your child's favorite stuffed animals, and art supplies. Set a regular reading time so your children can look forward to it. This shows your child how much you value the activity. Bedtime is a great time for reading, but be open to serendipitous times throughout the day to share a story.
Spark his imagination. Make reading a fun time, not a drill. Your preschooler is beginning to empathize with the characters in a story, to recognize himself in many of them. So if he wants to digress — to jump off the bed and imagine himself as a pirate, a prince, or a superhero — let him.
Remember that stories don't have to come only from books. Ask your child to pick three people — a friend, a relative, and a teacher, say — and create a story using them as the main characters. Or insert your child, Zelig-like, into a story he loves. Does Babar have another friend who lives in the palace?
Draw him into the process. Ask your child questions about the story, or have him describe what's happening on the page as you read: what does she think will happen next? Point out similarities between a character's life and her own. Discuss what you see in the pictures, or let your little one pretend to read to you.
Understand the importance of "again!" Weary parents may cringe after the eighth reading of Green Eggs and Ham, but repeated readings not only build vocabulary and comprehension skills; they also bolster a child's self-esteem. Very little in a child's life is predictable, and "no" is a word he hears all too often. When you agree to read a book over and over again, he gains a small measure of power and control.
- Create your own books. Cut up sturdy pieces of fabric or cardboard into square "pages." On each page glue a large, colorful picture of your child, family members, pets, or toys. Add pieces of sandpaper, fabric, or other textured materials, and write a word or two in large, clear letters under each picture. Bind the pages together by sewing, stapling, or using a three-hole punch and yarn or ribbon.