Reading with Small Children

Thomas was about 3 when I asked one of my co-workers how he was ever going to learn how to read.

How would I get him there?  She had met Thomas and knew what I meant. Curious boy. Lots of questions. But still... how do we make that leap? 

She said, "Read and read and read to him. Then read more and then some more. And he will learn how to read."

When no one is looking, I will type hopelessly personal questions into Google as if he is a magic 8 ball of succinct answers. I'm always disappointed when Paul's father's day present doesn't pop up and instead I've got 10,871 articles that are "helpful".  When my co-worker (brilliant co-worker, btw), suggested I should just read to Thomas a ton, I was a little disappointed.  Where's my easy, no-fail 17 step system to teach him to read?

But she was absolutely, absolutely right. Bathe in reading. Delight in reading. Max out the library card. Bring a laundry basket to the library to fill. Tell the kids to stop playing in the laundry basket because "no, kids. not for playing. we are putting books in this thing because I was told reading so much that I never get to the laundry does magical things to children's brains."

 

But as far as going beyond the laundry basket

[and bins and shelves and waves of books],

here are the things we have learned and tried to practice along the way. 

 

1. There are bad books. Kick them out. 

A "bad book" is one you keep hiding because if your sweetie pie asks you to read it again you may just melt into the couch from boredom. A "bad book" is one that your husband comes to you about and says, "hey, I read that book about Valentine's Day to Thomas. Have you read that thing? It is the dumbest thing I have ever read. No, really. It is really, really terrible."  A "bad book" is one that requires you to not only read but also manipulate things in the book like some sort of freakin mechanic, still thinks Pluto is the real deal, or that makes too many potty jokes because it knows its audience is boys and boys like potty jokes (which they do so very, very, very, very, very, very much but c'mon!).  

2. When you are annoyed that your child wants to learn how to read, teach him to read.

This way he has the independence to read and you can listen to him read every sign, billboard, and building name on the street from the back seat of the car, and he can say "woah. slow down, mom. I needed to read that!" and be very confused by acronyms. This is not dissimilar from being excited that you have [insert smug look] taught little Junior to go to the potty and switched over immediately to living in fear for years that he will have accidents in public and destroy your life. 

3. Reward them with books.

I read an excellent book about how incentives and rewards deeply damage children. No joke!  But to get through the reading instruction book, I gave Thomas a "surprise" every ten lessons and when I say a surprise I mean a book. Hey. Don't judge. Okay, judge. It's not because he wasn't motivated. It's because I needed him to be a little more motivated. Momma's got some laundry to not fold. 

4. Stop pretending you are too cool for children's books.

Thomas might be a little concerned about who his mom really is, or if she ever really was smart enough to hold a real job like his dad and mom keep insisting. And this is because last year I learned so many things from picture books.  "Wow. I didn't know that." comes off my tongue pretty easily. Last year I learned about planets, cultures, countries, castles, pirates, all sorts of famous people and that eels can climb up waterfalls. I'm still thinking about those eels. 

5. Read your own even better stuff near the kid.

Then engage in a fun game of intellectual roulette where you subtly entice your blossoming reader (quiet laughs or "hmm"s help) to ask you what you are reading. Respond back, "oh this thing? You wouldn't be interested. It's an adult book." to which they will insist they are interested. I've read all sorts of things aloud to Thomas that were near to totally inappropriate, but it was worth the game of seeing if he could understand any of it.  Which maybe is not a page right out of Parenting Like You Mean It, but I like to spice things up.  Thomas still talks about Rhett coming to rescue the ladies and the Yankees burning down Atlanta. That's a win in my book, Parenting for Fun!