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Raising Readers

07/01/2014 03:14PM ● Published by Style

In the whiz-bang whirl of the digital age, reading to kids increasingly consumed with technology can seem quaint. Yet reading is crucial to nurturing young minds—it fosters imagination, opens up previously unexplored realms of understanding, and seeds a lifelong love of learning. Gena Wiskus, speech and language pathologist at the El Dorado County Office of Education, puts us all on the same page.


When it comes to reading to kids, all parents concur it’s a good thing. If only work, school, piano practice, soccer and dinner (mostly in the car, these days) left more time in the day. If you, too, count yourself among the ranks of today’s perennially rushed parents, with no time for a tome, bookmark this fact: Just 15 minutes of dedicated reading each day can make a world of developmental difference to a child.

“I think children should be introduced to books from the time they are babies, or at least when their eyes are ready to focus on pictures,” says Wiskus, noting that literary portholes provide the very young with an opportunity to discover “experiences beyond their world.” And while it is great if a child were to sit down, crack open a book and browse on her own, far more realistic, and beneficial, is if the little one listened to a parent read aloud.

This, notes Wiskus, “helps introduce [children to] a different language structure than what is used in conversation—language in books is often different than what a child will hear on TV or in a movie.” Once a child hears this particular structure, she is then able to conjure up characters and identify that pictures translate to stories. Plus, kids react to expression and inflection, helping them pick-up emotional cues they’ll later encounter. And once in school, reading aloud together—you read a page, I read a page—will help alert parents to a child’s possible points of struggle, like comprehension or vocabulary.


Kids thrive on closeness, and reading is a bona fide bridge to bonding, with parent and child united in a pleasurable, responsibilities-free interlude. It’s also a productive way to place sole focus on the child without common distractions like siblings or social media; for parents with more than one child, reading provides a democratic way to divvy up your attention equally by setting aside time to read aloud to each one. Reading rituals helps create family memories while serving as a blueprint that kids of today are likely to adopt as parents of tomorrow.

As for kids’ interests and aptitudes, a quick trip to the bookstore or library likely will reveal topics of engagement so parents can identify curiosities, nurture interests and seek outlets for emerging talents. This is especially helpful during adolescence and teen years, when communication between parents and offspring is typically tight-lipped.


Similarly, reading with very young children opens up channels of communication. Picture books, for example, are more than colorful compendiums of illustrations; they often package important talking points—like the addition of a new sibling or individual differences—in whimsical ways that children understand and parents appreciate. As kids mature, so does story subject matter, with books dabbling into different realms, from the realistic to fantasy. (Wise are the parents who familiarize themselves with reading material popular in their kids’ age group, as certain young-adult novels may have uncomfortable storylines for some. One mom’s Divergent is another mom’s deal-breaker, so know what’s out there.)

Finally, says Wiskus, “Parents can be a role model for reading,” so at home, cultivate a literary-rich environment. By no means must you sweep your home for screens and toss out all technology, but do make sure that reading material is readily available. Schedule family dates to visit the library and reward good reading habits and goals achieved with a trip to the bookstore. And when it’s feasible, scale back on social media, holster your cell, pick up a book and read the situation. If your child follows your lead, suggest you find something to read together.

The moral of this story (aloud and clear, I hope) is this: There’s nothing like a good book.


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