“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” -Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail
As a child, I would get yelled at by an aunt/tutor for making up stories based on the picture in books instead of reading the words. It took me a few years before I could disassociate those negative experiences with books and discover how much fun reading was.
I have to admit, as a former preschool teacher (and Developmental Psychology major), I have a bias for books. I want Max to be a lifelong learner and developing a love for reading is instrumental in that. Also, in grad school, I did an annotated bibliography on the effects of joint book reading on toddlers (c. 2000s) and toddlers’ whose parents read to them regularly (regardless of the type of book or variety—the effects were the same even if you read the same book over and over again) had better emotional regulation skills because they could identify emotions more accurately than toddlers who weren’t read to.
But what I’ve learned in my preschool classrooms and in my grad school classes (and basically every single day I deal with Max) is that readiness is key. And interest is usually a great indication of readiness. He needs to be interested to be able to successfully engage in any activity. Forcing or tricking him will only lead to short term success and frustration (for the both of us).
All I can do is provide a stimuli that hopefully piques his interest. Here’s how we do it in our crazy home:
- We made books readily available. This is why I was adamant about getting Max his front facing bookshelf. This is the same kind of shelf we used in my preschool classroom and I remember how inviting our reading nook was. Kids would just gravitate towards the area and pick out books to read. I tried to recreate a similar nook at home. Every now and then, Max will pick out a book all by himself and sit on his little couch and “read”. Whenever he does this, I feel like the money we spent was worth it. I figure, if he sees it regularly, he’s more likely to be interested in it!
- We offered books that are related to what he’s interested in. Max went through a serious wheels-on-the-bus phase. He loved pointing out vehicles and he calls all types of land vehicles “buh” (bus). So we got him a few vehicle board book to show him that he could see buses in videos, in real life, and in books! It was a hit! He would just pick up the book, hand it to us, and say: vrrrrooom vrrrooom! Buh! And then we’d go through the book together.
- We made read-aloud time a routine. I started reading to Max when he was a few days old. When I first started doing it, it was because I had absolutely no idea how to get through the day with an infant. Reading was comforting to me, so I thought it might help time pass while we waited for Mikey to come home. At around two months, I started noticing that Max would really pay attention when I would read to him. By five months, if he was near a book, he would sit and turn the pages on his own during free play. I tried reading every day, but it also depends on what we were up to that day. If he was happy playing with bowls all day, I would let him. Or if I was too tired, we’d just have a slow paced free play day (and maybe some screen time too, hahaha). It was only a few weeks before his first birthday that we made a serious effort to read to Max during bedtime. He loves it! He memorized some of his favorites and acts out the parts that Mikey and I dramatize. He also imitates the characters in the books. When Chu the Panda sleeps at the end of the book, he pretends to sleep too.
- We try to model book reading behavior. It takes me so long to finish books now because I’m so used to uninterrupted-coffee-and-alone-time reading scenarios. I become unmotivated to read when I know that I’ll be interrupted. And since the quality of my nighttime sleep hasn’t really improved*, I still look forward to napping with Squish in the afternoon. But whenever I do get to read in Max’s presence, he’s always so curious about my book. When he was younger, he used to put one of his books on top of mine while I was reading. But now that he’s in the phase where he imitates everything we do, I’ve seen him grab a book whenever I read and pretend to read too! So hopefully, the more we model reading, the more it’ll rub off on him!
- We visit bookstores like it’s a toy store. I’m still really sad that we don’t have local community libraries here. My childhood was filled with afternoons of walking to the library with my mom and checking out books. I remember how important I felt when I was given my library card! It was the only card I had in my wallet (my next card was my Pepsi Max card that I won after correctly identifying Pepsi over the next leading brand in a taste test). The closest thing we have to a library here are bookstores. Whenever we’re in a mall, we always try to stop by the bookstore. We point out familiar objects or characters on book covers and if there are unsealed board books, we encourage him to flip through it. When I have extra money from a gig, I always set some aside so that Max can pick out a book when we’re out.
I realize that nowadays we do a lot of our reading on our iPhones/iPads but for now, we’re sticking to real books because Max associates gadgets with videos. I’m so happy that Squish sees reading as a family activity! When he picks a book from his library, he usually brings it to us so that we could read to him. Sometimes, he’ll walk away before we finish, and other times he’ll keep bringing us more when we’re done. Hopefully, his love for books and reading will grow. I can’t wait to share all of my favorites with him when he’s older. And Mikey has a whole box of comic books waiting for him too!
*Co-sleeping = constantly Tetris-ing myself to find a good sleeping spot