Reading has never been more important. Despite video and audio proliferation, most content still comes in the form of the written word. And now with the Internet and social media, there are more words written than ever before.
Studies show that cultivating lifelong reading habits is essential to long-term success. If children fail to develop basic reading and writing skills by the third grade, they may never catch up. The good news is that at least half of U.S. kids aged 6-17 are actively reading at least one book. That said, many kids today start to lose interest in reading after age 8.
YPO member Erin Ganju, wants to make sure that all children enjoy the advantages of lifelong reading habits. She is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Room to Read, an organization that concentrates on literacy learning during 1st and 2nd grades--a critical period that can determine whether a child develops the skills and habit of reading and becomes a lifelong, independent reader.
Recognized as one of Fast Company's Extraordinary Women, Ganju is dedicated to transforming the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Ganju shares 9 essential reading habits that will make your children lifelong learners and ensure their success.
1. Read to your child from the start.
Children's linguistic development benefits when they are exposed to a broad vocabulary, So, Ganju says, "It is important for parents/caregivers to talk, sing, and read to children from the start." In fact, Ganju started a nightly ritual of reading to her own daughter, Julia, for 10-15 minutes before bedtime.
2. Model good reading habits.
Kids value what they see their parents doing, so they need to see adults engaged in reading on a regular basis. "Just like with so many other things," Ganju insists, "Your kids will mimic your behavior. If they see you enjoying a great book, they will also want to read."
3. Read aloud with passion.
Children are more engaged with a story when an adult reads it to them with enthusiasm. Ganju describes her tips: "I use different voices and facial expressions. I love reading aloud, especially at the school libraries I visit in Tanzania or India. Even though we don't share a language, I can make a story come alive and get a group of students excited about a book just by reading it to them. I'm not afraid to be a bit goofy. We train all of our librarian-teachers in this, and it is one of the most popular activities we do." Almost half of the children surveyed during Room to Read programs reported that their favorite book is the same one a teacher or librarian read aloud.
4. Help them read for pleasure.
"Reading should not just be an activity associated with homework or studying," Ganju advises. Kids should be allowed to find books that appeal to their own interests. And make sure their daily schedule has room for books: "Give your kids time to read a book that they enjoy to foster a habit of reading for pleasure and fun."
5. Expose kids to a variety of high-quality books.
The quality of the literature they can access has a direct correlation to good reading habits. So does a book's appeal to the child who has it in his hands. As Ganju states, "Kids in our programs have consistently shared that they enjoy books with attractive physical features as well as illustrations. They also expressed a preference for fiction books, such as folklore and fantasy." With that in mind, Room to Read aims to provide a mix of options for their students: "picture books, storybooks with engaging characters, board books with age-appropriate vocabulary, decodable books for early readers..." offering kids a wide variety of options increases the chances that they will find a favorite that fuels their interest.
6. Visit a library or bookstore together.
Make frequent visits to your community library or bookstore a fun and bonding activity to share with your child. Ganju encourages parents to "explore the children's section together. Take time to pluck a book off the shelves and leaf through it with your child." Ganju knew that those trips to the library had paid off when her daughter started asking for books as gifts or rewards for good behavior. "I was so proud to know that a book was something she was genuinely excited to receive!" she says.
7. Make the library about exploration instead of lessons.
Room to Read found that some of the children in their programs were less motivated to read books if their library time focused on formal reading lessons. "Let the library be a place of discovery and adventure," she advises. "We found that a more successful approach is to focus on structured skills building in the classroom and promote reading habits in the library."
8. Advocate for your kids' schoolteachers and school librarians to receive specialized training.
Studies show that grades 1 and 2 are the most crucial for foundational skills in reading. While many teachers and librarians have the skills to teach the mechanics, they have never been trained on how to encourage a genuine love of reading. "We provide coaching and workshops to teachers and librarians on helping children acquire a habit and love of reading," she explains. Room to Read's efforts get strong results: an analysis of over 20,000 children showed that students in their literacy programs outperformed others in neighboring schools for both reading fluency and comprehension.
9. Embrace the digital revolution.
While there's nothing to compare to the feeling of a traditional book in your hands, transition to digital text is hard to ignore. Many classrooms and homes already have an abundance of E-books and other literacy technologies. Ganju believes that parents should "recognize the enormous potential that technology has on children's motivation to read and develop literacy skills. I still champion traditional books and do not advocate eliminating them from your child's daily routine. But adding in some digital form of reading to inspire learning is smart."
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