April is National Poetry Month! While many of us lose our love of poetry over the years (only 9 of 10 Americans say they enjoy poems), when children are developing reading habits poems have some substantial benefits.
But where to begin? There are hundreds of books of poetry out there for children. There are well-known names like Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Mother Goose that are well known and incredibly popular. Shel Silverstein, of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” fame is another author that is easy to find and a joy to read to children. There are many other poets, both contemporary ones, and ones from the past, that have written poems that children love.
- Bill Martin Jr. – He has been a fan of poetry since it was his gateway to reading in college. After he started to see the impact reading it to his students had on their love of reading, he began to write his poems. One of those poems, I Love Our Earth, is on our Wish List this year!
- Francisco X. Alarcón – A prolific poet for both children and adults, his books of poetry are often bilingual. His inspiration comes from his strong attachments to his Latino heritage and love of the communities that raised him. He is known for his Magical Cycle of the Season series, poems that embrace the uniqueness of each season.
- Jacqueline Woodson – A native of Columbus. OH, she was also selected to be the Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. Her best-known book of poems, Brown Girl Dreaming, is for slightly older readers.It discusses growing in Ohio and South Carolina, and the differences she experienced there. She also writes picture books for younger readers.
- Jon Scieszka – Embracing his odd sense of humor and love for education, Jon started to write tales for children as a teacher in New York. His poetry books include Science Verse, The Book That Jack Wrote, and others. One of his books, The Stinky Cheese Man, is part of our summer Wish List!
- Robert Lewis Stevenson – Adults know his writings through tomes like Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. He wrote A Child’s Garden of Verses, a highly regarded book of poetry for children. He uses his poetry to relive the experiences of his childhood, running outdoors and exploring the world!
- Jack Prelutsky – The first Children’s Poet Laureate appointed by the Poetry Foundation, Jack’s work is heavily influenced by his love of music. He writes poetry about every subject, from the size of a hippopotamus to the problems of being a dragon. You can start with one of his most famous books, The New Kid on the Block, and explore his work from there!
Reading poems aloud to students can do more than show them the wonders of poetry. It can bring back a love of poetry for the adults who may have put it down years ago and never picked it back up. If you would like to explore some poems and authors on your own, Poets.Org has a wonderful page full of brilliant poems for children. Enjoy a month full of getting to know poetry with your students!
Sitting down with a good book for pleasure is much different than sitting down to go over tax documents or reading a book that you are analyzing for a paper. Readers relax when they read for pleasure. They make a comfortable space and do all they cannot be interrupted while they devour tales of trips to far off places, unlikely romances, and conflicts for the heart of the world. It can be about historical figures that made a significant impact on society or events that changed the direction of society. Reading for pleasure does not have to be fiction!
Reading for pleasure starts with the adults. Administrators, teachers, and parents all have to show that reading is as much a fun activity as it is a necessary activity. Any teacher, even math and science teachers, can read to young students at the beginning of class. Let the parents know what their child liked, and did not like, and help them build a library at home. Or encourage students to go to the school or community library and find books they love.
What reading for pleasure has to be, though, is self-selected. Teachers and parents who hope, or make, children read books outside of class that are “better for them” blunt some of the pleasure otherwise found in the book. As children’s book author Neil Gaiman once pointed out in a speech about libraries,”Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.” It is a route to other benefits as well.
Reading for pleasure does not make them better at reading; it makes them better at learning. The British Cohort Study (BCS) found that children that read for fun are not just better at reading and English, they are better at all subjects. On a longer timeline, they have a better vocabulary as adults as well. In fact, whether or not a child reads for pleasure at a young age can have more impact on their educational growth than socioeconomic status.
Another benefit that reading for pleasure has uncovered is better empathy and decision making. The stories that people read often show characters interacting in a variety of situations. Children get so engrossed in the book that their brains would react as if the events were happening in the real world. A fourteen-year-old who participated in one of the studies commented that “sometimes when big stuff happens in my life, I’ll think about what my favorite characters would have done, the ones I admire most. … They all have different approaches, different ways they approach things, and then I try to apply that to my life, to see which way works for me.” The situations they see in books give them social clues to how people react to various experiences.
This understanding of socialization does not just come from what they are reading. Like any other hobbyist, readers often interact with other people that love reading. These interactions help students develop social skills at a young age. Students learn how to share opinions at a younger age as well as building their understanding of other cultures and perspectives.
Extending that love of reading to the home is equally important. Have books ready to be read at any place around the house. Instead of watching television, have a family reading night. Once your children are reading on their own, spend time reading books you like with them for pleasure. It can encourage them to ask about the book and possibly introduce them to a whole different subject or series!
Reading for pleasure has benefits that go beyond the scholastic. By giving students choices about what they want to read, a lifelong reader is created. Practice allowing your child to read what they want and see where it takes them!
Ah, Valentine’s Day!
A day in which we show the people who are important to us just how much we care for them. Much of that affection is shown through red and pink gifts of candy, cards, and maybe a trinket or two to play with, but the best gift you can give a child is time.
From birth through the time children go to college (age 18), there are 936 weekends. That sounds like a lot of time until you consider that when they start hitting middle school years, they will have activities, sports, friends, and all manner of other entertainments to occupy their time. Those weekends can go quickly, and when you think about how fast that time can fly, it’s easy to see the value of sharing time with your child whenever possible.
The gift of time relies on the quality of the time and much as it does the quantity. Being in the same room together doing different activities is not the best gift you can give; focusing on the child is the real gift. The importance of time spent focusing on children holds true in school as much as it does at home.
Countries like Finland, considered the gold standard in education by many, spend roughly 700 hours in front of students, while in the United States we spend nearly double that. Spending time does not have to be hours on end. It can be playing a tabletop game or cooking a meal together. Reading is a fantastic way to spend a little time together.
Selecting the right books can be a springboard for other activities through the year; as your child asks questions, you can plan events to help them answer them. As a teacher, you can develop lessons in the future that address student questions while still fulfilling state requirements.
What other gifts can spending time with books provide?
- Building a love of books – Young children will mirror the activities of the people around them that they love. If they see their favorite teacher, or parent, enjoying the time they spend reading, they are more likely to pick up a book for pleasure.
- Expanded vocabulary – The more children read, the more they are going to have to learn the meaning of the words in their favorite books. Instead of sitting down and teaching them words, they organically build their vocabulary. This will also lead to…
- A curiosity about the world around them – It is a big world out there, full of dinosaurs and families and stories about raining food! One way to get to explore it is through books. Journeys can be started at the library and continued at museums, stores, and even in the kitchen.
- Improving social skills – Being quiet while a parent or teacher is reading is a polite way to enjoy a book. Waiting until someone else is done talking to speak is an important skill to develop. And the only way to enjoy a book read by an adult is to listen intently. While children become engrossed by tales of cats in hats, they are also learning valuable social skills.
- Better behavior – Children do not always know how to ask for what they want. If they feel they are being neglected, or are frustrated, they may act out to get the attention they crave. By giving that attention without asking, it will keep them better behaved at home and in the classroom.
Sitting down with a child to read a book shows you love them in a variety of ways. You are spending quality time with them (which they love!) while teaching them skills that are going to help them in school. It provides benefits they may not appreciate when they are young, but they will as they grow older. Along with the card and some sweets, plan on giving them a book and spending some time with them. It is a Valentine’s Day gift they will treasure forever.
There is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that claims “the strongest force in the universe is compound interest.”
No one knows when, or even if, he said it. But he would not have been wrong. There are many, many charts and articles on the internet that extol the virtues of saving early. The benefits of getting an early jump on saving is not new wisdom; even Aesop told a fable about the ants who collected food at the right time and the grasshopper that played. Investing early is a way to ensure better results in the long run.
The same goes for a child’s education. There may be just as many articles out there explaining that it is never too early to start teaching.
The first five years of a child’s life lays out the foundation for how they will learn. Vocabulary builds. Emotional understanding develops, and opinions toward many activities become established.
Reading with children, and encouraging them to read on their own, is critical at this stage in development. It shows them early on that reading is a pleasurable activity, not a burden only done when forced by a teacher.
Other rewards for starting your child reading early:
- Teaching lessons early – One of the classics in children’s picture books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is an amazing picture book about a caterpillar that eats its way through the book and turns into a butterfly. Beyond being visually stunning, the book teaches children a little about insects and their life cycle. This passive learning can encourage them to want to find out more about different subjects, like science and history.
- Building a vocabulary – Children do not pull words out of thin air that they want to learn. They discover new words through interactions with adults. When adults use certain words frequently, children do as well. It is not difficult to start building that vocabulary early by reading them books and answering what all the words mean. Reading those books provides a word boost to any student when they head to kindergarten on the first day.
- Improved concentration – Attention spans are important. The ability to focus on a task for long periods of time improves the student’s performance on the work. Reading for pleasure can build that attention span as the child gets drawn further and further into a story, especially if that book is read by a parent or teacher in a comfortable place. They will get lost in the world that the book creates for them.
- Developing emotional and social understanding – The heroes of stories go through trials. Those trails can be anything from turning everything you touch to chocolate to the challenges of real-life people. Those struggles can cause new emotions to emerge or allow children to learn to deal with ones they have already found. The more emotionally and socially aware students are when they get to school age, the smoother the transition to school life will be.
We can be skeptical about what Einstein said, but Warren Buffet had similar thoughts about reading: “Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest.”
Encouraging children to begin reading at an early age is investing in their future, as well as giving them something enjoyable to do in the present. The rewards for investing in education at an early age may not be immediately seen, but the compound effect of those extra reading years with shine through their entire life.
Over the summer, home is an incredibly important place in the development of a love for reading. That center shifts when the days get cooler and school begins. The classroom becomes the place where children continue to build their literacy skills. Instilling this desire goes beyond lessons taught in English class. There are amazing stories to be told in Science, History, the Arts and Social Studies. Every subject offers tales that can be inspirational to students!
The best time to foster a love of reading in students is when they are young. Younger students learn by imitating what they see in the world around them. In school, this means seeing teachers reading books while they are doing work at their desk. Or having a discussion with the principal about what books they are reading. Becoming role models for reading and literacy can go a long way to developing a love of reading in a student. There are plenty of ways to do that as a school:
- Share what you read – Let students know that reading is not only for homework! Teachers and staff should be willing to share what they are reading with their students, letting them see that reading is an activity for everyone.
- Read a book to the class – Students do not have to do all the reading themselves. Opening a book and telling the students a story, complete with different voices and changes in vocal tone, can bring the words to life. This technique is incredibly helpful for students who learn best by listening. Hearing the words also helps improve student vocabulary.
- Give students learning strategies – There is nothing quite like the feeling of accomplishment. Especially on a task is difficult. Developing multiple ways for students to build reading skills helps them overcome these obstacles on their own. Every word they learn on their own boosts their confidence in their reading skills.
- Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) – First mentioned by Beverly Cleary, Drop Everything And Read is a great way to give students an educational, unplanned break. Between lessons teachers can have students read a book of their choosing, showing that reading can be done at any time. The combination of self selected reading materials and the encouragement of someone they look up to delivers positive reinforcement of their hobby. Students will want to read more as a result.
- Fill the class with books – Not every student will have a book for an impromptu reading break. If they do not have one they are working on, having a library in class can provide them options. Composing this library of books and topics the children enjoy will make DEAR time more enjoyable!
- Create active assignments based on what they have read – Worksheets about what a student has just read can dampen their enthusiasm. They can write stories about what happens next, or discuss in class what they think the reading meant. Having them engage with the story can help reinforce what they just read and improve reading comprehension.
The environments that students are part of is only part of the equation for encouraging reading. Demonstrating that reading is a pleasurable and relaxing activity helps students develop a similar perspective. The combination of parents and teachers acting as reading role models is the best way possible to encourage a love of reading in children.
Children absorb much more than we give them credit. And they start to absorb it far earlier than we think they do. Studies show that babies are taking in information as early as in the womb, and their development only accelerates from there. As early as four months your child was reacting to the sound of your voice. They were not processing the information, but they did understand the tone you were using. Speaking to your child introduces them to the phonetic components of the language, components they will spend time trying to reproduce. It is not a coincidence that many toddlers first word is “No.”
Reading out loud to babies, while they may not understand the story, benefits them in other ways. The pictures in the books give their young eyes an area to focus. Reading with inflection can introduce them to different emotions and ways to use the language, as well as speech patterns. Children that are read to, and spoken to, at a younger age often have a larger vocabulary. There is a positive association made with reading; it is a comfortable place and they spend time with daddy or mommy. At younger ages (up to one year), the material itself does not matter since they do not understand the words. You can catch up on your own reading as you read to your child!
I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp. -JK Rowling
Taking the time to read with your child is an important step in reinforcing the benefits of reading. You do not have to have a great deal of time to get into this habit. A little bit a bedtime, a few pages after dinner, or maybe some time on the weekend while at a sibling’s special event can be all the time you need to start developing a love of reading. Even while shopping or cooking there are ways to incorporate reading into the activity! Make trips to the library a part of your weekly errands. Many libraries have programs to help young readers find books they will enjoy, and you can read the books together.
As they get older and want to read, the role of the parent shifts from reader to teacher. You can help them sound out words they do not understand, and explain the meanings of those words. After they are finished reading the story, ask them questions about what they just read to help them with reading comprehension. When you start to discover the books they enjoy reading, there is an opportunity to help them find similar authors. Websites like What Should I Read Next and Your Next Read can aid in finding books that are similar to the ones they enjoy. By selecting books that your child enjoys reading, it encourages them to read more.
One of the many benefits of Kids Read Now is the opportunity to find the books your child enjoys and reading it with them over the summer months. We know that book selection is critical in encouraging reading, and we send only the ones you choose. Those books are sent directly to your home on a regular basis, along with lessons to help you both get the most out of each book. They offer the ability to either read along with your child, or to allow them to read to you. Building the enjoyment of reading is something that is developed over time, by modelling the behavior early and reinforcing it as they grow. Before you know it, you will have another avid reader and lifelong learner in the house!