I don’t believe that there’s just one right way to read aloud to your child. I do believe, however, that our motivations for doing so matter enormously.
In Dear Parents: Part 4 I discuss the two most important reasons to read. We’ll revisit André and his mom Michelle to witness those things in action. I’ll also point out strategies that André’s mom uses so naturally to engage him and create a fun experience for them both.
Imagine this: a high quality picture book arrives in your mailbox each month with your child’s name on it, from the time you bring them home from the hospital until they begin kindergarten—absolutely free.
That’s exactly what Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is in the business of doing with the help of the Dollywood Foundation and countless affiliates around the world. To date, Dolly’s Library reaches several continents and has given away over 160million books.
Reaching children with books during those critical 0-5 years when 90% of brain growth occurs has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to thrive.
This fact and the subsequent outcomes of doing so—or not—that I’ve observed in children over a long teaching career are what motivated me to write The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence.
An Exciting Invitation
So it was my absolute pleasure and honor to be invited to present at the Imagination Library’s recent Homecoming. My topic: what happens on the other side of kindergarten when a child has been read to consistently.
This biennial event usually gathers hundreds of Imagination Library affiliates from around the world in Dolly’s hometown of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This year it took place virtually due to Covid-19.
The Imagination Library is an organization for which I could not have greater respect and admiration.
Its mission is simple. Give parents an essential tool they need—books—so that they can share the joy of reading, fill their child’s invisible toolbox, and enable them to be kindergarten-ready.
Dolly Parton’s Dream
The genius of the program is that the book comes directly to the child. Their name is on the gift, and it arrives without fail in their mailbox each month. By the time a child begins kindergarten they’ve accumulated their own personal library.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out The Library That Dolly Built: Celebrating the People Who Made Dolly’s Dream Come True, now available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, and Cable on Demand.
You will be amazed and inspired by the story of how the Imagination Library grew from Dolly’s dream of helping the Appalachian children in her hometown of Tennessee into a worldwide enterprise for all children.
It’s a wholly uplifting story that will fill you with hope and remind you of what’s possible when people of good faith collaborate on a mission as important as this one.
Just be sure to bring your kleenex. You may need it.
Your baby has found their walking legs, and now—full of their own power and personal agency—sitting and looking at a book with you just doesn’t happen. They are on the move. Staying stationary and listening to a story? Yeah, right.
“I try to read to him, but he scoots off my lap and starts playing instead. Now what?”
This is a fairly common lament that I hear from parents, but it’s easily dealt with. Your little one doesn’t have to be on your lap or next to your side to benefit from your reading aloud to them. I’ll explain why in a moment and also share some tips for how to get around this.
But first, I want to remind you why it’s important to begin reading to your child from the beginning.
When you read to your baby you’re gifting them with tools they will use forever. One gift is that reading a story trains your child to pay attention. Some may balk at the word ‘train,’ but the fact is the ability to pay attention is a life skill that must be practiced in order to be learned. It happens, ideally, on the lap of a parent, and whether it’s taught—or not— will have long-ranging consequences for your child.
Along with learning to pay attention, your child also learns that being read to is a rewarding experience. You will have created buy-in for listening to a story and your child will likely eagerly look forward to it.
However, regardless of when you started reading to your child, there’s no need to worry when they won’t sit still for it.
Here are 3 simple tips for reading to that busy body:
1. Establish a read-aloud routine to match your child’s rhythm.
It’s easiest to encourage on-lap story time when your child’s energy level is not in high gear. When my son was a toddler we had two regular daily story times. Right after his bath and just before bedtime was perfect because he was already in wind-down mode. The other time was just after a nap when he was just re-awakening to the world. A bottle, a cuddle, a story or two, and then he was back in business.
2. Keep an eye out for a window of opportunity when you know your child needs a break.
You know as well as I do that there are moments when you’ve both just had it. When your little one is exhausted, but not yet ready for a nap—and you may be too. Grabbing a picture book or a book of nursery rhymes and settling down for a few minutes on the sofa or your favorite comfy chair may be just the thing to help them—and you—recharge. I always found these moments of downtime to be a welcome pause. Your child will too.
3. Read to that busy mover anyway.
Some children are simply wired to move more than others. Maybe your child simply won’t sit still long enough to listen to an entire story. No worries. They may prefer sitting on the floor playing with Thomas the Tank Engine. Let them be. Read to them anyway. They can hear you.
Here’s the secret to why reading to your child is beneficial, even if they aren’t sitting by your side or on your lap while you’re doing it. Your child will pick up on your feelings about what you’re doing. If you are enjoying the story—or at least the reading of it, and sometimes we really do have to work at that by having some fun doing voices—your child will absorb that. They will be listening to you even if they aren’t looking at the pictures. They may even circle back to check in and then return to their play a few times.
The key to reading to that active child of yours is simply to relax and have fun. Enjoy that story, regardless of whether you have a rapt audience sitting on your lap. Because if you do, you can be sure your little mover will too.
“Every child begins school with a lunchbox in one hand and an Invisible Toolbox in the other…”
Check out longtime elementary school teacher and author Kim Jocelyn Dickson’s overview of what The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is all about and why she wrote it.
“Recent research in neuroscience tells us that 80% of the brain develops in the first three years of life. This is the time when the infrastructure of the brain is laying down actual physical pathways that will enable a child to fully access all that the world of school has to offer.
Through reading to our children regularly, we not only build that infrastructure, filling their invisible toolboxes, we nurture the parent-child bond that is the foundation for a child’s motivation to learn.”
Excerpt from the Introduction to The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence…
“Dear New Parent,
Congratulations! Your precious little one is here. There is no feeling in the world more wonderful than holding your tiny newborn for the first time. Your heart expands with warmth and love and protection in a way you never could have imagined until now. As you begin a journey with this miraculous new life you have created that will take both of you far into the future, into places known and unknown, you will do everything in your power to ensure your baby’s path is as full of hope and promise as it can be.
As well-meaning parents, we all want our children to thrive. Regular pediatrician visits, vaccinations, sleep routines, proper nutrition, feeding, bathing, cuddling—we do all of these things because we want what is best for them. But there is one more thing that is essential, and it’s one that is as important to our growing child as all the things we do to take care of our baby’s physical needs. This necessary thing is one that you may already know—or perhaps may have forgotten or haven’t fully understood. As someone who has been in your shoes as a parent and taught children just like yours in elementary school for decades, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about this essential thing over the years.
Flash forward five years, and imagine with me what your child will look like on their first day of kindergarten. At this moment, that day may seem a long way off, but believe me, it will be here before you know it. Can you see your child in the brand-new school clothes that you’ve bought for this special day, down to the sneakers with laces so white because they too have never been worn? Under a fresh haircut there may be a big grin or perhaps a look of apprehension. Your child knows it’s a big day, just as you do. On their back is a crisp new backpack and in one hand a lunchbox filled with favorite things. All of this equipment is recently acquired, full of promise and expectation for the future–and probably decorated with a favorite superhero or three. Who will that be, you wonder? The picture is almost, but not quite, complete. There is more. And here is the secret.
In your little child’s other hand they carry something else. It’s a toolbox, but it’s invisible. Unseen though it is, it will be carried to school on the first day of kindergarten and every day after that all through your child’s academic career. Whether or not it contains the most essential tools will have an enormous impact on those years and far into the future…”