Maria Russo, PhD, editor of children’s books at The New York Times and coauthor of How to Raise a Reader.
Reading together is one of the most powerful ways to create an emotional bond with your child or grandchild, and with the right techniques and attitude, it’s a way to instill a lifelong love of reading.
Choose books for the child, not the child’s “reading level.” While it’s important not to choose a book that’s overly complicated for a younger reader, don’t worry if the reading level of the book is a bit above or below where the child is at. Reading at home should be about fun, not about “achievement” or “levels”—leave all that to the child’s teachers. The most important thing is to think about what excites the child and what topics will be enriching. Kids who say that they don’t like reading usually haven’t found something that engages them. Graphic novels, picture books, collections of world records, sports statistics, jokes and/or weird facts all are perfectly good choices for young readers.
Get comfy. You could hold a child on your lap, but some kids prefer sitting by your side—beanbag chairs are great to create a cozy feeling of closeness while reading. And some children may have “ants in their pants.” Don’t assume that a toddler in motion isn’t listening. Let him/her move.
Take your time. Reading to a child isn’t about getting to the finish line…it’s about engagement. With picture books, a child might look at the illustrations in a different order and at a different pace than the words you’re reading. Stay flexible, and let the book take you where the child wants to go.
Stay enthusiastic, even when reading the same book for the thousandth time. Repetition is good for babies and older children. Wanting to hear the same story over and over is a part of cognitive development—they’re processing the words and the small details.
Enhance reading with conversation. Reading isn’t just about speaking the words on the page. With picture books, children “read” by taking in information from the illustrations. Start a conversation around something that is in the drawings. You might ask, “What do you see?” or “What’s happening here?”
Laugh off any mistakes you make. This shows a child that no one is infallible. Once kids start school, they feel so much pressure to be perfect—if they see you aren’t, they will feel freer.
Create new family reading traditions as your child gets older. One idea is to have a family book club—everyone reads the same book and gathers to talk about it after every chapter or set number of pages.