By Phil Stott At a little under a year old, it would appear that reading is already one of my daughter's favorite things to do. Well, not reading exactly, but she loves to turn the pages of her board books, and I'm finding that there's no surer way to settle her down after a crying jag, or for bedtime, than sitting down with her and paging through something like Goodnight Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. As a literature and history major in college, seeing her enthusiasm for flipping pages - and the attention she gives her favorite ones - is something that's deeply satisfying for me. I'm under no illusions: I know she's not comprehending much of what's in the books beyond learning some vocabulary to store up for when she starts talking, but it does make me wonder if there's any link between exposure to "reading" material at a young age and a love of books as an adult. The difference between a journalist and someone who writes blogs is that that question would be a jumping-off point for a journalist - they'd be on the phone finding sources and investigating it for an answer to be published in an article with a headline like "10 things you MUST do to make your child a success". For this blogger, though, it's enough to wonder about a link and then to say, well, it doesn't matter - she enjoys "reading," I enjoy it, and we're going to continue to do it, regardless of whether it may be good for her at some unspecified point in the future or not. (That by the way, kind of sums up my approach to parenting - being informed enough to know what's harmful, feeding a balanced diet, and refusing to sweat the rest.) To that end, then, I'd like to offer a handful of tips to bear in mind when reading with your child. 1) Any time's a good time for a book. They don't have to be stored up for bedtime, story time, or any other time. Having an appointed time or ritual for reading can make it seem like a special occasion (or a valued part of routine), but quite often putting a book in front of a child's face can be the something that works to please them when nothing else will. 2) Use your voice. Bedtime story? Try making your voice lower and softer as you near the end of it. Lots of characters? Don't be afraid to use different accents, pitches etc. to make them stand out. Kids get a big kick out of anything that helps a story come alive. 3) Improvise. Legend has it in my family that my dad's versions of certain stories were so good that my brother and I wouldn't go to bed as kids if anyone else tried reading them. The karate-chopping pigs that beat up on a suspiciously German-sounding wolf before he could blow their houses down sticks in my mind even to this day. And it keeps the books from boring both the parent and the child. 4) Don't just read the story. In fact, sometimes, don't read it at all. In books for younger kids, the written words are only half the point. Use the pictures as learning aids. Repeat vocabulary to your child, and ask them to point to things as well. It won't work every time, but the first time they put their finger on the sun, a flower, or a ba-ba (as Maeve likes to say) is an incredibly rewarding feeling. 5) Don't do everything for them. Even in my lap, Maeve likes to turn the pages. Sometimes she just likes to flip through a book really fast without stopping to look at anything. That's fine by me, too: while books may be about learning, learning should be about having fun wherever possible. And if she's having fun, I usually am too, which is kind of the point of the whole thing.
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