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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Raise a Reader

Oct 29, 2019 02:55PM
By Maria Russo and Pamela Paul

Myth: Reading aloud to my child is the most important factor in making sure they grow up to be a strong reader.

Reality: Reading to your child is incredibly important, for all kinds of reasons. But recent studies show that having lots of books in the home is just as important. A child who’s surrounded by books is very likely to grow up to be a reader. If the adults in the home are reading their own books and enjoying them, too, all the better.

Myth: The earlier a child learns to read independently, the better a reader he or she will be for life.

Reality: The age your child learns to read is not actually related to future reading skills or overall cognitive ability. Every kid learns to read on a highly personal schedule. That’s why in many European countries, reading instruction doesn’t even begin until age 7 or 8 as many children’s brains—and especially boys’—are not ready for decoding (an essential part of reading) until then. Often, the best and most voracious readers start reading later, when they can comprehend more sophisticated material that catches their interest and inspires them to read more.

Myth: Reading the same book over and over means your child is stuck.

Reality: We benefit from re-reading at every age. Babies and toddlers profit from hearing books read over and over (and over) as they begin to understand the meanings tied to the sounds and recognize cadences and familiarize themselves with the words. Older children benefit emotionally and cognitively from re-reading and revisiting their “comfort books.” And often deeper themes will only make themselves known after a second reading. This is true of adults as well; many like to read a book or see a movie a second or third time, not only to enjoy it again, but also to appreciate it more.

Myth: When their children enter preschool, parents should teach them to read, then help them progress year by year.

Reality: School is where children learn to read. Home is where children learn to love to read. It’s not a parent’s job to teach their child to read. Rather than asking, “When will she start reading?” or “What reading level is she on?” parents should instead ask “How can I help her to want to read?,” “What books will he truly enjoy?” and “How can we as a family enjoy reading together?” Prodding and pressuring a child whose brain is not ready to read is not only futile, but also it can create negative associations around books. Approach reading as a pleasure-delivery system, and you’re more likely to be successful.

Myth: I can’t wait to read Harry Potter to my child!

Reality: Harry Potter is fantastic. But there’s no reason to rush to these books; children will get to them when they are ready. The first Harry Potter book was written for ages 8–12. The later books are meant for ages 10 and older. Parents don’t need to push Harry Potter in any way or prove that their child is “old enough” for Harry. Let children get to Harry Potter on their own.

Myth: Once they’re independently reading chapter books, it’s time to move on from picture books.

Reality: Picture books are works of art and are perfect vehicles to deliver rich storytelling. Just as a parent would want their child to appreciate the artwork in museums, they can invite them to embark on a lifetime of appreciating art in books. Picture books should stay in the picture all through childhood—and beyond. And once a child begins to read independently, parents should still hold on to illustrated books of all kinds, including graphic novels, which are increasingly popular for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are one of the best ways to teach a reluctant reader (or any reader) how to appreciate a story. And remember: coffee table books are picture books for people of all ages. 

Maria Russo and Pamela Paul are the authors of How to Raise a Reader (Workman, 2019). Russo is the children’s books editor of the New York Times Book Review. Find her on Twitter at @mariarussonyt.

Paul is the editor of the New York Times Book Review and oversees books coverage at the New York Times, which she joined in 2011 as the children’s books editor. You can find her on Twitter at @PamelaPaulNYT and on her website pamelapaul.com.