Reading with children doesn’t always require a storybook

For time-crunched parents, everyday tasks offer opportunities to build literacy

Contact Laura Froyen, 608-263-4294, froyen@wisc.edu

The skills children bring with them to kindergarten, such as vocabulary, knowledge of letter names and sounds, and the ability to rhyme words, are strong predictors of future school success.

Parents—a child’s first and most valuable teachers—most often set these skills in motion long before a child enters preschool or other formal schooling situation.

“What you do at home with your children before they start school matters in a very real way,” says Laura Froyen, an early parenting specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and associate professor at the UW-Madison School of Human Ecology.

Parents are often encouraged to read to their child and research supports the importance of this, with many studies consistently showing the benefits of reading together.

“When we think about shared book reading, we imagine a child sitting on a parent’s lap, snuggled up as they read a story together,” Froyen says. “Ideally, the parent will point out words or letters the child knows, ask the child questions, and help them connect the story to their everyday lives.”

But in today’s world, the reality is that many parents and families simply do not have time to sit down to a reading session each day. In fact, parents who are experiencing difficulties, such as relationship trouble or depression, may be even less likely to engage in home learning activities like shared book reading.

Froyen says lack of time or challenging life circumstances don’t need to rule out quality time spent reading with your child. “Instead of sitting down to read a book, try reading through a recipe while making dinner together,” she says. “Discuss the ingredients with your child: Which do they like best? Do we have everything we need? Remember the time I put too much pepper in the lasagna?”

This is also a good time to introduce early math skills (“Can you help me count how many cups of flour I put in?”). Perhaps your child can help you write your next grocery list and help you read it while you’re at the store.

Research shows that there are even more benefits to reading a story together when parents ask their child questions about the story and how it connects to their lives. “But with recipes, grocery lists, newspapers, and emails, making that connection is almost built in,” says Froyen. “For example, when I’m writing a grocery list with my toddler she makes sure that I have her favorite foods on the list. As I’m writing it out, she likes to go through and find the letters she knows–her first initial and “M” for mommy.”

If you’re sending an e-mail to grandparents, Froyen suggests letting your child add a short message and typing it out together.

“Any time you are reading, whether it’s for pleasure, catching up on current events, looking up a new recipe for dinner, looking for coupons, or even checking the weather on your phone, you can involve your child and potentially set them up for a lifetime of reading,” says Froyen.

 

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