This is Part 7 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.
Tip #7: For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading. The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens, and make them that much more eager to learn to read themselves. Here are just a few examples:
Recipes. When you're cooking from a recipe, you can ask your older child to help you by reading the next step, or measuring out an ingredient. For younger kids, you can browse through recipe books or cooking magazines that have pictures, and point out that the text can tell you how to make the dishes that you see. If you then follow up by actually making some of the most interesting dishes, that will really reinforce the value of reading. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
Product names, ingredient lists, and prices at the supermarket. You can say "Look, your favorite cereal is on sale" or "Well, let's check the package and see how healthy this is" or even just "Can you tell which one is the Cheerios box? See the C?". Teaching kids to read and pay attention to ingredient lists is especially important for kids who have food allergies. (One of my favorite bloggers, HipWriterMama, writes about kids and food allergies occasionally.) But for most kids, food is a pretty important part of their day-to-day life, so seeing the connection between food and reading can only help. When you're out to eat, you automatically demonstrate useful reading when you read the menu. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
Maps. When you're planning to go somewhere new, near or far, break out the atlas, and point out some of the things you can learn from the writing on maps. Being able too read the symbols on a map is like learning to decode words, and is sometimes easier (since the symbols appear as pictures).
Signs on the roadways. I've seen snippets on blogs (I don't remember exactly where) to the effect that the first reading that many kids do involves street signs. Makes sense to me. STOP signs are big and clear, and have a special color and shape to add visual cues, and make reading easier. Any time you're out in the car, or out in the neighborhood for a walk, it can't hurt to point out signs, and talk about what they say. The same goes for directional signs in neighborhood parks and amusement parks. For example: "This sign says that there are ducks around this way. Should we go see?". [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
Instructions. Whenever you have something new come into the house that requires setup or assembly, you can point out how helpful it is to read the instructions. As kids get older, you can encourage them to read instructions themselves.
Newspapers and magazines. When you pick up the daily paper or a magazine, it might make sense to point out to your child that you're getting useful or interesting information there. For example: "Should we check and see if the Red Sox won yesterday, and where they are on the standings now?" or "I'm thinking about buying a new phone, and this article talks about the one that I'm thinking of." And of course many kids enjoy reading the comics before they're ready to read much of anything else. I personally think that it's a great idea to keep printed newspapers and magazines coming into the house, even when you can look up a lot of things online. The physical presence of printed material provides opportunities for entertainment and consultation. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
Search engines. When a question comes up that you can't answer off the top of your head, you can develop a habit of turning to the computer. Most of us do this anyway - it's mostly just a matter of pointing out to kids when we consult Google or Wikipedia or IMDB or whatever. Of course we can also still turn to the printed dictionary or thesaurus. The more important point is to show that when certain types of questions come up, we can use reading, in whatever format, to answer them.
These are just a few ideas for pointing out the positive consequences that come from knowing how to read. We can get to where we need to go, eat what we want to eat, use the new things that we buy, and find information that we're interested in. Of course there's no need to be overly aggressive about this, and turn every little walk around the neighborhood into a reading lesson. But here and there, as you go about your day, you'll naturally find a few opportunities to demonstrate practical reading. It makes sense to me to use them.
What do you all think? Do you have other ways that you subtly point out to your kids the benefits of reading (above and beyond reading with them)?