Danny’s parents report that he isn’t interested in books. He will look at them when his parents read to him, but seldom looks at them on his own. Nevah’s parents worry that Nevah never chooses to look at books; she only does so when her parents insist. These parents want their children to engage with early literature. They don’t understand their child’s lack of interest. They also worry that their child will be at a disadvantage in school when it is time to learn to read. There are important facts to remember when discussing early literacy. Understanding these facts will help parents engage their children in books
Children begin to like books while sharing enjoyable time with their parents looking at picture books together. Reading starts out as one more way for a child to get loving attention from an adult. The child is not only sharing the book, but being held, cuddled, and talked to during book reading. The child who isn’t looking at books on his own may need more of this.
However, there is a balance needed in most things, reading included. Children have short attention spans. Often times an adult reader is able to keep the child absorbed in reading beyond the child’s natural attention span by making the time fun and interesting. But once the end of the attention span is reached, reading is no longer fun. Other children become over-stimulated by too much good, fun attention. They just get uncomfortable and need a break. Children hesitate to have an adult read to them if they have had too many good experiences turn bad.
Some children have always been less interested in books than their peers. In fact, they may construct roads and houses with books, stack them with blocks, or wall their fort with them. They will do everything but read them on their own. Don’t worry. Keep up the parent-child reading together time. Keep it brief, stopping just short of when they lose attention. They will still have the advantages of early literacy.
Keep in mind that not all books are interesting to all children. A child may have a stack of the best, most noteworthy, award-winning books and not be interested in a single one. Some children want books full of bright illustrations while others want actual photographs. Some children love fairy tales other children want books about the real happenings in their lives. Children outgrow books too. Pay attention to the type of books your child enjoys, what keeps them involved the longest, and read those most often.
Children enjoy shared reading because they enjoy the time and attention. Enjoyment of shared reading leads some children to read on their own. Children who do not look at books on their own still need adults to read to them in short, enjoyable exchanges. Exposing children to early literacy prepares them to be confident learners and readers. It is time well spent for a great result.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.