Start now. No matter the age of your children, you can start teaching them to appreciate reading and to want to learn to read for themselves. Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, offers the following guidelines to help parents know what’s appropriate for different stages of development:
- At four months of age, a child is able to listen and observe.
- When reading, your arms should encircle the child in such a way as to suggest support and bonding, but not imprisonment.
- By six months, the child is more interested in grabbing a book to chew or suck on rather than listening. Bypass the problem by giving him a teething toy or other distraction.
- At 8 months, he may prefer turning pages to steady listening. Allow him to explore this activity, but don’t let him take the book away from you.
- At 12 months, the child’s involvement grows to turning pages for you, pointing to objects you name on the page, even making noises for animals on cue.
- By 15 months and the onset of walking, his restlessness blossoms fully, and your reading times must be chosen so as not to frustrate his immediate interests.
- By 2 years old children are interested in everything and need names for those things. So plan to spend more time on each page naming items in pictures.
- Once a child is calm in the presence of books and more inclined to listen than to rip, introduce interactive books, like Pat the Bunny or I’m a Little Mouse.
- Familiarity is important in developing a lasting relationship with books, so the toddler years are a good time to purchase books to read and reread.
With 3- and 4-year-olds, you can start them reading for themselves by teaching initial sounds of letters. Alphabet books, magnetic letters on the fridge and drawing letters on paper can be fun and instructional. "The trick in this is to never quiz your child. Teach letters casually," author Mary Leonhardt writes. Another idea is to write words on index cards and tape them to the things they name, such as a chair or piano.