Five smarter ways to nurture reading

The American Psychological Association’s monthly magazine offers some advice to boost your child's excitement regarding reading in ways that might surprise you. (AP Photo)

by Sari Harrar

Every parent knows the drill for encouraging kids to love reading - surround them with books, read to them, let them see you reading. But a new article in the American Psychological Association’s monthly magazine takes the advice further in smart ways that might surprise you.

You’ll find the full story (Bringing books to life: Psychologists' research points to new ways to nurture young readers) here, in the October issue of the APA publication Monitor on Psychology. But don’t let the magazine’s stuffy title put you off. The reading strategies are designed to fit into the time you already spend with your kids - and can help your kids really experience the excitement of letters, words, stories and books.

The strategies are drawn from the research of psychologists at universities around the nation. My five favorite tips:

Come up with smarter questions. If you already ask your little kids questions while you read to them, you’re on the right track. But instead of basics like “Is the boy happy or sad?” or “Point to the picture of the car”, get them more involved and help them use a wider range of vocabulary words by asking open-ended questions. Before you start reading, look over the book’s cover and a few early pages and ask “What do you think this book is about?”. Stop reading occasionally and ask “What do you think happens next?”

Link the story to their lives. Pause when you read and ask kids how the story connects to their own experiences. “Where have you seen a train (or a sunset, a forest, or any important element that connects to their own lives) before?”. Research shows that making connections like these builds bigger vocabularies.

Take an interest in what they read in preschool or in school. When your child comes home from daycare or school, ask him or her about the books they read or had read to them that day. What was the story about? What characters were in it? What was their favorite part? Describing the book helps them use more words in more complex ways. They also see that you think reading and stories matter.

Look beyond the pictures when choosing books at the library or the bookstore. The researchers say that sometimes, the most gorgeous books for young readers don’t do the best job introducing words and ideas that connect with kids’ own lives. The language may be too simple. Look for books with interesting but still on-level words -- one example is the classic “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, which uses interesting words like “melt” that you can use as a springboard for talking about other things kids know about that also melt. (Like Popsicles and ice cream!) You’ll find recommendations for intriguing and fun books for young children at the Reading is Fundamental website and the TeachersFirst website.

Treat young eyes to interesting letter shapes. At the same time, small children still learning their letters and older kids learning to read are captivated by books that use eye-catching designs for words and letters. Dialogue bubbles, words written in crayon or in big type, or words that “whose around” the page get kids to look more closely and frequently at words and letters, say researchers who checked how kids looked at books using eye-tracking technology.