Encouraging Children to Enjoy Books Independently
There’s no disputing it: Being read to every day by a parent or caregiver fosters close relationships, builds vocabulary, knowledge, and early literacy skills, and helps children grow up to love reading. Don’t overlook the additional benefits of helping children learn that enjoying books independently, is good too. Children can productively spend time with books on their own long before they actually learn to read.
How does independent book time look for young children?
Depending on his or her age, temperament, and experiences with books, a child might:
- Sit with a basket or pile of board books, lift each one up, and explore it by turning it over, opening and closing it, mouthing it, or staring at some of the pictures.
- Flip through the pages of a book and point out or exclaim over familiar images.
- Turn the pages of a book and study the pictures, perhaps pretending to “read” the story by saying what’s happening or repeating phrases recalled from hearing the book read aloud.
Enjoying books independently is a soothing activity for children, and can be wonderfully entertaining while an adult does housework or tends to another child nearby. It’s an excellent alternative to screen time. Building independent book-looking habits when a child is young helps lay a foundation for a lifelong enjoyment of reading.
How can you teach a child to look at books independently?
Parents whose children don’t currently spend much time independently enjoying books often assume it’s because they can’t or won’t. With some teaching and patience, though, it’s a realistic goal for most children. Aim to:
- Provide lots of modeling. Show your child how to turn the pages of a book and notice the pictures. Demonstrate saying, “The end!”, putting a book back, and grabbing another one. For an older child, specifically say, “Let’s read this book by telling the story from the pictures” or “Let’s read this book by saying the words we remember. You can read books to yourself this way!” Siblings are excellent models, too. Many families find that younger siblings more readily pick up independent book skills because they’re intent on copying their brothers and sisters.
- Make books accessible. Children can only look at books independently if they can find them and reach them! Keep favorite books in a basket or on a low shelf where children can easily and safely grab them. If you’re hoping your child will sit and look at a pile of books while you make dinner, help him gather a stack of his favorite titles and get comfortable.
- Leave them alone! Children need time and space to try out new skills. Try making yourself appear busy by folding a load of laundry or reading the mail nearby. If your child requests that you read, you might say, “I’d love to read to you in a minute when I finish this! How about you read on your own while you wait?” When your child does become absorbed in looking at a book independently, enjoy from afar and don’t interrupt!
- Keep your expectations in check. Looking at books should never feel like a chore. Don’t force it if your child isn’t in the mood or has lost interest.
- Give lots of praise! Celebrate independent book behaviors, however small. Finding and sitting down with a favorite book, turning pages independently, talking about a picture, or pretending to read to a stuffed animal are all exciting demonstrations.
Encouraging independent book time in addition to your family read-aloud routine is a wonderful way to extend the enjoyment of books in your household and set your child up for a lifetime of enjoying reading. Give it a try!
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