Ask the Experts Q&A: Common Reading and Literacy Questions

Ask the Experts Q&A: Common Reading and Literacy Questions

For my first post of 2014, I decided to answer some questions that parents of young children often have around reading and literacy. To get the best information, I went directly to several of our Reach Out and Read pediatricians and literacy experts. I hope these answers help guide you and your family as you begin a new year of reading aloud to your little ones!

QUESTION: My toddler wants me to read the same book over and over to her. Is it OK to do that? Should I set a limit on the number of times I read the same story?

ANSWER: “Toddlers love repetition–they enjoy stories with recurring tag-lines, and poems with repeated refrains. They also love hearing the same book over and over. It helps them master words and stories – think of it as a kind of mental exercising. It’s fine to read the beloved book over and over, but it’s also fine (and may help your own sanity) to vary the menu, we read this one, then we read another one. Or maybe, we read three books at bedtime, and the last one is always you-know-what. You can look for alternatives which have something in common with the favorite book, or you can look for variety, but enjoy your child’s attachment to that particular book, and be aware that decades from now, you will still know it by heart!” – Perri Klass, M.D., F.A.A.P., Reach Out and Read National Medical Director

QUESTION: My 18-month-old is always on the go. Do I have to get him to sit down for story time? How do I negotiate his need to move with trying to read aloud?

ANSWER: “Toddlers are often on the move but they are still paying attention. You might start with a nice cuddle in a chair and then if they get up and need to move around, you can keep on reading! Read with an animated voice, make the sounds in the book (like a train or an animal noise), and engage them with questions (“Where is the red ball?” or “Can you find the bunny?”). You can answer if they don’t! Since toddlers sometimes need to use their bodies, using the action words in a book will help them “see and hear” the book with movement. If an animal in the book jumps, you can jump when you say the word. Or add a clap, make it a sing-song, or vary the volume of your voice. But keep reading no matter what their little bodies do. Eventually they will settle and switch to a slower mode where they will sit with you!” – Carole Ferguson, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Reach Out and Read Boston-Area Coordinator

QUESTION: I have an iPad and my 3-year-old is fascinated by the screen. Is it OK to occasionally read my child a story on the iPad?

ANSWER: “Reading a story to your preschooler on an electronic device is fine — to a large extent, text is text. Your child’s budding recognition that print conveys information will be served well whether they see you looking at text on paper or on a screen. There are two caveats to this, however: one, picture books often don’t come out as well on devices due to the screen quality or size as they would in a paper format  so don’t consistently compromise the beauty of the artwork by using a device too often. Two, children know that devices can do many things besides provide books, including games! It?s easy for children to demand to switch to another, more enticing activity when the device is right in front of them. Having consistent rules and standing behind them is important so that games don’t displace book-sharing time. Finally, think carefully about the quality of the children’s literature you’re looking at. Many “books” for devices contain interactive gimmicks that don’t add anything to the original story, or consist of stories that are not well-written. Books that are well-reviewed, recommended by your local youth librarians, and which are crafted with skills and care will serve you and your child well, whether on paper or on a screen. Enjoy!” – Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Medical Director

QUESTION: How can I make my 7-month-old pay attention to a book? She’d rather play with the book, close the book, eat the book, or hit the book ? anything but pay attention to the story when I read. Does she not like the books?

ANSWER: “That is a great question, and I am pleased to tell you that your baby is telling you just how much she does love books by her behavior! 7- month-old babies experience and enjoy books by playing with the book, physically manipulating the book, and yes, even chewing the book! The best advice is to allow your baby to enjoy the book in her own way, and while she is doing that, talk with her about the pictures, the colors, and other things you see on the pages. Formal reading of the written story is not necessary yet. The goal right now is to share as many words as possible with your child, and to help her enjoy interactions with you. Singing and rhyming during daily activities provides the same benefit to children and anything you can do to share more words and stories with her is helping her brain to grow and helping her to learn that books are fun!” – Callee Boulware, Executive Director, Reach Out and Read Carolinas

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