THE GREATEST GIFT MY MOM GAVE ME – CHECK IT OUT

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Books. My mom was a voracious reader; reading was her fix. Escaping from three rambunctious kids, she would stay up late into the night her nose in a book. And as her tag-along kid I went to the library with her every week as she’d re-stock her supply. That was in the early 70s. Today, with coffee house bookstores, Amazon, and digital downloads, perhaps it’s a bit antiquated to think of borrowing a book, but I think some traditions are worth reviving. Not only is building your own library expensive and cluttering, the very idea of reading a book that others have physically held and enjoyed – it makes you feel part of a community, and very green.

From an early age I had my own library card, which made me feel powerful. But it was my mom’s demeanor and philosophy that were even more cool. First she taught me how to pick out a book, reaching in the vast shelves of options without fear and reading the back flap or the first page or two (or in little ones’ case looking at the pictures) to see if it’s a good choice for me. But even more brilliant, she then gave me license to NOT read it. If I checked out a book and wasn’t intrigued after a chapter, she’d say, “Put it down, find another, there are millions out there, find something you enjoy.”

By making reading a choice, and not a chore, she set me up as a lifetime reader. It’s something I want to pass along to my kids, too. I’ve read the preschool classics for them, which they love: Dr. Seuss, Winnie the Pooh, Eric Carle books, and some of the new staples, which for us are Fancy Nancy and Pinkilicious, and Isla’s favorite, Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry. But how can we as parents take it the next step? Other than simply reading a few stories at bedtime, what can we do to involve the kids, making them participants in reading before they can physically read themselves?

There are a few ways:

1. Pick a short, simple book and read it. Then as soon as your child can put together sentences, you can have them take the book, turn the pages and tell the story back to you. You’ll be amazed with how much they remember and what specifics really stuck – often not the ones you thought! This pretend reading is a great game for them and makes them feel grown up. It also gets them interacting with the book.

2. Ask questions. After the story, or even during, ask your child why they think a character did a certain thing, or what they think a character was thinking at a certain point. Or ask them if THEY were writing the story how would they have written it – what would they have the character do or go? This gets them thinking creatively, understanding that this story was the brain child of a person, and again interacting with the story bringing it to life.

3. It’s also fun to vary the kinds of books you read. At our house we have “storybooks” and “books that make us smarter.” Sometimes a book may be both. My daughters naturally love the whole princess thing, and we read our fair share of fairytales, but they love the “books that make us smarter” just as much. Nina has always been fascinated by the planets and learned them in order, by accident, while simply reading a good fact book geared for young kids. Girls love dinosaurs JUST as much as boys. Books about the ocean, or forest, or bugs, or where the water from your faucet comes from – there is no limit to what fascinates a kid – or me for that matter. Introducing these books is really fun, generates hilarious conversations, and makes that “mandatory reading” that they’ll encounter later in school less intimidating.

Books can be scary and confusing for kids. But with your help they can truly become friends. Books have gotten me through rough patches and long flights. They also forged a bond between my mother and me that I miss. I still think of her first after finishing a great book.

And it all started at a library.

So take a note from my mom and get a library card. It’s free. How many things can you say that about these days? It’s a beautiful destination for you and your kids, again costing you nothing. Take advantage of the incredible children’s programming libraries are offering today, from story time and crafts to incredible lecturers and artistic performances – all free. Check it out – the library and the books, and the effect it has on your kids!

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