Increasing Literacy in Your Home

I have been a mom for nearly 5.5 years now, and for the last two years, I have had a reader in the home. I have had a few people over the years ask me what I’ve done to teach Addie to read, and I promise you that it’s not false modesty when I say, “Nothing. She taught herself to read.” That’s the honest truth–I’m not sure I would have chosen to have my oldest child reading picture books independently (not simple readers like, “The cat sat on the mat.”) at the age of 3.5. I’ve had to explain quite a few “older” concepts to her and it’s tricky finding material that is both age-appropriate and interesting to her.
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Before I was a mom, I was an elementary school teacher with a specialization in reading…and before that, I was the bookworm kid that carried a paperback with me everywhere I went. (I devoured my sister’s school copy of The Grapes of Wrath in middle school while we were on vacation because I read all of my library books by the second day. I don’t say that to brag, I just want you to know that, to me, reading as essential as breathing. I can’t NOT read something if you put it in front of me.)

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I was fortunate to have awesome professors in college that not only talked about the importance of reading aloud in our classrooms–they actually modeled it for us by reading to us at the end of each class. (Picture an entire class of college juniors crying through Because of Winn-Dixie together!)

As a young, single teacher, I spent most of my extra income building up an amazing classroom library. I would spend Saturdays at Borders (RIP, my favorite bookstore) and Half-Price Books and then start the new school week introducing my new finds to my sweet class. When Adam and I got married and moved into our first apartment together, I had no less than ten boxes labeled “CHILDREN’S BOOKS.”

During my short pregnancy with Addie, I brought a stack of picture books to bed with me each night and read to my sweet little girl. When she was born 14 weeks early, I carried in a huge tote of books to keep by her isolette for her visitors and nurses to read aloud. It was weeks before I was able to hold her, but that didn’t keep us from reading Ramona the Pest together.
Increasing Literacy in Your Home | San Antonio Baby Sign Language Classes

We read all kinds of books together during Kangaroo Care and during our long hours together in the months before she was discharged. Once she came home, we surrounded her with board books to look at and chew on. Her first gifts were books that are still treasured five years later! (Pictured: Lilly’s Big Day, The Velveteen Rabbit, one of Sandra Boynton’s awesome board books)

Increasing Literacy in Your Home | San Antonio Baby Sign Language Classes

So, it’s probably completely obvious, but my first tip for increasing literacy in your room is to have a lot of children’s books available at all times and to use them regularly. Brilliant, right? I’m quite sure you’re already doing that, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post. (But just in case…)

What else has worked for us?

1. We go to the library all the time. At least twice a week, but usually more. I keep a running wish list of books that have been recommended to me on the library website (fabulous hold system, except you can only request up to 25 items at any time), so sometimes we just run in, while other times we take our time and browse the children’s section.
2. We play with words and letters all day long. Magnetic letters, sensory letters (I’ll post on these soon.), letter puzzles, etc. We bought these awesome Melissa and Doug letter stamps that I cannot wait to start using with our writing work. We also love to play word games in the car: nursery rhymes and nonsense rhymes have really helped our little reader be able to “guess” which word will come at the end of a sentence.

Increasing Literacy in Your Home | San Antonio Baby Sign Language Classes
Signing Time DVD screenshot.

3. We watch TV/videos with the captions on. I’ve been doing it for years (so many shows have awful sound), and I think it contributed to Addie’s early reading. She has a gift for hearing & seeing something once and having it memorized. I also think that’s a huge benefit of the Signing Time programs: the written word is on the screen with an image while an adult voice speaks. It’s a trifecta for little brains! My two-year-old can already “read” her Signing Time books with the image cues and I know it won’t be long before she moves from reading letters to recognizing words.

4. We’re skipping “teach your child to read” programs in favor of lots and lots of lap time. I’ll admit, I have a super-hard time with easy readers because they are SO boring. I’d much rather read harder material to my girls out loud than listen to them sound out each word so slowly that they completely miss the gist of the story. (Now, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, my Kindergartner just up and started reading sentences one day, so I don’t mean to discount any programs that you may be using at home.) I plan on circling back through phonics in first and second grade through our spelling lessons.
5. We utilize a “Room Time” playlist. I was inspired by this post from another homeschooling mama, and so I use a free recording app while reading books, poems, and famous nursery rhymes for my girls. I’ve mixed them together with some of our favorite songs from Signing Time and this Discovery Toys CD for one or both of the girls to listen to while playing with blocks or trains.
6. We speak highly of reading in our home and our children SEE us reading for pleasure, too. I’m a big fan of all kinds of technology and I love my Kindle app, but I still prefer sitting on the couch with a new library book and getting lost in the pages for an hour or so. My girls see me CHOOSE to read for fun each and every day…and we treat books as a reward rather than punishment.

Increasing Literacy in Your Home | San Antonio Baby Sign Language Classes

It makes me so sad to hear parents say (especially in front of their children), “Johnny hates to read.” If your child is a reluctant reader, I highly suggest that you find reading material that interests him/her and go out of your way to make it a pleasurable experience. Let your child stay up late with a flashlight. Sit next to each other and make it FUN. Learning is a lifelong journey and reading is the primary mode of transportation along the path of discovery.

Can you think of any early literacy tips I missed? Do you have any questions for me? What are the favorite books in your home right now?

This post has been included in the Literacy Musing Monday link-up.
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7 thoughts on “Increasing Literacy in Your Home

  1. This is great! It’s so true that our kids will notice the presence of books and reading if they’re surrounded by it. I recently started a website with book recommendations and, until a couple of days ago, I didn’t notice that my reading/chilling time with my son had started getting eaten up by checking social media, trying to cram in a couple of items on my website to do list. And of late… instead of bringing me books to read, he asks to do stuff on the computer. Woops! 🙂 Excellent article. Very valuable suggestions. 😀

  2. My middle son was like that; taught himself to read and read really well by age 4. He is now 10 and I can’t keep enough books in the house even with our bi monthly trips to the library but that said my other two aren’t like this at all. My oldest son struggles with reading and would rather do anything but read and my youngest son (thought 8!) is still trying to learn how to read. But all three of my boys love LISTENING to stories whether it’s me reading out loud or if it’s a book on CD in the car. SO while I totally agree with all these steps to increase literacy it’s no guarantee that they’ll all take to it.

    • Absolutely not a guarantee, you’re right! I think that a LOVE for stories is more important than reading skills, hands down. I’m a big fan of reading aloud and audio books, too.

  3. What a precious story about reading to your child in the NICU (and faithfully every day since then)! I can only imagine finding age-appropriate content for her to read for herself would be a challenge. Thanks for sharing your story with us at the #LMMLinkup. I hope you’ll find some great reading suggestions there, too.

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