I'm not a reading expert, but I was fortunate to work with some of the best in the field during my time as an Educational Services manager for a public television station. I can't say enough about PBS – the institution that spurred intentional parenting when it came to media as an educational resource. I was lucky to get to attend a number of workshops presented by the likes of Ruby Payne, Jim Trelease, and LeVar Burton – long before I was ever a parent myself.
I don't remember everything I was taught, but a number of key ideas have stuck with me and I try to be mindful of them in setting up my kids for success.
I, myself, have always been an avid reader. I was a child that could focus on one activity for a long time even as a toddler. I liked time to myself, I had an active imagination, and I loved to get lost in my own thoughts. I read early and often – because I wanted to. Evyn is much the same way; she has always sat still for a good book or three, and even though she can't read just yet, she loves to go to the bookstore and dig into a stack of books, gazing at the pictures and imagining the stories that go with them. Ashlyn. Is a different story. She likes the idea of a book, and she will often ask me to read to her. But by the second page she's wiggling out of my lap and off to another room, ready for the next activity. It is really, really important that children be involved in reading early and often. So what can a mom with a toddler like Ashlyn do? Give up until they're older? NO!
When I was little I remember taking naps after church with my little sister Lora. I fondly recall the Story of the Little Tree scratched out on our record player, lulling me to sleep. I loved that story.
We've repeated the tradition in our house with audiobooks. I originally started with the kind of audiobooks that Evyn could "read" along to – the kind with the prompts for page-turning. Those were particularly awesome for the car, and they're not too expensive. It was a nice option because she wanted so desperately to read but just wasn't there yet. Then I noticed that she took a long time to wind down at the end of the night and was talking to herself for up to an hour before she fell asleep. For a while we played the Little Kid's Audio Adventure Bible from ZonderKids – and she loved it. After a couple of weeks of the series, we decided to freshen up the rotation a bit. Enter this awesomely-awesome series from Focus on the Family Radio Theatre – Classic Stories for a Girl's Heart:
The music, acting, and sound effects are incredible – truly closer to radio theatre than a narration of a book. Which is what makes the series easier for Evyn to comprehend and pay attention to. She usually listens to them as she falls asleep, but occasionally we will do "quiet time" with these (an alternative to a nap), or she'll color or do her art with the stories in the background.
I had a hard time finding something more brief and animated for Ashlyn, until this week, when I discovered Audible and Audiblekids.com (from Amazon).
For anywhere from .99 cents to $20+ you can download a range of stories, organized by age, genre, or popularity. I downloaded Mouse Tales, the Cat and the Hat series, and Skippyjon Jones. Ashlyn listens to them before bed and during bath time with Evyn, and we plan to bring them along on our trip to the beach next week. Basically, any time the kids are "trapped" is another great opportunity for an audio reading.
Another "car option" – especially if you want to be able to accommodate short attention spans by way of the dvd player – are the Scholastic dvd sets that you can buy (cheap) at TJ Maxx. I bought this one for six bucks for our Nashville trip. Besides the familiar content and visual format, these also feature the words on screen so would-be readers get the benefit of understanding words have meaning.
So here's the bottom line, and it's an important one: literacy is a series of skills that children must master in stages. And research proves: the earlier you start, the better. Reading aloud to your kids is one important step, but there are a number of ways to help the process along – and a huge number of resources to get you started.
I'm probably preaching to the choir here, in which case you also have some favorite resources – I'd love to hear what they are!
PS: I should mention that an obvious first place to look is your library. If you're lucky you live in a town with a library that keeps books on CD and not just tapes (TAPES!). I do not. At least not as of a year ago, which was the last time I looked. I should probably check back.