As a parent and a teacher, I know of a recipe for raising a healthy child:
- Love: lots of it! Unconditional love, compassion, patience, and understanding.
- Healthy habits: whole, unprocessed food, fresh air and exercise, and good-quality sleep.
- Time to play, imagine, and just be kids.
What's wonderful about this recipe (aside from food) is that every ingredient is FREE. It costs us nothing to listen to our child, to comfort them when they are distressed, to hug them often and show them we are there for them. It costs nothing to get outside and climb a tree, blow bubbles, skip, or run across the lawn. It costs nothing to imagine that you are a pirate, a fairy, a troll, or a ninja.
But the secret ingredient to raising a healthy child?
- Reading aloud to them.
Begin when your child is an infant; by 18 months he or she will anticipate what's coming up, and will communicate their understanding by smiling, pointing, and even making some sounds (like animal noises). If read to often by a loving adult, your child will bring books to you, point to the chair where you normally sit and cuddle with a book, and will indicate that they want more! Nothing is more soothing to a child than hearing their parent's voice reading a familiar story.
It is normal for toddlers and preschoolers to request the same books over and over (and over) again. Take a deep breath and rest assured that this too shall pass. My nine year old son now reads to himself at bedtime. My seven year old reads board books to the toddler in the family. My five year old picks the same story every night. And the toddler...well, let's just say that our copy of Goodnight Moon has been well loved in the nine years that we've had it. It's still getting daily use, and our fourth child has started "whispering hush" with the quiet old lady in her rocking chair!
Rather than seeing story time as just another thing you have to do, cherish it as a time to connect with your child after a busy day. Make it a priority, just as feeding your child and brushing his/her teeth are priorities.
Fostering a love of reading in your child will come back to you in such beautiful ways, when you see him/her cuddled up with a favourite story on a rainy day, or when you hear them "reading" for the very first time (even if this is just making up a tale to match the pictures).
Invest in stories! Give your child a gift card to Chapters for his/her birthday. Sign them up for their very own library card. In our house, story books have loving inscriptions in them; they are piled precariously on every horizontal surface, and are visited again and again.
It costs very little to raise a reader! Just spend time with your child, read to them, talk about things you've read or favourite stories from your childhood, show them recipes and atlases and bird books and newspapers.
Reading is as essential as fresh air and exercise.
Make this time with your little one count: read to them every single day, and in time, you will notice that (as if by magic), you have raised a reader.