School is starting! School is starting!

Many of our school-age kids are headed back to classes next week, and our preschoolers are gearing up to start Seedlings after Labor Day. Wow-where on earth did the summer go so fast!?

While we at Sunflower have made it our mission to Remember Play, as the seasons start to change we’re thinking seriously about all the very real learning that will take place in our children over the next school year. We want to empower children to know their own thoughts, to find their own voice, and to be avid, excited life-long learners. One of the ways we do this is by introducing them to a love of words, wonderful words.

Here is an article I wrote, on Sunflower’s behalf, a few years ago for a local publication. We use all of these approaches in our Seedlings preschool program (we’ll tell you about them more in-depth in a future blog post)–and you can use them at home too.

We’d also love to hear what you do to encourage a love of language and reading in your children. Please post below to share with our community!

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As a parent, one of the best gifts you can give your children is a life-long love of reading and language. Reading well not only helps children excel at school. It can also fuel their social and emotional development by making them aware of their own thoughts and feelings as well as those of others. Below are some tips for sparking a love of words in children of all ages.

Even pre-readers enjoy 'reading' books on their own. This is two-and-a-half-year-old Suzie (who's now a reading & writing 1st grader!) digging into a pile of books at her Grandmama's house.

Read to them
Start at birth or before, and continue sharing books together even when your children are old enough to read on their own. It is particularly important for fathers to read to their children. Boys need reading role models too, especially in our society that tends to emphasize activity over academics in boys lives.

Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, let your children interrupt you when you’re reading to them. Talk to them about the story; engage them instead of just reading the words on the page. Encourage older siblings to read to younger ones, and encourage everyone to ask questions or make comments about the book.

An excellent book for parents is The Read-Aloud Handbook: Sixth Edition, by Jim Trelease. In addition to a helpful section on the do’s and don’ts of read aloud, it also includes a treasury of great read-aloud books for children of all ages, from picture books to novels, both classic and contemporary. Remember as you are selecting books, it is okay to challenge your children occasionally by reading books above their intellectual level, but never above their emotional level.

Let them see you reading

Whether it’s newspapers, magazines or novels, it’s important for your children to see you reading for enjoyment. Talk to them about what you’ve been reading; tell them about your favorite books. Share with them ideas and stories from the books you love.

My 4-year-old's new favorite bedtime story--which she 'wrote' and illustrated herself: "The Horrible Spotted Monster." My favorite, favorite line: "The horrible monster was horrible. Horrible in the maze!"

Tell them your own stories
Tell true stories about when you were a child, about what their grandparents did as children, even about what you or your child did today. Anything can be a story, no matter how mundane or ordinary it may seem to you. Make up stories together while you’re riding in the car or waiting in line or before bedtime. Take turns creating the story with your child. For example, “The princess climbed up to the very top of the tree, and then she saw___.” Let your child fill in the blank and continue the story together.

Write down their stories
Offer to write down stories as your children dictate them to you. This way they can see what their own words look like in writing. This works especially well for pre-writers, but can be used for children who are already writing as well. The process of getting thoughts out of one’s head and onto paper is a skill that must be practiced, and some learners (even adults) are naturally better at talking out stories than writing them down.

Make time for silent reading
All your children, even pre-readers, need for this is a stack of books (their own or from the public library) and unstructured, quiet time to sit down and read them on their own. If necessary, think about the obstacles to reading you and your children have in your lives and remove them. Turn off the TV or video games and consider easing up on the myriad of scheduled activities you might have.

© Jaime Greenberg and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011