If you’ve watched any amount of the Nick Jr. channel since your kid was born (and don’t lie, you know you have), you’ve had a talking moose all up in your face, bombarding you with the phrase “read to your kids 20 minutes a day and inspire a lifetime of learning.” Reading to your kids is immensely important, even if you think you’re just reading to an out-of-control tornado. At literally every step of development, your kids are listening to your voice and speech patterns and developing their sense of what “correct” speech sounds like – and not to mention, they’re also creating an emotional bond with you as the person sitting there reading to them.
Think about it this way – since your kids learn how to talk from how they hear YOU talk, you want to have a time where you’re giving them some “good input” – that is, sentence structure that’s better than your day-to-day slang-filled conversations. I know it’s cute when your kid repeats the f-bombs you drop, or when they say “no way dude,” because they heard you say it – but it’s much more of a crowd-pleaser when they recite Rudyard Kipling, believe me.
The solution is clear: read early, read often. It’s a lot easier to start early than later – because you will have already set up the routine in your kid’s head, instead of marching in when he’s five and trying to convince him that it’s the cool thing to do. And what about you? Will you always be in the mood to do it? HELL NO. Some nights, the last thing you want to do is sit in a dark room and read about little cartoon characters. But you’ll find that in parenting, the more you don’t want to do something, the more important it probably is for your kid. Plus, you’ll warm up to it, hopefully with a couple of these tricks.
If your kid’s getting to the age where you think it might be time to start reading as a bedtime routine (I started at 2 years old), then I’ve got some tips for you to help both you and your kid not get frustrated or bored.
1. Go to a used book store.
Yes, these still exist. And because everyone has such a flaming boner these days about Nooks, Kindles and eBook readers, everyone’s forgotten about used book stores, and because of that, they’ve got some great stuff in them just waiting for you to buy it. And the best part? You’ll be saving tons of money. And sure, maybe not as much as you’d be saving by buying it used on Amazon, but there’s something to be said for – gasp – getting your fat ass off your computer and actually browsing through a bookstore. I wanted to buy my 2 year old a picture-heavy book about animals that he could eventually read, but could have just as much fun now looking at pictures – so I bought this rad-ass Animal Encyclopedia – which has a cover price of $30, and got it for $15. Okay, yes, I do understand that there’s some place selling it for under a dollar on Amazon. But I got to see the condition of the book right then and there – and getting it for half price was a treat. Plus, I helped a small, local business, which might be a good topic for another website.
However you look at it, I’m sure you’ll find some neat crap at a small used book store. I saw a handful of old Disney books that I might pick up for him (since a coworker had given me a Winnie the Pooh book that my kid loves). And here’s the ugly part of consumerism that us fathers know all too well: the turnover for crap you buy is terrible when your kids are little. One day, your kid loves a book more passionately than anything a toddler could love. The next day, he’s ripping pages out of it. Or coloring inside of it. Buying used will help on the investment price, plus you can bring your kid along to the used book store and let him pick out a couple books.
2. Find something you two can memorize together.
If there’s one thing you learn quickly the first time your kid drops an F-bomb right after you do – it’s that kids are sponges. Especially when you first start reading to a young kid, rhymes are more palatable and stick easier. The best part is that if your kid is talking-age, they’ll actually pick up on the rhyme schemes and eventually memorize some of the lines. I reviewed Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama Red Pajama,” which is a good one – short enough that you’re not sitting there for hours, but long enough that it feels substantial to a little kid. What I ended up noticing was that my kid was picking up on some of the phrases and repeating them during the day – so I started dropping words off of the ends of lines, letting him fill them in – and to my surprise, I could get through just about half of the story like that. So I stepped it up and let him fill in more words at the end of each couplet. I’d say “Little Lllama” and he’d say “what a tizzy,” then I’d say “Sometimes Mama’s” and he’d fill in “very busy.”
The best part, and don’t tell your wife I told you this, is that when your kid learns this stuff, it’s a great parlor trick for wives and grandparents. When you can whip out a book and say “let’s see if our 2 year old can read” and then let his power of memorization do the talking, you look like an effing champ in front of your in-laws. And when you look good in front of the in-laws, your wife’s happy. And when your wife’s happy, you’re happy, if you know what I mean. And if you don’t, I mean in the pants.