By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
It’s never too early to start reading to your children.
That’s one of the lessons Mary McVee – the key source for today’s WNY Refresh cover story on teaching kids to read – hopes parents will take to heart.
McVee’s kids – Zach, 17, Jaden 15, Lilli, 11 – are older now, but McVee has nurtured their love for reading since their earliest of days.
That may not be surprising, considering she’s the director of the Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction at the University at Buffalo, but she recommends that all parents do the same.
“We read a lot at home,” she said of she and her children. “We looked at a lot of books from the time they were little babies, so even before they could talk, or really interact much, I would read with them and look at books with them.
“One of the things people will often think is that there isn’t a reason to read to their child until a child is 2 or 3 or preschool age, or at least a toddler, but you can start reading to a child before they’re born. We know through research that they start responding to voices even when they’re in utero.”
These days, Jaden likes science fiction; Zach likes how-to, non-fiction magazines; and Lilli reads all kinds of books. “She’s a reader non-stop,” McVee said proudly about her daughter.
When the children were little, they enjoyed the work of Jack Prelutsky, who in 2006 became America’s first poet laureate. Here’s a poem I pulled from his website:
A Centipede Was Thirsty (from “I’ve Lost My Hippopotamus"):
A centipede was thirsty,
But to satisfy its need,
It drank too much for it to hold –
And so the centipede.
Whoever thought words, and reading, can’t be fun?
There is such a variety of writing out there these days, it’s virtually impossible to get bored.
But what do you do with a boy who only wants to read books about dinosaurs?
“If you have a kid who only wants to read books about one thing, I think it’s OK,” McVee said. “You can bring other books in and try to make available other types of books. Make them available, read something together.”
This is one instance when family reading time can bring in variety, she said.
“Children can pick one book to read and you can also pick one. Maybe you don’t want to read a book about dinosaurs. Maybe you want to read a book about snakes.
“You put options in front of children and encourage them,” McVee advised. “Generally, kids will grow out of that and they’ll become interested in something else. Their interests will broaden. And, if they never broaden, they probably end up as a paleontologist, which isn’t so bad, either.”