When author Anna Dewdney, creator of the Llama Llama series of children’s books, recently died, her final wish was a request that parents read to their children.

She built her writing career on getting books into the hands of children. She was once quoted as saying, “When we read books with children, we share other worlds, and even more importantly, we share ourselves.” After all, reading to a child causes us to turn an eye from the piles of laundry, dirty dishes and dust bunnies and give a little one our undivided attention.

Reading aloud to children has countless benefits that have been well-documented. When expectant parents read to their unborn child, the baby begins to recognize their voice. When the baby greets the world, he or she already recognizes mom and dad.

New babies are soothed by the warm and pleasant sound of their parent’s voice and begin to interact with the book as they coo and gurgle, working their fingers by touching – or trying to eat – the pages of the book.

Babies grow into toddlers who start remembering stories and rhymes. They may even begin making up their own rhymes.

Then, as preschoolers they learn to recognize letters and simple words. Eventually, as emerging readers, children like to read to someone else and show off their new skills. Reading skills continue building through elementary school, middle school and up as their academics lead them to more challenging subject matter.

Thirty-one years ago, the Commission on Reading stressed reading aloud as the single most important activity for building knowledge for children’s eventual success in reading. Already in the 1980s, experts knew how vitally important reading aloud to a child is. Yet, the most recent data shows that just 48.2 percent of Hoosier children are read to every day. (Statemaster, 2003) Why this number is so low remains a mystery, but one could surmise that perhaps it’s due to a high adult illiteracy rate (The Discovery Alliance reported in 2001 that 46 percent of adults read at the two lowest literacy levels in our region); or simply because parents don’t realize that they should be reading to their children.

Children gain from enjoying books on their own by thumbing through pages and looking at the pictures, but through reading aloud with a parent, children learn sounds, words and language and can safely explore emotions, such as fear of the dark, dislike of peas or kindergarten jitters. Books can also help children work through activities like potty training, learning to tie shoes or going to the dentist.

Each year at Dunebrook, we put more than 12,000 books into the hands of children. We recognize literacy as important to a child’s well-being as nutrition and immunizations. From reading, conversations emerge as children connect characters and events with what they see, hear and feel every day and are anxious to share their thoughts with their parents. They begin kindergarten with the confidence to learn and be engaged in school.

At all ages, reading helps you build knowledge and opens your mind to new ideas. It builds your vocabulary and can help you become a better speller. (Dunebrook’s Read La Porte County spelling bee champs attribute their win to reading.) Through books you can travel to new and far off lands and meet unique and interesting characters. Reading stretches your imagination and encourages your curiosity. It can make history come alive or bring the future to you.

The national organization, Reading is Fundamental, stresses that when children see adults excited about reading, they will catch their enthusiasm. Children will see that reading isn’t just for homework – that it can actually be an enjoyable activity.

Numerous organizations compile listings of favorite children’s books, including the National Education Association. Check these selections out from your local library or bookseller and share the gift of a reading with a child in your life. It will be a gift that opens up endless possibilities.

A 2007 survey of teachers named these books as some of their favorites for children:

• "Charlotte’s Web", by E. B. White.

• "Where the Wild Things Are", by Maurice Sendak.

• "Green Eggs and Ham", by Dr. Seuss.

• "The Giving Tree", by Shel Silverstein.

• "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day", by Judith Viorst.

• "Junie B. Jones", by Barbara Park.

• "Make Way for Ducklings", by Robert McCloskey.

• "The Little Engine That Could", by Watty Piper.

• "A Bad Case of Stripes", by David Shannon.

• "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs", by Judi Barrett.

• "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", by Eric Carle.

• "The Little House on the Prairie series", by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

These are but a few of the hundreds of books that can help your child build a love of learning. Set aside time every day to read to your child, and be sure that he or she sees you reading every day for your own knowledge and enjoyment.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call 800-897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org.

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