Read to Your Niño!

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Image source: Molly Darling

BabyCenter en Español has released the results of yet another survey. This particular survey was about fathers and how they interact with their children. Here is the data that caught my eye:

Actividades preferidas que los papás disfrutan hacer con sus niños:

• Jugar con él: 60%
• Dormir con él: 18%
• Bañarlo: 13%
• Leerle un cuento: 1%
• Otra cosa: 9%

Source: BabyCenter en Español

Do you see that? Favorite activities for fathers to do with their children and “Read him/her a story” received only 1% of the vote… That disturbs me and I’ll tell you why.

When my younger son, (now 10 years old), started preschool, I volunteered a lot in the classroom. One project I ended up taking over was the “reading bags” … Basically each child had a cloth tote bag and they would take home two or three books in the bag each week. I would rotate the books out, talk with the kids to see if they had read the books or had been read to, find out their interests so I could choose books they’d be more likely to read, etc.

My son’s classroom was at least 90% Latino, (mostly first generation American, with parents being recent immigrants from Mexico), and so a lot of interesting things came into play. First, most of the books I had available in the classroom were in English and the kids were telling me that their parents couldn’t read the books to them. I requested more Spanish language books and once I got those, some of the kids seemed to be getting read to more often, although some still did not. Some of the challenges we faced included parents who couldn’t read well (or at all) even in their native Spanish, parents who didn’t have time or were too tired to read, and parents who didn’t see reading with their child as a valuable activity because they weren’t raised with books.

A couple of these children weren’t even sure how to hold a book when they started the school year, (they would hold it upside down and/or backward, flip the pages the wrong direction, etc.) Once I pinpointed the children who were not being read to, I volunteered more time to not just rotate the books in the bags, but to stay and read one-on-one with those children. I came close to tears sometimes because the way they snuggled into my lap and looked forward to this time together made me realize how many kids out there are missing out on something that is so incredibly valuable and absolutely free.

The benefits of reading to your children from a young age have been proven, but if one isn’t raised in a book reading household, the chances that they’ll read to their children are significantly lower. This is a problem for the Latino community in particular because although the BabyCenter survey refers to fathers, the truth is that even Latina mothers are less likely to read to their children than Caucasian/Anglo mothers.

Getting kids hooked on reading at an early age is especially important for boys, who are less likely to read for leisure than girls.

Even if you weren’t raised in a reading household, you can change that for your kids – read to them regularly and some day they will read to their children regularly – It’s that simple. You can set future generations of your family on a new path with this one act, (and you may even come to love reading yourself if you don’t already.)

Other ways to encourage reading in the Latino community

• Next time you’re invited to the birthday party of a niece/nephew or friend’s child, why don’t you gift that child a book? I always try to do this and my husband, Carlos, says that culturally books are not seen as “a good gift” – If you worry it will be perceived that way, choose a gift pack that includes a toy along with the book.

• Donate bilingual books to your local library and/or schools. Teachers love when people buy books for their classrooms through Scholastic.

• Tell people with young bilingual or Spanish-speaking children about Read Conmigo. It’s 100% free – Just sign up and a bilingual book is delivered to you each month in the mail.

• Support (with your money or time), programs in your community that teach illiterate adults how to read, (English or Spanish), as well as ESOL programs.

• Volunteer in the classroom – especially if you’re bilingual and can help meet a need not being met due to staff cuts and tight budgets. Teachers often love having their newsletter translated to Spanish so they have a better chance of keeping non-English-speaking parents informed. Ask your child’s teacher, or the local Elementary school how you can help.

• Get caught reading! Let your kids, nieces, nephews, neighborhood children, see you reading a book. If they admire you, this will affect their view of books and reading in a positive way.

• Other resources: Check out Mommy Maestra and this article by the author of Mommy Maestra, Monica Olivera, on Mamiverse: Improving Latino Children’s Literacy.

What do you think? Is the Latino community behind when it comes to teaching kids a love of books and reading? What are your experiences as a child and/or as a parent? Were you read to? Do you read to your kids?

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