by Hillary Rinehardt

Ahealthy diet and regular exercise are not the only important health habits. Reading has a significant number of benefits as well, including mental stimulation, stress reduction, increased knowledge, vocabulary expansion, better writing skills and improved concentration to name a few. With the continuous rise of modern technology, reading has taken a backseat in the lives of many adolescents. Like all good health habits, it is important to start early. Research shows that health habits developed early in life tend to be long lasting. What can we do as parents to start a lifelong love of reading in our children?

Children are often too energetic to sit still and read a book for very long. One step that a parent can take to promote literacy is to give their child audio-books (yes, they count as reading). Children are naturally listeners, and listening to another person speak fluently—pronouncing words and giving inflections to certain parts of sentences—can not only help your child become a better listener, but a better speaker, and, therefore, a better reader. This can be as simple as listening to an audio-book of Charlotte’s Web in the car or simply playing a track in your child’s room as he or she falls asleep. Opting out of audiobooks? Reading books aloud to your child works the same way!

Children often take cues from adults. You may have noticed your child sitting the same way as you or your spouse; mimicking the behavior of those with whom they spend the most time. Reading works no differently. Surrounding children with books allows the literature to be accessible, both literally and metaphorically. “Accidentally” leaving a book in your child’s room, allowing them to pick it up and see the cover illustrations, teaches children to value books as common and necessary objects—instead of unattainable grails kept on high shelves. When children are surrounded by books and adults who love books, they tend to pick up on those habits early.

Humans are naturally storytelling creatures, and this talent is developed at a young age. One way to inspire a love of reading for your child is to make the books come alive, larger than just words and images on a page. While this may be exhausting (and expensive), your child will thank you for it. Reading about animals? Visit a zoo. Reading about stars? Go outside at night to see them.

Or, if you take family vacations, go on a “bookcation”—visiting New York City after reading The Brownstone or visiting New Orleans after reading Freedom in Congo Square. Small experiences like these allow your child’s imagination to soar unrestrained; creating personal connections between themselves and literature (a skill that high- school English teachers continue to emphasize).

Once a child is forced to do anything, they no longer want to do it. A child may love taking baths until he or she is forced to bathe at the same time every night—and then it becomes a nightmare.

Reading is no different. Giving your child a nightlight to “stay up past bedtime” allows him or her to start viewing reading as a “grown-up” privilege instead of a chore. There’s also nothing wrong with making reading fun! Read aloud to your child, even after he or she may not need to be read to. Act the different characters in funny voices, using different hats and boas, and invite your child to partake in the shenanigans as well! The more that a child is actively involved with the story, the more he or she is likely to pick up a book and never want to put it down.