I’ve always been drawn to words. When I was a child, I would read everything in sight. At least, that’s how it feels when I look back. I would read a random and eclectic assortment of objects inside and outside my home. If it had words, I was interested.
I’ve tried to remember as many of the odd and unexpected places I used to find words to demonstrate how important reading is and how easy it is to practice almost anywhere.
Here are some classics you might remember from your childhood and a few that might surprise you.
It goes without saying that the companies making children’s cereal plaster the box with entertaining content. This includes word searches, trivia, puzzles, and other activities on almost every side.
But many cereal boxes, including the ones most kids won’t eat, also have a lot of reading material. “Family size”, “daily value of” and “source of 7 essential nutrients” can all be found on most boxes. The same goes for the ingredient lists and the nutritional info.
Take the opportunity to talk to your child about the ingredients or explain why the various nutrients are important. It will help them retain more of the new words they’re exposed to.
Similarly, I used to read recipes a lot. My mother had a few tried and true cookbooks and I would often invade her kitchen and begin scrolling down that night’s recipe.
As I grew I began helping her prepare meals, and she knew I’d have no problem with the steps. Pretty clever now that I think about it…
Recruit your child to help you prepare meals once a week. Not only will they be exposed to a brand new vocabulary, they’ll also learn about healthy diets and meal preparation. This will be invaluable for their health and your peace of mind as they grow.
I’m a man and I’m not embarrassed to admit it - I read the instructions. I have for as long as I remember*. Often it was a board game or a puzzle. I would read every rule and make sure they were clear before we started. Pretty insufferable, eh?
But like cereal boxes, board games and puzzles are a rich source of language. The instructions may be a little dull, but reading them rather than hearing them creates a direct connection between the written word and it’s meaning. This improves comprehension. The descriptions and random information on the box is also ripe to be read.
I don’t mean the books that I read – I mean all of the books, magazines and newspapers my parents had in our home. Sometimes it was actually hard to avoid printed words.
There’s wisdom in that. Words were around me all the time so I began reading them. Book spines, newspaper headlines, magazine covers. I even read the tabloid fodder in the checkout line at the grocery store. All that yellow lettering really grabbed my attention as a kid.
Lots of studies have shown that homes with many books produce more literate kids. Increased access and exposure to reading material has a real and substantial impact on future reading skills.
I expect most people can recall the lyrics to a few songs from their childhood. I can even remember bits and pieces of the dinosaur cassette my parents played for me in the car when I was a toddler. The words I memorized nearly 30 years ago, and the accompanying melody, are still clear in my mind.
Adding music to words makes them stickier. If you aren’t tired of your child’s favourite songs yet, help them learn the lyrics properly. Maybe put on a lip sync showcase or write down the lyrics and change them to goofier ones. Karaoke is tons of fun - you'll be reading lyrics the whole time and you’ll improve your child’s word recognition while you're at it.
The Great Outdoors
This category is an outrageous one to distill into a few short paragraphs, so here’s a list of ten things you can read outside:
Street names, billboards, movie posters, traffic signs, the posters on buses (inside and out), the names of businesses, memorial plaques in parks, writing on the sides of cars, educational info at landmarks, and the map you need to get everywhere.
Next time you’re out with your kids, ask them to read everything in sight. Play I Spy but search for words. If your kids have short names, try and find them on license plates. There are almost infinite possibilities.
Odds ‘n’ Ends
This is literally anything else you might have lying around your home.
Old Christmas cards stored in a drawer? Perfect for seeing different writing and communication styles. Going on a trip? Passports and itineraries have lots of information. Been to a concert? Ticket stubs are quick and easy. Too busy running errands to read to your kids? Have them read aloud to you between stops. Better yet, take a page out of my mom’s book and recruit your child to help with your to-do list.
Reading opportunities truly are all around us. For more reading opportunities, here is a list of books that feature siblings! We'd love to hear your thoughts or any other readable, everyday objects you can think of.
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*I want to mention that storytelling offers a number of language skills. The teller creates a narrative and then captivates their audience with their tone, emotion and creativity. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s a fun creative outlet that has no real downside.
**It might have something to do with my deep-seated urge to understand everything around me. I still struggle to filter the huge influx of information I’ve had access to over the last decade into consumable chunks. There are way too many tabs open in my web browser.