One of the greatest benefits of reading to your child is the wide variety of vocabulary they are exposed to. As they build their background knowledge foundation, their understanding of the world around them as well as what they read grows and grows and prepares them for the wonderful world of elementary education.
However, absolutely nothing compares to a real world experience. Your child may read 3 different books every day for the first 5 years of his life. She might have a clear understanding through books of what a beach is, if she never leaves her mountain town, that understanding never becomes imbedded and “tangible” in her memory.
As a former teacher, I know the value of real world experience. Despite my advocacy for bringing real world experience into the classroom for children to have hands-on learning, I was taken by surprise by my own daughter a few weeks ago. For her 2nd birthday, we took her and her playgroup friends to a farm with a petting zoo, feeding zoo and pony rides. There were cows, pigs, alpaca, the list goes on. For almost a year we had been practicing animal sounds, naming animals, acting like animals, etc … she knew her animals! I was so excited for her to meet a real cow! Nothing could have prepared me for the look of utter (no pun intended) terror as she walked up to a cow and it gave her a very long, drawn out “MoooOOOOOooo!” She burst into tears and clung to daddy for dear life. Though she could point out a cow in a pasture as we drove through the country side the week before, identify a cow in a book and mimic it’s noise, it was never real to her… and once it was, she did NOT like it! Cows in those books and the country side were never loud and smelly, but rather cute and cuddly with goofy grins! She likes those much better. Despite the horrifying experience at the farm, she still loves to see cows on the side of the road and moos with enthusiasm when she sees one in a book. She no longer identifies a cow as cute and cuddly … a cow is now very real to her … and when she’s able to write or even verbally tell a story, she will be able to explain what a cow is in great detail, with a wrinkle on her nose.
When you can bring a book to life … when you can place the contents of a book in a child’s hands and let them touch, taste, smell, feel, hear what they are reading about … that book now becomes implanted in their brains, it becomes something they remember for life, that they can write about, talk about, and apply to more in depth learning experiences. Though it may not be something you enjoy (trudging through cow manure on a beautiful hike-worthy fall days was not my idea of exciting), the more you can bring the magic of reading to real life, the more your child will love to read about what they experience, the more they will identify with characters in books, the more they will want to explore life. So strap on your gators and get out doors … the world of reading is ready for your child!