I Was Read To: I Was One of the Lucky Ones

We recently released Family Time with Apps: A Guide to Using Apps with Your Kids, a free interactive guide for parents and caregivers. The book features comic strips that parents and children can enjoy together, as well as tips on selecting apps that can help turn screen time into family time. Whether the challenge is preparing for a new experience like starting school, spending more time outside, connecting to distant loved ones, or reading together every day, the guide provides tips on how using apps together can support a child’s learning and development. It is available from the iBook Store.

We’ve invited some experts to share their own perspectives on the scenarios that we explore in Family Time with Apps. Teri Rousseau, Reading Rainbow’s president of education, shares some tips on fostering a lifelong love of reading.


I was one of the lucky ones. I had a mother who read to me. I can’t remember how young I was when it started, but I can recall sitting by her as she read my favorite stories like Ferdinand the Bull, The Little Engine that Could and Where is My Mother, among others.

Our nightly adventures didn’t stop when I learned to read. She continued reading bedtime stories to me up through grade school with chapter books. This nightly reading was a wonderful ritual, and I have vivid memories of my older brothers, too cool to join us, hiding behind my bedroom door, listening in from the hallway.

These moments left a lasting impression on me, which I have tried to carry on to my own children who—to no one’s surprise—are passionate readers.

Research shows that becoming a reader starts long before children even enter school. In fact, the younger and more frequently a child is exposed to books the better. Reading aloud to your child is an important part of their development. It builds literacy and language skills by exposing them to vocabulary they may not hear in everyday conversation. It also helps a child develop comprehension and critical thinking skills by introducing them to new concepts and broadening their view of the world. This is why initiatives like Too Small to Fail (a joint partnership between Bill and Hilary Clinton) and Next Generation are focusing on helping parents and caregivers understand the importance of reading to children as young as toddlers, and providing tools to help them do so.

Photo courtesy of Reading Rainbow

Photo courtesy of Reading Rainbow

Last year my teenage daughter Jessica started a mentoring program she calls the Reading Rainbow Teen Story Time. Working with a local Title One elementary school, Jessica and a group of teens meet each week to read aloud to first graders. Learning to read for many of these young children has been difficult for a variety of reasons. Some have rarely been read to one-on-one and this is a relatively new experience for them. Others have a language barrier, as English is commonly a second language in this particular school. The teens understood that these students were not particularly excited about reading time, so they decided to approach it from a new and exciting angle by using their digital devices and the Reading Rainbow app. Each week the teens bring a tablet device, loaded with the Reading Rainbow app, a collection of fiction and non-fiction books for early elementary school children. The weekly sessions are structured around exploring a theme or genre such as animals, poetry, or fables. This ties the reading time into the broader curriculum. The first grader can browse the digital library and together they choose books within the theme that interest the child. The teen mentor then reads aloud a few stories and before each page is turned the first grader taps the interactive illustrations on the page making the story come alive. At the end of each story time, the teen talks to the first grader about the themes and topics they’ve read about, and share a bit more about themselves. As a result, the young students who have participated all now say they find “reading fun” and “like reading”.

The success of this teen volunteer reading program is likely due to a number of elements. A young adult paired with a first grade child provides a role model for reading that is needed but not often seen by these students. But perhaps what most sets this program apart is the fact that it integrates technology as a means to get children excited about literature.

For those parents who do not always have time to take their children to the library to select books or read to their child every day, digital solutions can be another way to help fill the gap and develop the early-literacy skills a child will need when learning to read.

5 Tips for Raising a Reader:

  1. Surround your child with books from the very beginning. A child raised in a French-speaking household grows up to speak French. A child raised on a farm grows up knowing about planting and harvesting. Just so, a child raised around books will grow up feeling comfortable with books.
  2. Read aloud to your child every day—even when it seems like they aren’t listening. If your child seems disinterested in the book you’re reading don’t give up! It may be you just haven’t found the right story yet. You can choose a different book, let your child choose a new book, or even experiment with using different voices.
  3. When your child gets old enough, let her read to you every once in a while. Kids love to show off for their parents, so when your child gets old enough, take a break from your nightly read-aloud and ask her to read aloud to you every once in a while. Be sure to be an active and excited listener, making all the appropriate “ooh”s and “aah”s!
  4. Talk about books. Dinner is a perfect time to ask questions about what your child is reading, or even to tell them about what you’re reading. Show your kids that books don’t have to be a solitary activity.
  5. Make time to read for yourself. It’s surprising how often we try and try to get our kids to read, and yet we never think to pick up a book for ourselves. Children watch what their parents do, and they learn from what they see. If they never see their parents reading kids will learn that reading is not a valuable or important activity.


What are some of your favorite tips or apps for family time? Share them in the comments below or via Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #familytimewithapps, and we’ll publish highlights on the blog!


Teri RousseauTeri Rousseau joined Reading Rainbow in 2012 to launch the new Reading Rainbow digital library. She is now President of Educational Services and focused on launching a Classroom Edition this fall for early elementary students and their educators. Throughout Teri’s career, she has produced over 100 interactive learning products on a variety of digital platforms. She is a frequent speaker and guest contributor on the power of digital media and learning. She is also the mother of two tech-savvy girls. To learn more about the upcoming Reading Rainbow library visit www.readingrainbow.com