The following is the second article in a five-part series on Raising Biliterate Children by guest contributor, Dr. Carlos Ulloa.
The ritual of a bedtime story in English or Spanish is a beautiful opportunity to bond and unwind with your child. Reading is more than building your child’s vocabulary and comprehension in two languages; reading helps your child define his or her relationship with the world. When you find your son or daughter’s just-right book, the nighttime read or reread will become your own oasis for those few moments before you both retire and recharge for the evening.
One of my kindergarten parents has been reading to his daughter since she was in her mother’s womb. There isn’t a night that goes by when he doesn’t read to his daughter. What he shared really stuck with me. “Look at where you spend your time and your money. This will give you a clear indication of what you value.”
I also love to share the example of my three-year-old nephew who thought books were the coolest Frisbees. He comes from a family of readers but unlike his older siblings, he would not have anything to do with books. In listening to his words, I discovered that if I said the word truck, I had his complete attention. I found the just-right truck books for him at our local independently-owned bookstore. His idea of a good read turned out to be a board book with multiple visuals of every kind of truck imaginable and one-word captions describing each truck. He lugged those books everywhere, even to bed! He asked everyone to read to him his three new books, over and over again. Yes, his truck books were his entry into the meaningful and relevant world of reading!
My son, on the other hand, preferred listening to audio books while commuting. A perfect opportunity to use our down time to engage in a book. My son allowed his imagination to come up with the visuals while he listened to the story in the car. His idea of a great book meant a world of fantasy where he could look out the window or close his eyes and see all of the pictures in his head.
While reading with your child, consciously ask questions aloud of the author, story setting, characters, and/or plot. This is what great readers do in their heads and you can model this for your child. Put yourself into the book and honor your child’s responses. Your child’s taste in books will evolve over time.
The key is to respect the books your child loves. When you do this, you will be able to build a bridge and introduce to your child the books you love. Your child will come to respect your opinion when it comes to books because you have built this trust and respect around books.
As parents, we must learn to create a balance in the home with television time, computer time, and unstructured time during the day. My biggest sigh comes when I see multiple screens in a traveling vehicle or every member of a family on their own personal tablet or device. Whatever happened to reading a great book, singing, engaging in a conversation, or gazing out the windows while traveling?
There are a growing number of books written in English and Spanish. Your local library, your child’s school library, or your local independently-owned bookstore are the best places to start.
To nurture your biliterate child, start by checking out Pura Belpré Award winning books. The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. It is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, an ALA affiliate. For a list of current award and honor books, check out the Pura Belpré home page.
In making your reading time relevant, look for books that honor and nurture your child’s interests. Just be aware that your son or daughter’s choices in books will evolve as he or she gets older. Regardless of age, great books are a powerful mirror and window to the world. Your example as a reader and your enthusiasm and passion for reading can be one of the greatest gifts you pass on to your child. Your time is one of your greatest resources. Value your time with your child, reading the just-right book. Sooner than later, your son or daughter will be out of the nest and you will wonder, “Where did all the time go?”
Dr. Ulloa grew up speaking Spanish with his mother and English with his father. He is currently the principal of a dual immersion school in Petaluma, California. Dr. Ulloa has over 22 years of experience as a director of curriculum and instruction, elementary teacher, Descubriendo la Lectura/Reading Recovery teacher and parent involvement specialist. He currently serves as a commissioner on the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), an advisory board to the California State Board of Education. Ulloa earned his bachelors at San Diego State University in Liberal Studies with a Spanish Bilingual Emphasis, masters degree in Education from Harvard University and doctorate in Educational Leadership at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Ulloa can be contacted at CarlosUlloaJr@gmail.com.