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Hidden Opportunities to Read With Your Kid

We’ve all heard it’s a good idea to read with our kids at home. Reading aloud with your child—starting when they’re a baby—supports brain development, builds early literacy and language skills, and is just a good way to bond. That’s important, but it’s also time-consuming, and sometimes evening and morning routines are too rushed to set aside special time for reading.

The good news is, reading is still good for young children even if you’re not snuggled up at home with a book. And talking and listening are as much a part of literacy development as reading. That means there are plenty of ways to support your child’s early literacy that fit right into a busy day.

Here are a few unexpected places you can boost your child’s literacy skills:

1. At the grocery store

Got errands to run? (Don’t we all?) Turn grocery shopping into a simple learning opportunity by talking about the foods you’re putting into your cart. You can name fruits and vegetables, talk about their colors and shapes, and read from packages or labels.

2. On the street

Whether you’re out for a walk or commuting to school or daycare, there are plenty of reading opportunities along the way. The bus stop, a street sign, or a shop you’re passing are all good opportunities to help your child make connections between sounds and written language. Point to a street sign and read the name, or read the stops on the subway map while you wait for the train.

3. In the car

Since reading is out when you’re behind the wheel, listen to the news on the radio and talk about what you’re hearing. Or plug in an interesting audiobook or podcast to share with your child. (Here are some kid-friendly podcasts.)

4. When the mail comes

Before you toss the junk mail, give your kids a chance to take a look. They’ll especially enjoy catalogs that have interesting pictures, or greeting cards that look and feel like mini books. If you’re reading the newspaper or a magazine, read some of it aloud or pass along a section for your child to explore. (Bonus: This might buy you five minutes to finish your coffee, too.)

5. Waiting for an appointment

If you keep a book or two in your bag all the time, you’ll always have something to do with your child when you get stuck waiting at the doctor’s office or in a long line. That’s a win-win: Your kid doesn’t get bored and fussy, and you’re supporting their love of reading at the same time.

6. Over dinner

Or breakfast. Or lunch. While you’re cooking, you can read to your kids from the recipe, and when they’re a little older, ask them to read off the ingredients to you. Research shows that children naturally love helping, and they’ll build their reading skills at the same time. (Not to mention their cooking skills.) And if you’re dining out, the menu at your family’s favorite restaurant or the coffee shop is practically a book waiting to be read. While you’re making your selections, read the options aloud and talk about them together.