I never imagined as a kid that I would grow up to be a rocket scientist (or more officially, a space propulsion engineer). I didn’t dream that I would be able to attend two of the best schools in the U.S. (Caltech and Stanford) and have most of my education funded through scholarships. Even as old as middle school, my greatest aspiration was to be either a cashier or a secretary. (I’ve always liked the sound cash registers and type writers make).
Also, while I was fortunate in many ways, I didn’t exactly have an optimal childhood. Between divorced parents, several moves, school changes, and crippling shyness, I often felt a little lost and out of place as a young child. Rather than socialize with kids my own age, I would hide in a corner reading my favorite picture books, like the one about the bear who built a spaceship to eat some mooncake.
So how did I go from being an asocial preschooler reading about journeys in imaginary rocket ships to a real rocket scientist speaking at conferences in front of hundreds of people? The secret is not very complicated. It’s also not much of a secret. First 5 California, a program that provides great, free resources to all parents of children 5 and under, already knows the secret. Talk. Read. Sing.® It changes everything.
My grandmother that I lived with off and on throughout my childhood knew the secret too. Despite instability during my first years of life, there were two constants that she brought. The first was that she always made sure I knew that I was loved. No matter which household I was spending time in (my mom’s, my dad’s, or either of my sets of grandparents) I was always surrounded by people who loved me. My grandmother would repeatedly remind me how lucky I was to be the recipient of so much love, and she was right.
The second constant that she brought to my life was books. In addition to being my best friend and confidant, she was also a children’s librarian. She always knew the best books, filled with magic, adventure, and humor. I’m so grateful for all the wonderful stories she brought into my life as a young child. It was her passion for books and reading that led me down the path of becoming a lifelong, avid reader. As soon as I could read, I read all the time. Even while in the car at night, I would read in short bursts as we passed underneath streetlights, eager for just a few more words.
How did all this reading lead to rocket science? It’s simple. All the time I spent voluntarily reading for pleasure made reading to learn easy. I never fell behind in school, because I had so much practice deciphering written language. Writing wasn’t hard either. Words came naturally. Once I discovered my passion for math and science, my ability to read and understand explanations quickly and easily was an asset. Good grades led to good schools led to a good job. I know life isn’t that easy and straightforward for most people, but I honestly believe my life would have been a lot more difficult if it wasn’t for my love of books.
So what do you do if you’re not a children’s librarian, but you want to instill the same love of reading in your child? Since I am not a children’s librarian either and this is an important goal for me personally as a parent, I’ve done a ton of research on the best books for kids of varying ages. You can see the lists I put together and download free, printable versions here. I’m hoping to expose my kids to all the books on these lists during their childhoods. Another fantastic, free resource is First 5 California. I’ve never done a sponsored post before, but this is a program that I whole-heartedly support and am proud to be a part of.
Did you know that 90% of a child’s brain is formed by age 5? First 5 California’s Learning Center explains what you need to know about the science of early childhood development in a quick, friendly, easy-to-understand way. Their Activity Center is filled with great suggestions for helping babies, toddlers, and preschoolers grow and develop physically and intellectually. You should also be sure to check out their Videos and Downloads section which has a ton of free content like e-books for adults and kids, coloring pages, and even a free cookbook called “Fast, Fresh, and Fun” which has 20 kid-friendly recipes that I think look delicious.
Talk. Read. Sing. When it comes to my own 3 young kids, I feel pretty confident I’m doing okay with talking and reading. However, sometimes I struggle with remembering to bring music into my kids’ lives. If you’re like me, I highly recommend the First 5 California Pandora station linked to at the bottom right of their home page. My kids have had a blast singing along to the songs they know and have even been introduced to some songs that I’m embarrassed they didn’t know. For example, their childhood feels a little more complete now that they’ve heard the Muppets Mahna Mahna song. (Click the image below to add a little music into your kids lives as well.)
Last night as my kids were going to sleep and I was reading nearby, my 6 year old asked, “Mom, why do you like to read so much?” I told him, “I read to learn and I read for fun.” Even as an adult, books are a vital part of my life. Each one is a potential treasure of new information or memorable stories (sometimes both). I can’t wait to find out what I’m going to discover, feel, or experience by reading a new book. I’m so grateful to have inherited this appreciation for books and I can only hope to instill the same love of reading in my own kids. If I can accomplish this, I know that, somehow, they will be okay.