National Reading Month: It's Time to Pay Attention

03/10/2015 03:58 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

What's not to love about reading to a child?

I've visited many schools as part of my Always Dream Foundation's focus on childhood literacy. My favorite part bar none is getting the chance to read to the students.

It never gets old to witness that moment when undivided attention kicks in for a hundred school kids -- no matter what age, or whether you're reading Charlotte's Web or Harry Potter. It's like, "wow, they're paying attention."

With National Reading Month now upon us, it's a terrific time for us adults to pay attention to some crucial statistics -- nearly half of our kindergartners start school unprepared, for example -- and take up a challenge to read to our young children for just 20 minutes a day.

Kids who are read to at least three times a week by someone in the family -- a parent, grandparent, even a sibling -- are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25 percent in reading compared to children who were read to less often. Yet only about half of all 3- to 5-year olds are read to on a daily basis by a family member.

Let's change that.

When my daughters were only a few months old, our pediatrician said: Start reading to them now. And it's true. Even a baby can cuddle on your lap, look at a book and hear your voice. The long-term benefits are truly magical.

For me, the two most important pieces of advice are to read to your kids early on -- and make reading together a household routine.

How to find that time?

For my family, the best time of day is right before bedtime. You're going to spend that time comforting your child and getting them to wind down to go to sleep anyway, so why not do that winding down with a book? If bedtime doesn't work for your family, try meal time, perhaps when they're eating breakfast. Why not? They have to sit down and eat at some point during the day. What's important is to make that commitment to support your child.

Through skating, I had a village of support as a young person -- from my parents, my community, and my coaches. But I learned quickly that there are many kids out there who don't have a support system, and who need a little extra inspiration.

My Always Dream Foundation is now focused on building awareness around the importance of reading. Every year, we support thousands of underserved children and their parents by providing resources and tools to encourage reading in school and at home.

This year, in celebration of Reading Month, my Foundation has partnered with LeapFrog, a company with a deep legacy in reading, on the "20/20 Reading Challenge." We are asking parents, grandparents and anyone who has a child in their life to commit to reading with their child just 20 minutes a day.

You can find about more about it here.

Reading is a fundamental building block to success in school, which the translates to success in life. Let's pick up a book and get them started.


(Throughout the month of March, LeapFrog's "20/20 Reading Challenge" donates books to Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi's Always Dream Foundation when parents pledge to read to their child 20 minutes a day.)