As a former English teacher and parent of four, I've encountered all kinds of readers. Some love books, some tolerate them, and some avoid books like a lunchbox from the last day of school in August. As parents, our goal should be to raise adult readers and with a few tips, it may not be as difficult as you think. Check it out:
1. Have lots of books in your house.
Your kids should have books in their rooms, in a common living space, in their play areas, everywhere. If you’re not tripping over books on occasion, you may need a few more.
2. Buy books as presents.
You can still buy toys and clothes for the kids in your life, but throw a few books in there too. Who knows? That book may become a favorite. We loved a book and bought a copy for our friends' young son. I saw her in the grocery not long ago and she said that book was such a favorite, they used it to theme his Birthday party. How cool is that?
3. Read in front of your kids.
Talk to your kids about the books you’re reading. Curl up with a good book when they’re reading. Join in on reading challenges. Make sure they know reading doesn’t stop when you become an adult. If you're looking for some books to read, check out this post with book recommendations.
4. Read books to your kids (not just at bedtime).
Bedtime is a great time for books, but it’s also a terrible time for parents. We are impatient, exhausted, and frustrated during bedtime. Make it a priority to read to your kids other times during the day or over the weekend. You might be more apt to choose a longer book or one that sparks discussion. If you only read at bedtime, you'll always reach for that 10 page board book and miss out on the 61 page masterpiece that is The Cat in the Hat.
5. Allow kids to pick out their own books.
Go to the library and walk beside them with a bag and no judgement. They may pick books because of the colors on the outside or because it’s turned out on the shelf or because they’ve read it before. Those are all reasons we pick up books too. If books were food, we’re good at picking out fruits and veggies for them. If they put dessert in the bag, don’t say a word. That brings me to…
6. Don’t freak out over weird book choices.
If your kids aren’t picking the classic Newbury award books you remember from childhood, don’t worry. Reading is hard work for a new reader. Remember solving those codes where you had to look at the key to decipher each letter. That's what reading feels like to a newbie. If graphic novels or silly books are their jam, get more of those books for them and laugh along with the goofy stories. They won’t go to college reading Captain Underpants. But because of Captain Underpants, they may go to college reading.
7. Take advantage of library programs.
The librarians in your local library should know your kids by name. Do story time when they’re young. Do the summer reading challenge. Do the fun Saturday activities they have planned. Take advantage of the teen space when your kids are older. Allow other adults to partner with you in reading. A librarian is knowledgable about books BUT isn’t your kids’ teacher or his or her parent. Don’t underestimate that power.
8. Listen to audiobooks.
If you know me at all, you know I’m obsessed with audiobooks. We have one going in our car at all times. I listen to books when I’m doing housework or exercising and we often listen to books when we’re doing puzzles or crafts at home. I’m not against TV. Trust me, I lie too when I’m filling out those questionnaires at the pediatrician about screen time. But, the next time you’re about to turn on the TV, put on a book instead. You’ll have your kids hooked in no time.
9. Allow books to be a roadmap for adventure.
If you’re going on a trip, why not read some books about the area? Or choose a route that can include a day trip to the setting of a favorite book. Go to the birthplace of a favorite author or to Universal Studios to visit Hogwarts. If those things are out of your reach, try making a recipe from a favorite book or theming a Birthday party based off a book or series like my friend in #2.
10. Encourage your kids to write to their favorite authors.
Hudson got a response from Dan Gutman three days after sending a quick email to say he liked his books. And Mr. Gutman apologized for taking so long to get back to him. (He writes the Weird School Series which is a favorite in our house.) Hudson was so excited and proud when his teacher shared it with the class.
11. Read seasonally.
I wrote a blog post a few months ago about having a seasonal book corner. Check it out. Kids are just like us. They love seasons and holidays. Since they’re already interested in the next thing coming up on the calendar, ride that wave of enthusiasm and crack open some books.
12. Read to your kids even as they got older.
My oldest two kids are readers. But sometimes, they’re assigned a book that’s not very interesting to them or a little out of their reach. I will often read the beginning to get them going. Exposition is tough. Especially with challenging books and you can get them over the hump with a chapter or two aloud. As an English teacher, I had a class of juniors one year who really struggled. They were the kids who didn’t qualify for special ed., but needed a lot of help. You know what I did? I read to them. They were a tough bunch. Many of them had had run-ins with the law and abused substances. They weren’t planning for college. But as soon as I read to them, they were like children again. If I didn’t work it into my lesson plans for a few days, they requested it. The success of Audible and recorded books proves that listening to someone read isn't something you outgrow.
13. Make an event of donating used books.
Our family is blessed to have plenty of books, but that isn’t true for everyone. Help your kids choose books they can give away so other kids can hear those awesome stories.
14. Read what your kids are reading.
This is especially important when they enter young adult stage. I suffered through Twilight a few years back because every girl in my class had a copy when they entered my room. I didn't particularly care about the love affair of a girl and a vampire, but I cared about connecting with those girls. YA books often tackle tough issues and can be a great way to open discussion with your teen. Some of the themes may be too adult for them and you won’t know that if you don’t know what they’re reading. Plus, you’re giving the author the only voice on that issue if you don’t join in.
15. Encourage your kids to read to each other.
The first time I saw Anna reading a book to Hudson, my mommy heart grew. What a thrill to see that sight. Also, it’s like killing two birds. One kid gets reading practice while the other gets a story. Only child? No problem. Have them read to cousins, family friends, or even a pet. New readers love to show off their skills for pretty much anyone who will listen.
16. Be willing to seek help if your student is struggling.
When readers entered my classroom, they were already in high school. I didn’t teach them how to read. I taught them how to analyze literature and find themes. Most of the kids who struggled with reading didn’t get better at reading in high school. They just got better at hiding their struggles. They hid them by appearing not to care, getting in trouble, or copying off of others. If you have kid who’s struggling, get her help before she has to start pretending. It’s ok to not have the answers about what your kid needs, but seek the people who do and advocate for your reader. Your child’s literacy is your responsibility.
17. Never use reading as a punishment.
Set aside time for everyone in the family to read together. Make it fun with a fire in the fireplace, calming music, or snacks. If reading is a normal expectation, you may skip some fights. And as soon as you treat reading as a chore or punishment, your kids will too.
18. Know that not every stage is a “book worm stage”.
My oldest is ten, so I’m just now entering the stage where friends and activities are going to play a starring role in her life. I’m not going to let her check out, but I may have to be more creative to keep her interested in books during this time. If your kid’s not really into books, there could be hundreds of reasons why. Have patience during this stage. If it becomes a fight, you may push her further way from books. Make it fun by renting the movie after she’s done reading the book. Pop some popcorn and have her invite a friend if you want, but don’t freak out about it. It’s probably just a stage.
19. Don’t stress about reading level (especially in the summer).
Reading levels are great for a lot of things, but they can limit choices for your kids. In the summer and for pleasure reading, throw out the numbers. It will encourage your kids to read stories not just earn points. If the story is easy, they’ll breeze through it. If it’s difficult, it will stretch them. Summer is a great time to rekindle their love for books. Which leads me to the last thing…
20. Don’t take the summer off.
As a teacher, it was very obvious which of my kids didn’t crack a book all summer. They couldn’t keep up and got frustrated very easily. The goal is for your kids to start the year ahead of where they left off. Again, summer reading programs are a great way to accomplish this goal. Make it a competition or set a reading goal for the whole family to work toward and reward with ice cream or another favorite treat. Unlike drama with friends, social pressures, or even what teacher your kid gets, this is one of the things you can control at the beginning of the school year. Help set him up for success by keeping his brain active during the summer.
Don't worry if you think it's too late to help your kid fall in love with reading. My sister loved books as a kid, but by the time she entered college she didn't read much for pleasure because she had been forced to read a bunch of boring books in high school. I begged her to try Harry Potter, but she didn't think she could care about a wizard kid. I ignored her and bought her the first book and gave her a series of self-addressed postcards she could toss in the mail to request the next book. A day or two later, I got the first postcard back. I called her to see if she had finished the book and she said, "Not yet, but I have to have the next one on hand when I do." Now she teaches preschool kids the value of books and reading. My son sure loves having her as his teacher, and so far, he loves books too.
Why does this matter? I could say reading makes your kids smarter and more successful and that's true. But it's much more than that. In our family, we are on a mission to equip our kids to be world-changers. When people comment on how many kids we have, my first thought is, "Yes. We have four potential world-changers." Okay, that's my second thought. My actual first thought is, "I'm so tired!" All joking aside, world-changers are informed, teachable, and wise. And those just happen to be three words I'd use to describe readers.
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