Hey Mamas and Papas.
Do you have any pre-readers in your house? Any emerging readers who you’d like to see a little more interested in reading? Does it ever seem like your kids lose interest quickly when it comes to books?
Here are a few simple ways you can get your young ones to not only read more, but to truly love reading.
1. Offer tons of variety, and ALWAYS, a fresh supply of books.
Get to your local library and bring those books home. Don’t expect your kids to stay interested in reading if you never give them new material to choose from. Present never-read-before books mixed with old favorites. Bring home non-fiction and poetry–just mix it up.
When you visit the library, let your kids pick their own, but always be looking and digging for books you know they’d enjoy too. Our library lets you check out handled baskets for carrying a big load of books, and that helps in the lugging to and fro. Because we have four kids AND we homeschool, we average about 50 books per visit (and we keep them for at least 2 weeks). The kids love having such a great selection to choose from throughout the week.
2. Display books upright throughout your home.
Hey, it works at the library, right? I notice when I line a shelf with our library books, and set one or two up in front (with the stack behind), my kids always go for those standing books first. They’re like the bait, waiting there on the shelf, enticing them. 🙂 Once they finish it, they tend to reach for another, and another. Try it-set up 2 or 3 books upright on your child’s dresser or shelf. See what happens.
3. Set up “book nooks” around the house.
Provide cozy, inviting areas where your kids can sit or lay to enjoy a few books. This works especially well for younger ones, and they usually enjoy “re-reading” books to themselves that I’ve already read aloud the day before, etc. Some favorite spots in our house are: the rug in front of our fireplace-space-heater in the basement, for the boys–behind their bunkbed, and for my daughter, in her actual closet (with a small lamp). There’s nothing better than cozying up with a blanket and a good book.
4. Attach reading to other rituals and routines.
I bet you’re probably already doing this…examples are: reading books to your kids as part of your their bedtime routine, or reading the Bible aloud everyday at the breakfast table. There is a stronger tendency toward maintaining habits when we connect things we want to begin doing with something we already are doing. This year we began something that has become a favorite ritual for me and my children. We connected afternoon tea and read-aloud. Each day between 3:30 and 4pm, I put the tea kettle on, and when the kids hear it screaming, they know quiet time is over, and they are allowed to come downstairs, and they always come down with a stack of books! Together we pick out our tea, and I always serve some small snack as well. We head to the living room to sip our tea, then curl up together and read books for the next hour. I always start with a couple shorter picture books, but end with reading aloud from whatever chapter book we’re on that week. This has become a favorite time of day for my children, and a precious time of conversation and sharing of life. Since kids love anything to do with snacks, and we usually have some sort of afternoon snack any way, I simply attached the routine of reading aloud to tea/snack time, and now it’s this really special time of day for us all.
5. Read in front of your kids.
Seems like another no-brainer, but in this internet age, kids are more prone to catch us in front of our computer screen or phone than with a book in hand. Do you enjoy reading for pleasure or study? Kids need to see you modeling what you value, and what you want THEM to value. I remember when I taught in public school, we had quiet reading time for 20 minutes after lunch and recess everyday-a time where students would sit at their desk and read whatever they chose. During this time, I would also sit at my desk and read, and I know for certain the kids liked seeing me doing the same. Very often they would ask me what I was reading. I’d tell them, then ask them to tell me a bit about their book too.
6. Limit Television and Gaming
Every family has to set their own limits in this area. But if kids are offered the choice between reading or zoning out in front of the tube, it’s not even a fair game–we all know which one they’ll choose. This is an area where we, as parents, can be tempted to hit the “easy button” and put the tv or a movie on for a couple hours so we can get our never-ending list of things done around the house, or just to have a break for ourselves. But if the choice of media is removed, say, Monday-Friday, I promise, you will see your kids more interested in reading than ever before. We’ve been tv-free for a full year now, and it’s pretty awesome to see how much my kids (particularly my 3 and almost 5 year old boys) have taken to books! We enjoy special movie nights as much as the next family, but these are special exceptions, not the rule. I would encourage any parent to read and research for yourself– when it comes to media influence on our kids, the evidence is powerful. Start here if you are interested in learning more (my husband and I heard this seminar live and were really aghast).
And finally (and most importantly?)
7. Read aloud, read aloud, read aloud! (and read QUALITY)
Many adults who have never read much adolescent literature are delighted when they begin reading it aloud to their kids. Good literature is good literature, no matter what, and there are many a novels that can be read aloud to children that can be equally appreciated by adults. Princess Bride anyone? Lord of the Rings? Little House on the Prairie Series? The Giver? On and on you could go.
The beauty of reading aloud to your children is that you can read books several grade-levels above where they themselves are currently reading. That’s because listening and speaking come long before reading (but are VITAL building blocks FOR reading)
At night, when my husband and I are finished reading the kids their devotions, or the picture storybooks they’ve chosen, we’ll tuck them in bed, and then I’ll sit in the hallway between their rooms, and read aloud the next chapter from the chapter book we’re reading together. As they listen, the littlest ones always fall asleep first, but the ones really interested will make it through a whole chapter or two.
I know it takes time and we are all pressed as is, but you are giving your children a lifelong GIFT when you read to them. They will always remember it. You will entice them to love the printed word, and a desire to be able to read more for themselves. Become a master-story-teller for your kids’ sakes. Use your best expression and make it exciting. You’ll find your little readers will one day follow suite. But first, model, model, model, and enjoy these precious years when your children want to snuggle up with you to hear just one more chapter…one more book. Why not let the less-important things wait, and today, give your kids the gift of reading.