Friday, February 13, 2015

How to Raise A Reader

As you probably know, I am the proud momma of two kids. D is seven and in 1st grade. BG is almost two. Both of them love reading and books.

Now I am not foolish enough to believe that some magic combination of actions will ensure that your child grows up to be someone who loves to read. But I do think that there are certain things we can do as parents to make it more likely. Here are some of my tips for helping your kiddos to learn to love reading.

1. Read early. Read often.
I started reading to both kids soon after birth. Now some parents are probably wondering why they have to start slogging through Goodnight Moon when their infant has no concept of words. The answer, of course, is that you don't. It's a great idea for you to read aloud whatever it is that you are reading. They have no understanding of meaning as infants, but they are observing that words are taken from those things you are holding. They are hearing new words and their little brains are storing away lessons in phonics and reading that will be incredibly helpful when they are older.

Then read often. Most children will have mandated reading once they get into school. But I think you have to start before then. Read to them at bedtime and make it a part of their routine. Keep some books in the car for those unexpected delays. Spend a lazy Saturday morning snuggled up and reading together. When a big kid or a little kid brings a book to you, take it and read to them.


2. Let them see you read.
I love to read and one of my favorite things to do is sit side by side with one of my kids, as we each enjoy our respective books. But I realize that not every parent has the time to read in front of their children every day. So work with what you have! Be seen reading the newspaper or a magazine during the weekend. Talk to your kids about the book you are reading before bed or listening to during your commute. Explain what you like about it and the ways that stories and reading shape your life.

3. Let them pick their own books. Don't let them pick their own books.
Kids, like many adults, like to read certain things. Your aunt might really like to read John Grisham. Your son might like to read books about trucks. Neither one of them want to be swayed from their preferred reading. There isn't too much you can do about your aunt, but what do you do when your kid begs to read the same book for the 2,598th time?

You find a balance. I am a big fan of slipping additional books into David's library pile. He takes out all of the Lego and Star Wars books. I add award-winning books and books about children whose lives look different than his does. Sometimes he is underwhelmed by my choices (see Ramona Quimby). But then I introduced him to the Chronicles of Narnia and he devoured the entire series. You may sigh about their favorite book, but phases pass. Supporting their love of reading is the most important, regardless of what books they love.


4. Make books available.
We have books all over our house. We have a room that we call the library, where there are shelves of books for kids and adults. We also have a chest full of board books and picture books that BG can grab at any time (and she does). Then both children have books in their room for bedtime reading.

We have some books that are special - books that signed by authors or handed down from a family member. Those we keep up high and read with the kids so they don't get ripped or ruined. Other than that though, we let the kids read the books themselves in all circumstances. That means that we have a lot of books with taped pages as toddler learn to turn them gently and we have a fair share of books with food stains on them.


5. Diversity in reading material
Kids need to read books where the kids look like they do and books where children live lives that they can't fathom. Boys need to read about girls and girls need to read stories about boys. They need stories set in fantasy worlds and non-fiction about the men and women who changed the world.

Diversity for children's books is not limited to the topic. It's important for kids to have multiple levels of reading material available to them. BG looks at a lot of board books but we also show her lots of picture books and she is fond of picking up her brother's chapter books to flip through. D reads chapter books without a second thought, but he still has picture books and easy readers whenever he wants to read them.

What are your tips for instilling a love of books in your kids?


  1. I don't have kids of my own, and there are no young children in my family of a pre-reading-on-their-own age, but if I did, I don't think I could top your rules. Brava!

  2. These are great suggestions and all are supported by research. I'm not a parent but I work with family literacy programs. I think the biggest thing for parents, besides starting at birth, is just making sure children enjoy reading and associate it with happy, loving memories. The other thing I would add for parents of young children is don't worry about reading every word of the story -- interacting with your child while you read is more important.

    1. Yes, you certainly want to make reading enjoyable for your kids. I think you keep giving them options until something (hopefully) sparks the reading love!

  3. Love this post! And it sounds very much like what we do at home! The kids love their Thomas and Cars books but the almost-4-year-old is quite happy to read a variety of books. The almost-2-year-old is less willing to sit down for non-Thomas books but we're trying!

    And another tip for others: bring your kids to the library! Besides books and toys, there are great library programs for kids, story time and music sessions and even crafts.

    1. I can't believe I forgot to talk about the library! Whoops! We love our little library. It's so nice that everyone knows the kids, but we are part of a county library system so we can request any book we want. :)

  4. These are great advice! As an English teacher, I can easily tell the kids that are going to be avid readers someday. Most of the time, it's because the parents are involved with their reading habits. It saddens me though because I hear a lot of parents complain how their kids are just reading way too much, or other parents punish them by making them read. These are all great practices what you're doing and am sure your children will be open to great books even when they get older.

    Random Ramblings

    1. The required reading thing concerns me somewhat. If you have a reluctant reader and you force them to read a certain type of book so many times, does it hurt them in the long run? I think you have to be very careful about requiring something like that.

      I have three sisters and we are all devoted readers. My mom used to joke that the school sent home a lot of information about how to get your children to read, but they never sent home any flyers about how to get them to stop and do their chores! :)

  5. This is such a great blog post idea and you've shared some wonderful true and valid points... I honestly don't think I could add anything to them; I agree with them all!
    Bits & Bobs