How to raise a reader
8 ways parents can encourage a love of books in kids of all ages
As your kids grow up, the homework demands increase. Middle school and high school activities keep them extra busy, too. It's been years since they were small enough to sit in your lap and read, and re-read, their favorite picture book.
But just because they are busy and bigger doesn't mean your kids have to stop reading for pleasure. If you've found your kids complaining about picking up a book, read on for some tips to foster their love of reading beyond what's required in Language Arts class.
1. Set an example
Like so many facets of parenting, you need to model the behavior you are hoping to see. The other day I was adding a book to my Goodreads "want to read" list and my daughter happened to glance over my shoulder. "739 books you want to read," she gasped. It's true. My list is ever-growing, and it feels like I might not ever make a dent. But my kids see me adding books to it, checking out a fresh stack to read from the library, and starting every day reading a couple of poems. If you want your kids to read, they should see you reading, too. When you make time in your busy day to pick up a book, your kids will see that making time to read is an important part of a life.
2. Remember they don't have to hold the book
Screens seem to be the root of all arguments here in our house. But screen time doesn't have to be all bad. If your child loves picking up the iPad or Kindle, load some e-books for them to read and allow them extra screen time privileges if they spend it reading.
You could also let them listen to a book. Audiobooks nearly doubled the amount of reading in our house. We turn up an audiobook every time we are in our vehicle, whether we are commuting 15 minutes to school or hitting the highway on a road trip. Audiobooks at lights-out may settle some children in for the night. The talented narrators for the audio version of books may also be a way to tempt your children into trying a new book.
3. Surround them with books
Make sure your kids have access to books. "Spend time and money at the bookstore and library," says mom, writer, and former elementary teacher and literacy trainer Melissa Taylor. "Think of creative ways to infuse books into your child's life. Perhaps you create a cozy reading corner somewhere you in your house. Or perhaps they need a bookshelf in their bedroom if they don't have one already.
4. Add an incentive
Taylor suggests starting your own parent-child book club to combine a love of reading with the desires of children to be social creatures. Many local libraries offer reading programs or activities (even for tweens and teens) that offer rewards and incentives for logging reading time outside of schoolwork. My daughter got especially excited about a local program that invites kids to read to shelter dogs.
5. Read together
The night before my son started high school, I asked if we could just read some of our favorite picture books together and much to my delight he agreed. I've made a point to keep reading aloud with my kids as they get older. They've really enjoyed the special one-on-one time they get when we read through the Harry Potter books together — they even get to see me cry — or picture books that they adored when they were younger. Just because kids become independent readers doesn't mean they stop loving being read to. They might not come toddling up to you carrying a book and they might not be up for it every night of the week but reading together at bedtime can still be very good bonding time. Taylor agrees. "I often see kids getting so hooked by these bedtime choices that they'll take the book and read it on their own during the day," she says.
6. Make a match
Nicole Kronzer, a teacher and author whose debut book Unscripted comes out this April, created a book matchmaking activity for her high school students called "Match.com: Going on a Date with a Book!" She has students pick which one of Nancy Pearl's "Four Doors into Reading" they most identify with: Story, Character, Setting, or Language. From there, she asks students a few more questions about genre and the last book they remember reading that they loved, before matching them with a book that wasn't on their radar but connects to their interests.
"English teachers tend to be Language and Character people, so we pick those books for whole class reads," says Kronzer. "If you're a Story or Setting person, you may have never read a book in English class that you love. Those kids, unless they're being supported in choosing books outside the classroom, are more likely to identify as non-readers by the time they hit high school." Finding the right match in a book to read for pleasure, she says, can make all the difference.
7. Ask for help
Parents who are readers, of course, will have the easiest time picking out books to suggest to their kiddos, but even if they aren't, independent booksellers and children's librarians are match-making machines. "I read and write YA and haven't spent as much time reading middle grade," says Kronzer. "So, when my eldest daughter reached that age, I went to Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis and said, 'My kid likes series, fantasy worlds where a lot of action happens, and girl power. Whaddya have for me?' The bookseller flew around, pointing out two dozen suggestions."
She suggests parents have their child make a list of their top five favorite books of all time and try to see what they have in common. "I think it can be really powerful to bring your child and have them talk to the bookseller or librarian themselves," she adds. This can help foster an understanding that they can count on industry professionals to help point them in the right direction of their next read as they grow.
8. Let them choose
When it's time for my daughter to kick back and relax, she turns time and again to her shelf full of graphic novels, all of which she's read through at least four times. They aren't books I'd pick up and read, but I'm not doing the reading. She got in touch with her love of reading through them. "Graphic novels are actual novels!" emphasizes Kronzer. "I have had many parents ask me what they should give their child if they're trying to push them away from graphic novels to 'real' books. Or if they should put limits on how many times their kid reads the same book over and over. These are urges felt by parents out of love, but I'm telling you, if your kid is reading, rock on."
"Let them choose," she continues. "It's not that there's never a time to push someone to consider something new, but books should not be treated like vegetables. Keeping independent reading fun and making it something they feel smart and savvy about is key to developing life-long readers."
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