Raising Kids Who Love to Read: Seven Helpful Hints
As you know, I’ve always been a bookworm. I think reading is good for the brain, the imagination, and the soul. The possibility that I could raise a kid that doesn’t like to read is bizarre. So far I'm clearly raising one bookworm, but, there’s always a slim chance Juliet might not, so I purposely try to encourage Eleanor and Juliet to love reading.
Here are my seven tips for raising readers of your own.
1. Read a lot.
With Juliet (20 months), we read a minimum of 10 minutes daily. That’s about 6-8 board books. Sometimes we read read one at a time, throughout the day, sometimes we read them all at once before bed. I read less to Eleanor (5 years) these days, since she typically reads a few hours a day by herself, but at least a few times a week I try for snuggly book time with her too.
2. Read variety.
We read everything from Sandra Boynton to Caldecott winners to The Poop Book. with Juliet. Sometimes I check things out from the library, and they’re total failures, but I keep trying. I've slowly curated a list of twaddle-free authors I love, and I rounded up a ton of them on this list.
I keep a running list of books-to-read, based on blog and friend recommendations. Then a few days in advance, I go online and reserve them. That way when we’re at the library for story time, all I have to do is swing by the hold shelf, instead of trying to ferret out good books while holding a wiggly toddler.
3. Read about subjects and characters they love.
Juliet loves animals, so we have a TON of animal-themed books. Have a toddler who loves trucks? Find a cute construction lift-the-flap book, or a classic like Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel. An elementary kid who loves Harry Potter? Try the Percy Jackson series, The Dark is Rising sequence, or the Green Knowe books. Eleanor is currently loving Junie B. Jones, Princess Posey, and the Boxcar Children. Occasionally I sneak in a different book, but I tend to check out a lot from those three series, since I know she loves them.
4. Reinforce with experiences.
One afternoon we drove through a crazy monsoon storm. Before bed that night we were reading Amy Loves the Rain, and I pointed out that Amy and her mom were driving through the rain; just like we did. For months, whenever it rained, Eleanor would yell, "It's raining like it did for Amy!"
Or, I love to build "book tents" with my girls. It's as simple as stretching a blanket from one chair to another, grabbing a little snack, and a pile of books. But something about snuggling in a cozy spot, with a pile of good books holds their attention for much longer than usual.
5. Reinforce with products.
We watch Curious George the show, and then read Curious George books. Does your kid love Clifford? Buy them a stuffed one! Big fan of the The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Buy them Caterpillar crayons (I've seen those in the dollar bins at Target!).
Audiobooks are also a great way to encourage auditory learners and reluctant readers - no one can resist turning the page when they hear the chime! Our library has lots of beautiful audio books for preschoolers – like Over in the Meadow or The Snowy Day. We also love listening to Pete the Cat books on audio, because they include funny, catchy little songs.For older kids, or as a whole-family listen, I highly recommend The Chronicles of Narnia or the Little House on the Prairie books (I loved listening to them a few years ago)!
Seeing their favorite character “in the flesh” (so to speak), hearing a story read on tv or on audio, or flipping through a book with characters from their favorite show will help your kids cross-reference and bring things to life.
6. Reinforce with your example.
Want your kids to think reading is fun? Demonstrate it! If you always pull out your phone when you get a spare moment, and save your reading for bedtime, your kids never see you read. While they’re coloring, sit and read next to them -- preferably with a "real" book, as opposed to an e-reader. (I love my Kindle, but it's hard for my kids to know if I'm reading or playing on it.)
If you have kids old enough to read alone, institute a family reading time – where everyone sits by each other and reads their own book, even if it’s just for ten minutes! We call it Quiet Comfy Reading in our family (thanks to my seventh grade teacher getting that stuck in my head). When mom calls "QCR time", it's a signal to drop everything, grab a book, and pile up on the couch for a couple of minutes.
7. Don’t be afraid of failure/destruction.
Last winter, I tried to get Eleanor to read a Pee Wee Scouts book. She sobbed and cried that it was "too hard" and "boring" because it had no pictures. So I waited a couple of months, and tried again. And now I frequently have to fuss at her to put her book down, because she gets so engrossed she forgets to eat/ pick up/ pay any attention to us.
When my girls were babies, I used to prop books up around them. Sure, they chewed a few of them to pieces, but now fairly consistently, I find them contentedly reading piles of books (which makes me grin like a happy booknerd every time).
Just keep trying! In the short run they may fuss, or make a mess or two, but it's all part of the process of raising readers.
Got any more reading tips I missed? Or any cute stories about your own little bookworms?
(I wrote the main part of this post for The Art of Simple a few years ago. Updated it to reflect our current reading status as a family.)