In addition to being a middle school reading teacher, I am an avid reader. According to goodreads, I worked my way through 140 books in the last year alone. At any given moment I have about three books going at a time. I am pretty serious when it comes to reading.
While I don’t think you need to try and train your kids to be a reader with an appetite as voracious as my own, there are things you can do to help your kids see the value and importance of reading. In retrospect, these were some of the things that had the biggest impact on me, and I see them work in other kids as well.
1.) Start Reading Early
When our son Milo was born, we started reading him books really early on. There were a lot of touch and feel titles with thick pages and colorful pictures. Now that he is nearing four, reading is still a part of the daily routine. Each night before bed we will read him a book or two. We each pick a book, and it becomes a special time for us. If you make reading a part of the daily routine early on, you make it a valuable part of the routine, and you keep it consistent, the value of reading becomes part of their lives. Because we are starting early, reading is part of the routine as opposed to a novelty.
2.) Have Plenty of Books Available
If you want kids to read and enjoy books, you have to provide for them plenty of options. It is up to each parent to decide what is reasonable, but the more you have around the better. Simply having books around makes it easier for kids to access. I can think of dozens of instances where my son simply saw a book laying around, picked it up, and then asked somebody to read it to him. When he starts reading on his own, he will have a wide variety of books to choose from and explore on his own. The more you have, the less likely it is they will get bored with the ones they have.
3.) Never Say No
One of the things that my parents did, which had a huge impact on my personal reading habits, was that they never said no to books. Like any kids, my siblings and I were constantly asking for new toys and things from our parents. While I never got that X-Men Gambit action figure, every time I asked for a book, I got it. If I saw one at the grocery store, it would go in the cart. If we took a trip to the bookstore as a family, I’d always pick out something, and it would always come home. My parents never said no when it came to books. They might ask us to only pick one at a time, but if I wanted something new to read, I was never left empty handed. Once I caught on to this fact, I was asking for and requesting books all the time. I thought I was getting the best of my parents. Why bother asking for an action figure and run the risk of getting turned down, when I could ask for the latest Star Wars novel with guaranteed results. I was reading like crazy because I liked new stuff, my parents indulged it because I was reading.
4.) Take Frequent Trips to Libraries and Bookstores
While my parents never said no to letting me have a book, they didn’t have to spend a ton of money. We would take occasional trips to the bookstore, but I feel like we were always at the library. My siblings and I would always participate in the summer reading programs. Every time we had to do a homework or research project, my parents would take all of us to the library. There were times when we just went for the heck of it. As a kid, going to the library can be a whole lot of fun, especially when you have your own library card and can pick out all the books you can handle. It was the same thrill as shopping for brand new books, without any of the cost. The more we went, the more it just seemed like a natural part of our lives. You’d go to the library, you would pick out a bunch of books, you’d take them home, read them, and do it all over again awhile later. Again, my parents would say yes to everything. I got to know the library so well I didn’t have to look things up in the computer; I knew exactly which section had the types of books I was looking for.
Don’t forget, the Cincinnati Public Library system has so many different branches to choose from. Each of those branches offers a family adventure, and a new, safe place to explore.
5.) Find a Series
Right around the time I was in the third or fourth grade, I stumbled on “The Boxcar Children”. Those little mysteries meant the world to me. Every time I finished one, I could usually talk one of my parents into taking me back to the bookstore to find the next one. Waiting for the release date of the next volume was always a great thrill. I figured out pretty early that if I started reading a series with thirty books in it, I could essentially ask my parents to get me all of those books, provided I kept reading them. It was also nice because if I read and enjoyed book one, I had a pretty good idea of what book two would have to offer, and I‘d read and enjoy that too. Once I grew tired of Boxcar Children, I moved on to bigger and better series. During this span of time, each of my siblings had their own series of books we were dedicated to. We’d go to the store to get the next book in the series; we all had special shelves to house our collections. I remember taking great pride in my personal chapter book collection back when it was twenty six books. The recurring characters, settings, and adventures really helped hook me in a big way.
6.) Model Reading Behavior
Most importantly, If we want to turn our kids into passionate readers, we have to be able to model and demonstrate these habits ourselves. I saw an article the other day cautioning parents to think about their cell phone use habits, and the message that sends to kids. A parent, who cannot separate from their phone, is sending a message to their kid that cell phones are important and should take up a lot of time, even if that parent has a no phone policy for their kids. If you are not a big reader, teaching your kids to love books will be a difficult thing to do. While my dad was never a big reader at home, my mom read all the time. She would get her book club books in the mail, and spend chunks of her free time reading. You can’t ask your kid to sit and read, and then go into the other room and put on the television. It isn’t enough to encourage your kid to read, you have to do it to.