A perennial question among parents of kids young or old is:
“How can I raise a child who loves to read?”
We hear this question repeated year after year because parents know that raising a skilled and frequent reader will give their child a headstart in school and in life. It truly is the gift that lasts a lifetime. Parents also know, however, that there are more and more attractive distractions out there, vying with books for our children’s attention. If we want to raise readers, we can’t just sit back and let it happen naturally anymore. We have to be proactive.
So, how can you raise a reader?
Step One: Surround your child with books from the very beginning. A child raised in a French-speaking household grows up to speak French. A child raised on a farm grows up knowing about planting and harvesting. Just so, a child raised around books will grow up feeling comfortable with books.
This doesn’t mean you have to decorate your entire house with bookshelves (although that sounds like heaven to me). Make regular trips to the library. Ask friends for books that their older kids have grown out of. Go to used bookstores and library discarded-book sales. Always have a book with you in your purse, a bag, or the glove compartment of your car. Nowadays you can even build libraries on your mobile devices. Never let your child be without the opportunity to read! Apps like the Reading Rainbow App for iPad or Kindle are designed to give your child an entire library he can take with him wherever he goes!
Keep these books out in the open. Place them in the main living area of your house, where your child will see them every time he walks by. Your child may not pick up a book every time he sees one, but if books are always around, he WILL pick them up twice as often as he would have if they were not around at all.
Step Two: Read. Read to your child, read for yourself, read out loud even if it seems that no one is listening. This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often we try and try to get our kids to read, and yet we never think to pick up a book for ourselves. Children watch what their parents do, and they learn from what they see. If they never see their parents reading, kids will learn that reading is not a valuable or important activity.
Make reading a regular part of your child’s AND your day. Pick the most convenient time of day and carve out 10 minutes to read for yourself every day. Maybe 10 minutes before you start making dinner, or 10 minutes before you start the bedtime routine, or maybe the 10 minutes while you’re eating breakfast. Whatever you choose, make this time sacred. When your child sees how important reading is to YOU, she will learn that reading is important for her as well.
Step Three: Talk about books. More importantly, talk about books as if they were friends. Many families have a reward system for reading, and that’s wonderful! But talking about books rewards your child with what he craves most—your time and attention. Ask your child about the books he’s reading. Talk about books you liked as a child, and what books you like to read now. Here are some book discussion conversation starters:
What did you read today?
Who’s your favorite character? What do you like about them?
When I was your age my favorite book was ______, and the book was about ________.
Is there anything you don’t like about the book you’re reading? Why?
Today I read an interesting thing about ______. What do you think about that?
This book I’m reading right now makes me laugh (or cry, or angry, or wistful). Have you ever read a book that made you feel like that?
Talking about books brings home the fact that reading is important to your family AND gives you and your child quality time together.
As the Reading Rainbow Mom, Jenni Buchanan enjoys sharing her love of reading with kids and adults all over the world, encouraging readers of ALL ages to believe that they can “go anywhere, be anything.” Jenni is an avid reader, a freelance writer, and teacher of literature, drama, and social media. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two daughters. To learn about Reading Rainbow’s new digital learning products, visit www.readingrainbow.com.