I believe that all children deserve to grow up with the opportunity to love books and reading. They won't actually all end up as dedicated readers, of course - kids have all sorts of unique preferences and learning styles. But there are countless gifts that stem from growing up with an enjoyment of reading, from a strong vocabulary to a heightened degree of empathy. Basically, kids who enjoy books and reading will choose to spend some of their time reading. Reading will become easier and easier for them, and they will enjoy it more and more, and thus spend more time at it. There will be a positive feedback cycle that leads to improved test scores, strong verbal skills, and most importantly, many hours of enjoyment.
Here are some tips for parents who would like to nurture the love of reading in their children. These tips were originally published on my personal blog several years ago, and are updated here for EdWords.
1. Read aloud to your children from (or even before) birth, and keep reading aloud to them even after they can read on their own (for as long as you can). This has been shown to have a huge impact in raising readers, and is the number one thing that parents and other concerned adults should do to help grow bookworms. By reading to kids in a comforting environment, you help them to think of reading as a pleasurable activity. You also increase their vocabularies and attention spans, and show them that books are important. And with all of the many wonderful books out there, this should be enjoyable for you and the kids.
2. Read the books that your children read, even after you are no longer reading aloud with them (or along with books you're reading together). Talk to them about these books. Let them recommend books to you. By reading the books your children read, you show them that you value them, and the books, and you open up untold avenues for important discussions. I personally think that if more parents and other adults did this, there would be less of a drop-off in reading for pleasure as kids get older (though I have no formal data to back this up). I wrote about this in more detail here.
3. Choose books that your children enjoy. Find books that satisfy their interests, and let them choose books that please them. This is especially important for women selecting books for boys, who may prefer reading in formats other than traditional fiction. Yes, it can be frustrating to have your child read nothing but comic books. But reading comic books IS reading. I'm not saying don't try to suggest other books for them, too. But keep in mind that the central goal is for kids to find reading a pleasurable activity, one that they wish to continue. Everything else follows from that (all the way to better test scores and dream colleges).
4. Make sure that your children (and nieces and nephews and grandchildren) have books of their own. You don't have to buy every book, of course, but it's important for kids to have at least a few books that are theirs that they can read and re-read and fall in love with.
5. Visit libraries and bookstores. Libraries allow you to choose a variety of books, and to try books out before you buy the ones that your child really loves. Libraries have events and read-alouds. Librarians are great at recommending books based on a child's interest. Don't let this free resource go untapped. Bookstores show kids an environment and a culture filled with other people who also love books, and also often have fun events.
6. Read yourself, and model an appreciation for books. This is especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. It's all very well to SAY that books are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, your kids are less likely to turn to books themselves. In general, have lots of printed material in your home, especially books, because this also shows that you think that books are valued.
7. For younger children, point out when you're learning useful information by reading (including non-traditional reading, like when you read maps). The idea is to gradually (and in non-didactic fashion) show young children the many doors that reading opens.
8. Limit screen time, especially for children under three. For children under two, screen time can actually impair their brain development. For older children, time spent watching TV or playing around on tablets is time NOT spent reading books. When they watch stories on screen, everything is spelled out for them. When they read stories in books, they use their imaginations more. Books are also generally better in terms of expanding vocabularies and dealing with thoughtful and complex issues. There are some educational shows and apps that focus on vocabulary and making reading fun, and these have do have value. Needless to say, steering your children towards these venues instead of towards violent cartoons is something that will help.
9. Create cozy reading places within your house, and keep books handy in different rooms (including the kitchen and the bathroom). The idea here is to a) make it convenient to read, so that kids will choose books as an option, and b) continue to make reading a pleasurable activity, one that kids will want to repeat often.
10. At least once in a while, let them stay up late reading under the covers. Pretending you don't know is probably ok in this case, though I'm not generally a big advocate of deception. As kids get older, one of the tricky things is that reading isn't perceived as "cool." If your child wants to read enough to sneak a flashlight into bed - you should consider yourself very lucky. (
There are no guarantees, but I think that if you're doing all of these things, you're quite likely to end up growing some healthy bookworms.
A few helpful books for parents and teachers looking to encourage young readers:
- The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike by Esmé Raji Codell
- Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
- Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do by Daniel T. Willingham
Ideas in this post were originally published on Jen Robinson's Book Page. More detail can be found here: http://jkrbooks.typepad.com/blog/2011/07/tips-for-growing-bookworms-series-recap.html