10 Ways to Spark a Love of Reading
In my last post, I made a very personal confession. Interested in learning more about my dirty little secret? It's a quick read - click here.
I'm nothing if not practical...and forgetful, impulsive, given to emotional outbursts, and mildly obsessed with food. But when a problem presents itself, I want to find a solution. I've always been one of those people who desperately tries to save others from the mistakes I've made.
So as we've talked about how an authentic love for reading can be stifled by historically accepted methods of instruction, I want to offer some alternatives. They are things I've used in my classroom or with my own children, and I believe they'll work for any kid at any age. I've seen them spark kids' interested and provide space for exploring reading for pleasure. Pick and choose what works best for you, but promise you'll read through them all!
I said it in my last post, and I'll say it again. Kids need freedom over what, when, where, and how long they'll read. This is #1 on my list because it is not up for discussion. Your son wants to read in the bathtub for five minutes? No problem. Give him a pillow. Your 4th grader wants to check picture books out of the library, even though she reads Harry Potter in two days? Great! Bring a bag. Your 8th grade daughter starts bringing home comic books (age appropriate, of course). Super! Introduce her to the classics that started it all. No matter the age, kids need some say in what they read for pleasure.
Now, I hear you saying, "But my kid needs to read for 20 minutes every day." No problem. Let her pick how she wants to divide those minutes up. And you know what? There is no harm in you taking five of those minutes to read to your kid - just don't tell the teacher I said so.
2. ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE
Let's be honest for a second, okay? We're grown-ups. How do you approach reading for yourself? What subtle clues might you be giving off to your kid when it comes to reading? Do you pick up a book yourself when you have free time or do you turn on the TV to watch Marie Kondo? Kids adopt a lot of our internal attitudes, so we need to be mindful of what we're passing along.
Similarly, what are your interactions like with your kid around reading? Are you a parent dictating or enforcing a chore? Or are you a fellow explorer, sharing ideas and interests, asking questions, encouraging? How much positive reinforcement do you give to your child around reading? Does reading for pleasure involve conflict at your house or compassion? Competition or inclusion?
This tip comes in at #2 because it is so important. No matter what comes our of our mouths, kids always pick up on what our actions are saying. Make an effort to create positive associations around reading, and I guarantee it will wear off on your kids.
3. GET A LIBRARY CARD
People, this is a no brainer. If you want your kid to read, you must give her access to books. Period. Look, I'm not made of money. We do not buy our books. We visit the local library at least once a week and check out a ridiculous amount of books that we inevitably read, but also lose and have to pay fines on. But don't let that deter you!
Libraries are vital when it comes to developing reading. They allow your kids to explore a wide variety of texts at their own pace. They are low or no cost ways to make sure your home is a text-rich space where kids can interact with words on a regular basis. Many libraries also offer e-books (for free!) which can be downloaded from the comfort of your home at any time. Kids as young as kindergarten can get their own library card. AND SO CAN YOU! Click here to find a library close to you.
4. ACCEPT ALTERNATIVE TEXT
What "counts" as reading? Do you have to sit down in a comfy chair with a blanket wrapped around you and get lost in a novel for 45 minutes? No.
Alternative text is all around. Kids engage with reading every time they peruse up a menu, look at a highway sign, or gaze at the back of the cereal box. If your reader is super reluctant, find alternative text that stimulates him. Is your kid in to cooking and eating? Read and follow a recipe together - that's reading! Does your kid love putting stuff together or working with her hands? Find a craft or project with written instructions and help your kid read through them. There are a lot of other creative ways to read; grab hold of them and introduce them to your reader.
5. MODEL IT
This goes hand-in-hand with #2. It's ridiculous (and irresponsible - sorry) to think that our kids will do things we don't. If you want your kid to value and enjoy reading, you have to learn to do the same. Put down your phone and pick up a book. Turn off the TV and pick up a book. Instead of going out to a movie with the family, spend a night in and read together.
6. READ ALOUD
If I could be a professional book reader, I would. One of my great loves is to read a book aloud. Since my kids were bitty, I read aloud to them. During my days of teaching middle school, I read aloud to students - complete with weird voices, funky accents, and plenty of stumbling over words. Now that you have your library cards, head to the library and pick out a book to read together. Carve out 10 minutes to read a chapter (maybe two if the book is really good). Do it before bedtime for little ones to wind down the day. For older kids, pick a night where you're all eating together and yes, read at the table. Then ignite conversation with the kids by asking them what they thought of the day's reading.
7. CHEAT READ
Okay, listen. I know this one is technically not actual reading. But hear me out.
Downloading and listening to an audiobook is an amazing, accessible way to interact with good writing. I've noticed that a lot of struggling readers don't enjoy reading because what they are able to read does not match their interest level. They get bored with and humiliated by books. Listening to an audiobook allows them to get a taste of what their reading future holds. It shows them that there are exciting, vibrant stories out there to read. It may even motivate them to try a book that is a challenge for them.
My suggestion with this tip is to find a book series that is available in audio form, and listen to the first book together. My family has loved the Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Penderwicks, and the Incorrigibles book series. In listening and becoming familiar with the plot lines of the first books, kids can more easily track the next book in the series. They won't have to work as hard to understand what is going on because they'll have the background knowledge necessary to draw connections. In our house, listening to a book has replaced watching TV and playing video games. And the best part? You can download them from a library for free!
8. USE RECOMMENDATIONS
Committing to reading a book is a big deal. It's going to take a serious chunk of time, so if you don't like it...well, it feels like a huge waste.
Working with your kid to set up an account with an online site like Biblionasium (for younger kids) or Goodreads (for tweens and teens) allows them to access all kinds of titles and get recommendations from like-minded readers. They're also more likely to take advice from a peer than a parent. Kids can also track the books they've read and follow their progress as a reader, which is really motivating. As with any online activity, be sure to monitor your child's interactions and keep close tabs on their content.
9. BOOK CLUBS
I know you're looking for ideas that are simple. I get it. But this one could be really fun, so I wanted to include it for those of you who are a little more adventurous or have too much time on your hands.
Forming a community around books brings people together. The easiest way to do this is to form a family book club. Agree to read the same book and set aside time to talk about it. Make the time around the book special - serve fun food or set a specific mood in your home. This kind of activity can be as loose or formal as you want it to be - it all depends on your family's personality. Just make sure it's enjoyable for the kids. Need ideas? Check out this short article from Brightly or this one from Wondermom Wannabe
Does #10 feel like a cop out? I hope not because it is a critical part of this process. Rome wasn't built in a day, the laundry isn't folded in an hour, and your kid will not love to read in a week. As all part of parenting, developing an appreciation for reading takes time and intentionality. It's a slow process of putting one foot in front of the other, figuring out what works, and celebrating the small victories.
Don't be overwhelmed by these tips and try to implement them next week. Choose two, three at most, and focus on doing them consistently. I promise you, over time, you'll see a change in your kiddos...and probably in yourself as well.