As a lover of books and reading, and as a teacher, I always am excited about the idea of reading with kids. I love teaching reading and writing and my days as the teacher librarian were fun because there were students who would come into the library excited to read and would chat books with me. I also got to make recommendations and have kids tell me they loved the books I loved and that was just so rewarding and fun for me.
But, as a teacher, I also know that kids can resist reading. Some claim it’s boring. Or hard. And I have heard teachers bemoan that some kids never do their reading homework. And I know that some parents express concerns about their child’s reading levels and the fact that their child never reads.
So how do we, as parents, instil a love of reading in our kids? Because let’s face it, if you want to kids to really love reading and for it be a life long habit, then you as parent have to be involved in making that happen instead of relying on teachers to make this happen. Because we can’t. We can inspire, encourage and teach skills, but instilling a love of reading is beyond our ability. Some of us who love to read, and are readers, may be more successful than teachers who don’t read regularly themselves, but even so, I don’t have superpowers. Instilling a love of reading is something parents have to be involved in as well. So what can us humble parents do?
Read to Your Child from a Young Age
By this, I mean, you have a newborn, you read to that newborn. I know it feels silly, but you are exposing them to language which is great, and you might as well read to them as not because reading shouldn’t be something that starts once school starts. Read to your baby and toddler. As a teacher, I once heard that a child needs a thousand hours of lap time reading (you reading to them in other words) to be prepared for reading in school. So yes, start with that newborn. Let them hold books, turn pages, ask questions. And read to them.
Be a Reader
If you want your child to read, and to love reading, you have to be a reader yourself. If you model reading (that is, sit and read a book) your child will see them as something interesting to do. Have a small (or large) personal library and read after dinner instead of watching TV, or on a snowy afternoon. Having books in the home encourages a culture of reading, the benefits of which can be measured into adulthood, according to studies. Children copy what you do, so if you read, they will do and this will have life long benefits.
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DOn’t Make Reading a Chore
As a teacher, I hated the idea of sending home Snuggle Up books, little books that kids had to read every night with parents. Reading should not be a chore. It shouldn’t be perceived as homework. Of course, as a teachers we want to encourage reading, but I felt like this practice was working against us. And reading. So don’t make reading a chore for your kids. Instead, share a book with them that you love to read and read it together. Have them chose books to read, or to be read to. It is perfectly acceptable to read to your kids even if they are still learning to read. They don’t have to do all the reading independently unless they are practicing. Reading ought to be fun, so don’t turn into a chore like putting their socks in the hamper.
Give the Gift of Books
Make books special! Give them to your kids as a gift on special occasions, like birthdays or Easter. Tell them why you chose that book for them–was it your favourite as a kid? Did you hear that it’s the newest big hit like Harry Potter? Making books special makes reading exciting and fun, and kids are always interested in having fun. If your child has done something really well is another great reason to give the gift of books.
Talk About What You are Reading
Talk with your child about what you are reading. Maybe not some of the more adult content or concepts, but just generally. Talk about the plot or how the book makes you feel. If you are reading To Kill a Mockingbird for instance, you can talk about how some characters are treated unfairly and how you feel that they ought be more accepting. Tell your child you hope the story has a happy ending, or that people learned to be more accepting from reading the book. Share your favourite books with them and ask what they think. Engage with your child in reading in any way you can think of through discussion. This not only encourages critical thinking, but it also opens up worlds and ideas that kids will catch on to, that only be found in books.
DOn’t Censor Too Much
Don’t censor what you child reads too much. I mean sure, you might not want your twelve old reading romance novels with explicit sex scenes. I get that. But if you censor what they read too much, you’ll take all the fun out of reading. It’ll feel prescribed and who wants to read from a reading list anyway? And if everyone in their age group is reading The Hunger Games and you ban it, your child will no longer have something to chat about with their peers. Instead, take a controversial book like The Hunger Games, read it with your child, and discuss it critically. That’s the point of that book anyway.
I think that if you do all or most of the above that your child should become not only a good reader, but also a lover of books and even a bookworm. And that is truly exciting because books are the places and people we’ll never go or meet, the lives we can never live, the experiences we can never have. Unless we read.
Do you have any other suggestions for encouraging a love of reading in your child? Share below.