People often ask me how I get my children to read on their own–happily–and truth be told, I don’t have an easy answer. Part of it is likely due to the limited options around here (!), but I would like to think that some of it is also modeling what they see around them at home. Apparently reading to your child, as wonderful as that is, doesn’t translate into a love of language or advanced linguistic aptitude. Nor do fancy apps and programs.
Rather, according to Freakanomics authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner the thing that contributes most toward developing engagement with reading material is modeling–watching others in the home do the same. (Even simply having books in the home correlates positively with high literacy achievement.)
Child #1’s bookcase. Books are several rows deep, but he seems to have a mental cataloguing system that works. ;)
This makes sense, no? If our kids always see us staring at a screen or pecking out texts, telling them to go read for the recommended 30 minutes/day would be a tough sell. They might think, if it’s so great, why aren’t you doing it?
I do consider myself lucky that my kids love to read (seriously, the phrase “Can you just stop reading for one minute!” is a common refrain in our house), but it is not because they are geniuses or because I have come up with some revolutionary method. Rather, I think that there are five main reasons that they have developed into happy readers, so for what it is worth, here are my suggestions:
By this, I am largely talking about electronic distractions. I love technology as much as the next person–obviously I am typing this on my computer, which I will then upload to the Internet–but for kids, it can be difficult to prioritize doing something low-tech (reading) when a device or a program or an app is buzzing or blinking or flashing, “LOOK AT ME!” We don’t have a video game system or cable TV, however, we do have an iPad and computers in the house. But unless my son is doing something school-related (like typing an assignment in Word, for example), he is limited to 30-minutes of screen time/day. Most of which he uses to play a soccer game on the iPad or watch videos on wiffle ball technique on YouTube! I have heard people complain that they bought their kids tablets (iPads or a Kindle Fire) for reading, but all their kids want to do is use the device to play games or download apps (or take photos, or watch movies, etc.). Um, really? No disrespect intended, but obviously that is what most kids will do. But with a physical book, you can only do one thing with it. (Even a basic Kindle or Nook, which offers very limited options for online engagement and can be another option.)
Allow them to choose reading material that connects with their interests.
I will be forever grateful for my hometown librarian, Mrs. V., who would not bat an eye when I came to the circulation desk with a hodgepodge of titles that were all over the map as I defined my interests over the years. When I was in Junior High, I was reading everything from Jane Austen, to Danielle Steel, to books about Transcendental Meditation, and home decorating (Laura Ashley’s Guide to Home Decorating). There was no common theme at all, but that was okay! This freedom to explore genres and subjects kept me excited about writing–and, I like to think, helped me develop a diverse knowledge base.
Right now, my children like graphic novels, non-fiction, and the classics. Again, it is not because I have developed my own “Great Books” master list for them, but because they have the freedom to make their own choices. For example, my daughter is currently fixated on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants series. But last year, it was the Little House on the Prairie books.
If I had my English professor hat on, I would say some books are “better” than others. But instead, I let them choose what interests them. It keeps reading fun and personal, which is so important. Though I *do* confess to buying my son the Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf and Odyssey when he was on a graphic novels kick. (Is that the literary equivalent of hiding vegetables in smoothies?)
Provide frequent opportunities for engagement with books.
When they were little, I kept a basket of board books in the living room. Even before they were walking, they would crawl over and grab books out and flip pages and point at things with their chubby little fingers. Now, they will grab a book off the bookcases in the living room or pick up a newspaper that is on the coffee table. There are bookcases in their rooms too, where they are able to store and rediscover old favorites.
Connecting with books at bookstores or better yet, your public library is also a great way to encourage a regular reading practice. We have a set “library day” every week where we will load up on new titles. At any given time, we might have a couple dozen titles (or more!) checked out as a family, but that means there is always something new to read. Get to know your local librarians–they are such terrific resources for information on books and other literacy resources. And most are librarians because they LOVE to read themselves. So take advantage of their enthusiasm! :)
Present reading as a fun activity, not a placeholder or requirement.
Reading IS an activity. So often, though, it can be viewed as something that kids have to do, rather than something that they choose to do. For instance, beginning in third grade, my son came home every month with reading logs that he was supposed to complete daily (to show that he had read for the allotted 30 minutes). I thought this was silly because it turned free reading into an assignment. After telling my son not to worry about these logs (after all, I argued, how could we reasonable quantify the time he spent reading), I revised my position. Which may have had something to do with my husband suggesting that I was sending the wrong message by refusing to comply. (Ahem.)
Talk about books that you like, ask them about their favorites. Start a family book club or one with classmates. Check out these suggestions for some ideas.
Let them see you enjoy reading.
This is a good one–settle into a comfy chair or recline on your couch with a good book in hand. I have some title suggestions here and here. Enjoy!
Two happy readers.