In the age of electronics, many parents worry that their children are getting too much screen time and not enough time reading books. By encouraging young readers, parents can help their children develop the habits that will lead to a lifetime of reading and learning. We all know that reading benefits children in many ways, but some children seem naturally averse to the process. Luckily, parents can implement a variety of strategies to help their children fall in love with books.
Why Is Reading Important?
The benefits of reading cannot be overstated. Developing reading habits early in life can help children academically and socially. Reading books expands children’s imaginations and vocabularies, and also introduces them to faraway worlds and times. As they witness the decisions made by characters and the rewards or consequences that follow, they learn important life lessons about human nature. Likewise, reading books can also help children to become strong writers and spellers. When seeing the language on the page or hearing it read aloud, children internalize sentence patterns, word choice strategies, and grammar rules. There is no shortage of reasons we would want our children to love reading!
Make Reading a Part of Family Life
By integrating reading into your everyday schedule and space, you can instill the habits that will help your child grow into a lifelong reader.
It’s never too early to begin reading to your children. When parents or caregivers read to infants, they are giving them early lessons in language patterns and vocabulary, while also encouraging them to look, point, and touch. Even before babies can talk, they can benefit from regular reading time. Many parents like to make reading a part of their children’s naptime or bedtime routine. In addition to the cognitive advantages mentioned already, reading before sleep helps the child to relax, and the bonding between caregiver and baby contributes to a sense of well-being and happiness. Encouraging young readers in this way often leads to the child developing a positive attitude toward reading as they grow older.
Let Your Children See You Reading
Children become curious when they see their parents and caregivers reading. You can contribute to your child’s love of reading by modeling it yourself. My mother was always reading paperback novels when I was a child. Before I could read by myself, I remember watching her read and wondering what mysteries were held within the pages of her books. I deeply desired to learn to read so that I could read all by myself. When children see their parents reading for pleasure, they learn to see it as a sacred pastime rather than a chore. Children are more likely to fall in love with reading when their parents are readers, too.
Institute Family Reading Time
As children learn to read independently, you might consider implementing family reading time. When I was a child, my mother and I would curl up on either side of the couch on Saturday mornings and devour the pages of our books. I can still remember the sense of joy and connection associated with those mornings. In order to make this work, you might have to establish some electronics-free time to minimize distractions. Gather the family together in a comfortable space, each with his or her book of choice, and enjoy some reading time together. If you have small children who aren’t yet reading independently, allow them to explore board books on their own. Books with tactile components such as “Pat the Bunny” or “Never Touch a Polar Bear” are especially engaging for young children. When reading becomes part of the family routine, children are more likely to want to participate.
Create a Special Reading Nook
To facilitate your child’s love of reading, create a special place in your home dedicated to reading. If you have the space and resources, find an unused corner of your home, equip it with beanbags or throw pillows, and stock it with shelves or bins of books. If you’re low on space, you can wait for a rainy day and create a temporary “reading fort” with a couple of chairs from your dining table, and a beach towel. By allocating a designated reading area, you can help your child discover the pleasure that reading has to offer.
Help Your Child Find the Right Books
Parents often ask, “What kinds of books should my child be reading?” The answer is simple: your child should read the books that interest him or her. Children who don’t enjoy reading often say that it’s “boring.” By getting the right books into their little hands, you can keep boredom at bay and help them develop positive associations with reading. Encouraging young readers to explore their own interests through reading is a fantastic way to ignite their love of reading.
Visit the Library Often
Libraries are a great place for the whole family to explore books. Where else can you find books for the entire family at no cost? Allow your children to browse the shelves and displays, or enlist the help of a local librarian to find great titles for encouraging young readers. Many libraries offer story-time activities for younger children and scavenger hunts for older children. Once your family discovers all your local library has to offer, your children will beg for another trip to the library.
Trade Books or Recommendations with Another Family
Another fun and cost-effective way for families to keep a steady supply of new books is to set up book exchanges with other families. Children are more likely to accept book recommendations from a peer than from a parent. Setting aside time once a month or so to gather with other book-loving families to talk about and/or trade books can make the process of finding new reading material fun and exciting. If you want to connect with families long distance, you might also try setting up virtual book talks using a Flipgrid or another similar application.
Use Online Tools to Find Great Books
Make modern technology your friend and check out the many free websites dedicated to reading. Goodreads features a predictive algorithm that can predict which books your family will love based on your ratings of books you’ve already read. With 40 million members and growing, Goodreads also gives you access to book reviews to help your family select titles that will be interesting and appropriate to you and your children. Common Sense Media is another favorite of mine. At this site, you’ll not only find user reviews, but you can also read the editor reviews to vet books (and movies, video games, and apps!) that you don’t have time to preview yourself. That way you can make sure that your child’s reading and viewing entertainment are in line with your family’s values. For a few bucks, you can upgrade to a Plus membership with broader access to reviews. By using one of the many resources available on the web, you can save time and make wise decisions about your family’s media consumption.
Find Creative Ways to Make Reading Fun
Spark your children’s interest in reading by planning fun, reading-themed activities. Try one of these ideas, or think outside the book and come up with your own!
Throw a Themed Party
Whether you’re celebrating a book release or a birthday, or just looking for a way to liven up your Tuesday, themed parties have a way of bringing stories and characters to life. Let your family’s age and interests guide you in planning a special menu and/or activities inspired by your favorite books. It might be something as simple as adding green food coloring to your eggs, or as extravagant as having tea with the Queen of Hearts and painting some roses red. Homemade costumes and do-it-yourself props can add a festive touch and encourage participants to walk in the shoes of their favorite characters.
Let Them Stay Up Late
My heart melted the first time my third grader begged to stay up just a little later to finish a chapter. In the past we’ve adhered to a strict 8 o’clock bedtime, but now it is standard practice for us to grant 20-30 minute extensions for reading (as long as she’s in bed with her teeth brushed at her regular time). It’s no longer a struggle to get her in bed on time, and she’s usually asleep well before her time is up. Letting your child stay up a little later to read will help reading feel like a reward instead of a chore.
Read for Charity
Organize a Read-a-thon or other reading event within your neighborhood, homeschool co-op, or other community group. As the organizer, you would want to determine which charity you will support through the event ahead of time. Children start by seeking pledges from friends and family who agree to donate an amount based on either pages or minutes read. For example, a sponsor might agree to donate five cents a minute or five cents per page read within a given time period, usually a weekend. The children keep track of their minutes or pages within the time frame, and then collect the donations from their sponsors which is then given to the charity. Knowing that they are reading for a good cause can be a great motivator for children.
If you’re looking for a homeschool literature curriculum, consider Essentials in Literature. With a focus on exploring and analyzing literary elements through short stories, short works of nonfiction, novels, and poetry, Essentials in Literature features engaging video lessons and meaningful analysis assignments delivered in bite-sized chunks that make for a low-stress experience for both the homeschool student and teacher.