I thoughtfully packed my bag for the hospital, anticipating any possible scenario. Within a month, my husband and I would welcome our first child. We were so excited with idea of becoming parents. In true Girl Scout fashion, I initially packed every item I thought I needed to be prepared, filling two duffel bags. I reconsidered my packing choices over and over until I had weeded the items down to one bag. The things I felt most passionate about including were the first picture books we would read to our new baby. One was a gift we planned to give him to welcome him to the world. The others were some of the most treasured stories I chose from my personal collection as a school librarian and lover of children’s books.
Our son arrived three weeks early. The first few days were overwhelming, but one constant was the precious time we got to hold him in our arms and read to him. We have continued to read to him and share books and stories with him every day of his life. Almost a decade earlier, as a first grade teacher, I was trained in Balanced Literacy and learned the importance of immersing children in language.
Our second child, a daughter, was born over five years later. We practiced the same reading theories with her, snuggling while reading to her each day. Once she was mobile, she was more interested in playing near us as we read aloud to her and her brother. Eventually, she climbed back in my lap to see the pictures that were going along with these amazing tales we were sharing. We always made it a habit to read to the kids, usually with all of us piled up on our bed together. We still participate in this evening ritual, but now the kids bring their own reading material, some to share and some to read alone.
Having a literacy-based profession, I have tried many different ways to instill the lifelong love of reading in my children. When the kids were learning to read words, we labeled everyday things around our house with sentence strips, but you could use sticky notes or paper strips you cut out yourself. I had seen this done at schools to teach children other languages, so I decided it couldn’t hurt to try to teach my children their native language. I know the house looked like a mess with all those labels, but it was like our own little reading lab… and it worked! For everyone I know, life is crazy busy! Below, I have listed ways I try to develop a love of reading in my own children. I don’t do all of these things at one time, but I mix it up and see how the children respond. The important thing to remember is you don’t have to do all of these things at once, but it will help to try to do something to encourage a true love of reading.
Here are some ideas of reading activities that worked to get my first grader reading on a fifth grade reading level, and my 7th grader reading on college level, but most of all to be passionate about their reading life:
- Let your child choose the books they are interested in.
- Get a free public library card. We made a big deal out of this, like it was a driver’s license! The kids use their own card when they check out at our library.
- If your child likes a book in a series, encourage him or her to read all the books in that series.
- If your child likes a book by a particular author or illustrator, find others by that person.
- Encourage your child to read a book that has a good accompanying movie or television series. This can bring about interesting conversation about the stories.
- Take books with you everywhere you go.
- Give books as gifts.
- Trade books with friends.
- Participate in library activities (and check out books while you’re there).
- Look for books at yard sales and consignment sales.
- Play word or storytelling games such as Scrabble, Story Cubes, finger puppets, or Banana Grams with you child.
- Play board games together. There are always direction for the board game you or your child could read aloud.
- Download reading apps on you smartphone or device. Many libraries offer this service. You use your library card number and check out eBooks or audiobooks for free.
- Let you child watch others reading stories to them online at web sites such as Storyline Online, or Read with an Atlanta Falcon.
- Keep paper and pencils or crayons handy for your child to practice writing or drawing.
- Let your child see you reading.
- Read signs and billboards when you are outside or in a grocery store.
- Take pictures of your child reading and celebrate it with them.
- Tweet to an author on Twitter. Often the author will tweet you back!
- Record with your phone your child reading their favorite book aloud.
- Listen to audiobooks together. You can check them out free at the public library or through reading apps.
- Tell family stories.
- Let your child tell stories about his or her day.
- Let your child read to you while you are cooking, or doing a chore or errand.
The most important thing about encouraging a thriving reading life for my own children has been giving them choices in what they read. I want them to be intrinsically motivated to read. I want them to see reading as a personal interaction that they can share with others or hold close in their heart. They have both experienced reading incentives, but those don’t last. Some of my son’s middle school friends have now abandoned reading for pleasure because they no longer have trinkets or pajama days to work towards. Sadly, I witnessed this for close to twenty years while working in middle schools as a school library media specialist. I want my children to see reading as its own reward. These simple techniques have helped to nurture a love of reading in my own family and I hope it will help you too. Don’t give up! It is NEVER too late to start!