How to Raise a Lifelong Reader: Tips for a Mom with 14 Book-Loving Kids
My kids are all avid readers and I know they will be lifelong readers. Whether they began reading at age 4 (Judah and Hezekiah) or age 8 (Enoch) they are all now strong readers who love to lose themselves in a good book. After 22 years of parenting with a 100% success rate (including my children with special needs), I decided to share my thoughts on how to raise a lifelong reader.
Read to Your Kids
This one is obvious and I’m guessing that anyone reading this blog right now reads to their kids, but I want to offer a few suggestions. When Iris was a baby Chuck and I only had one car and I didn’t have a single mom friend. This meant I spent long days alone with a newborn baby. If I wasn’t walking with a fussy baby or breastfeeding, I was bored. Because of this, I started reading to Iris, daily, when she was only six weeks old. We had a copy of Dr. Suess’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? that I had picked up at a garage sale. I would stick Iris in her baby swing and read it to her every single day. Within a week or two I had the entire thing memorized.
While it might seem silly to read to an infant, research shows that babies who are read to develop language faster and reading to a baby clearly benefits their brains. Once the habit of reading with my firstborn was established, it was easy to keep it up as our family grew.
Don’t Keep Books You Don’t Enjoy
Have you ever had your child ask you to read to them, then when they bring you their chosen book, you groaned inside as you tried to give your child an encouraging smile? I have many times. It took me years to learn this simple trick: I don’t keep books that I hate to read out loud. Now, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I need to love every kids’ book that crosses our threshold. It simply means if I hate reading a book to my kids, I sent it off to Goodwill. Why? Because I found when the kids would bring me a book I hated, I dreaded reading to them. It was making me feel negative about reading to them, a feeling I sometimes had trouble hiding. That, vs, true enthusiasm when I was reading books I enjoyed as well.
Read the Same Book Over and Over
While reading the same book 734 times in a row can seem boring to us adults, this repetitive use of language helps our children’s brains develop. Their attention span grows, they learn to anticipate what is coming next in the story and they expand their vocabulary. When my children were young I used Five in a Row with them for homeschooling. You simply read the same well-chosen book to the kids five days in a row (Monday-Friday) and each day had fun (and simple) crafts or activities to go along with the current story.
Lifelong Readers Utilize the Library
Are you a reader yourself? Don’t you love the thrill and anticipation of walking into the library and browsing the books? The excitement of walking out with a stack of new stories to dive into? Share this experience with your children at a young age. Let them explore the shelves and learn the joy of bringing home stacks of books. If you are worried about mounting library finds, read my post How to Avoid Library Fines and Use the Library Without Going Broke.
Let Them Pick Their Own Books
When your children are young let them pick their own books from the library. There is something almost magical about exploring the shelves of a library. Choosing their own books is how children learn what they love to read. Twenty picture books? Perfect. Five Amelia Bedelia books? Excellent. Eleven books on their favorite dinosaur? Awesome! Let them develop their own taste in books.
Ignore Reading Levels and Focus on What They Enjoy
It’s no secret that I hate AR Tests and Reading Logs at school. I have seen firsthand how it has dampened my children’s enthusiasm for reading. It has turned the joy and wonder of losing themselves in a story into a chore. I remember when Tucker started first grade at our local public school he was limited to reading books of off certain shelves of the school library and wasn’t allowed to read books “above his reading level”. He came home from school crying about it. Thankfully, at our public library, he was able to choose whichever books he wanted no matter how “easy” or “challenging” they were.
Provide the Time and Space for Reading
Obviously, if you want to raise readers you need to provide the time and space for your children to read. When our children were young, I read to them every single day. This isn’t because it was on my schedule to read, it is because our house was filled with books. The kids loved to drag an entire stack of books over to me and we would plow through them, one by one.
Reading became part of our daily ritual. Before naps, before bed, when they first woke up. Once the kids got older, they began reading in bed before lights out. We provided our kids with book lamps and without any effort at all, reading before bed became a well-loved habit for them.
Set an Example for Your Kids: Be a Lifelong Reader Yourself
Chuck and I are both avid readers. Our children have grown up watching us read and enjoy books. They have seen by example that reading is what you do before bed, in waiting rooms, while nursing a baby, in those little snippets of downtime during the day. Reading is an activity that the kids see us do daily simply because we love reading.
I read a lot of books on my Kindle Paperwhite. My minimalist heart loves the lack of clutter and I like the ability to carry my entire library with me when I go somewhere. Sometimes, however, my Kindle goes missing (so sad) and when that happens I will continue reading my book on the Kindle app on my phone. I rarely do this anymore because I realized that while I may have been reading a book on the Kindle app, it looked no different to my children than if I was scrolling through Instagram or Facebook. I want my children to see me reading, not scrolling on my phone, so I try to avoid reading books on my phone whenever possible.
Continue Reading to Your Children When They Are Old Enough to Read on Their Own
If you are really want to raise a lifelong reader, don’t stop reading aloud to your when they are old enough to read independently. Keep reading to them until they beg you to stop, or get married, or move to New Zealand. There is something very special about sharing a book with another person. I have so many beautiful memories of reading to my children from infants up to teens.
For some great books suggestions, check out these posts: