One of my favorite things about watching my children grow is seeing them develop their own interests, and I am so grateful that reading has become a passion for both my daughter, age 9 and my son, age 7. I definitely don’t pretend to be an expert in the field of early childhood education and literacy, but I’m proud to say that I think we’ve done a few things right. If you want official, research-backed information about how to develop a love for reading there are countless websites and experts more knowledgeable than I am, but if you’re looking for some mom-to-mom advice to foster a love of reading in your children, here’s what has worked for us:
- READ TO THEM, early and often. We started reading to our kids the day they came home from the hospital – I think both kids got a spirited reading of Pat the Bunny from their dad on their first night at home.
- Read what you like. Truthfully, some picture books make me want to gouge my eyes out. If you’re stressed they can feel it, so read books that are enjoyable for you too. Make the voices if that’s your style, but don’t if it isn’t.
- Read up. We started reading the Little House series to my daughter when she was about 4 years old, and our family read the Harry Potter series to my kids when they were 5 & 7. Your kids are probably more capable than you might think to tackle some “big books,” especially with you there to guide them. Challenge them to read just a little bit beyond their reading level and you might be surprised how well they do. (But also know that if a book or series doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. Just try again in a year!)
- Make it a tradition. Every year we read through the entire Harry Potter series (Out loud! As a family!) during the summer months. We start on May 1 and end somewhere around September. All of our holiday-themed books come out on December 1 and live in a basket under the Christmas tree, and even though they’ve read through hundred-page-long chapter books, they still enjoy flipping through their old board books about the Nativity story. Kids thrive on habit and routine, and I think they also like revisiting books that only come out during specific times. Which brings me to…
- They will go through a period of time where they only want to read the same book over and over. And over. Lean into this. For my son, it was Curious George Makes Pancakes. We read this book so many times when he was 3 I could basically recite it to you. But for kids, it never gets old (spoiler alert: he uses blueberries in the pancakes, mind blown!) and it’s a comfort in this great big world to revisit familiar friends and stories.
- We make reading the preferred option in our house. During rest time, kids can either choose to take a nap or read a book – guess which one they choose? We also allow 5-10 minutes of reading in bed before they go to sleep and they love turning on their own little reading lamps and finishing the last few pages of a chapter. As an adult, I still think it’s fun to stay up a little past my bedtime reading a good book – make it something that kids look forward to, something that feels a tiny bit indulgent. Reading is not ever something we “have” to do, it’s something we “get” to do, so in that same vein, I’m not really a reading-log hardliner (much to our teachers’ chagrin, I’m sure). If I “make” my kids read their pages every day it’s just going to end in a fight, but if I give them opportunities to read whatever they want when they want, they’ll probably get in a lot more than the “required” minutes.
- Similarly, let them read what they’re interested in. We have storybooks, chapter books, comic books, big books, little books, fiction books, reference books, and my kids read them all. While they’re learning to read I think it’s more important to get them reading every single day even if it’s something like a field guide to rocks & minerals (true story) that would put me right to sleep. We do read a lot of classics, but we also read fairy/princess/Minecraft/Pokemon books too, I’m not too picky as long as they’re reading.
- Hit up your local library’s book sales – not only are you supporting your library, you can give your kids $5 each and come home with a giant bag of books. It’s a great way to discover new authors and series. In Lubbock, the Friends of the Library hosts sales 3-4 times per year and you can get children’s books for $0.25 each! I always feel a little guilty about the number of books we buy at the FOL sale, but then I get to the register and realize my giant shopping bag will only set me back $10. It’s the best deal in town!
I know that every kid is different and some kids are just going to take to reading more easily than others. If it’s a real challenge, definitely talk to your child’s teacher! There are also lots of great resources out there with additional suggestions:
- My child psychologist friend recommends the book Raising Kids Who Read by Daniel Willingham
- www.Brightly.com is devoted to children’s literacy ideas and resources
- PBS Parents has a whole page on literacy, with great resources by your child’s age
Make reading a thing at your house this summer when school is out! Encourage long summer days spent in the hammock or porch swing with a good book and cold lemonade, or camp-outs in the backyard with s’ mores and ghost stories. Your children’s teachers will thank you come September!