How do you raise readers?
It's a question I get asked quite a bit, likely because, always charmed by seeing my boys lost in a book, I often post pictures of my bookworms on social media.
I always struggle to answer, though. Part of me — the part exhausted for two years because my youngest son just would not sleep through the night as our oldest had, despite being swaddled in the same blankets, shushed with the same songs, laid in the same crib and implored by the same, very tired parents — well, that part knows kids simply are the way they are. If there’s a bookworm gene, it’s likely that both my husband and I are carriers. Perhaps my boys would be readers if I'd never forced Dr. Seuss on them. (Sidenote book recommendation: The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Doesn’t clear up this question, but is clear, intriguing science well told.)
Still, I never pass up a chance to encourage reading. So, take these ideas for raising readers with an acknowledgement that your mileage may vary.
The whole thing boils down to this: Create a culture of reading in your home. Reading is the always available entertainment. Reading is the thing you do to relax. Reading is the thing you need to succeed, and books have the answers to all questions. Books are things to be enjoyed, shared and discussed.
Read in front of your kids. Reading is what adults do. All adults. Men and women. Mike, before the boys were born, tended to read only before bed, but I asked him to make a point to read in front of the boys because I didn’t want them thinking books were something only women liked.
Read with your kids every single day. Yes, you’ll read board books, but read novels, too, sooner than you think. You need the entertainment and you’ll be surprised how interested they can be. Read Ferdinand and Where The Wild Things Are and I Want My Hat Back and The Book With No Pictures and keep reading them as you go on to Charlotte’s Web and The Hobbit and Wonder and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. Read tidbits from your own books, when it makes sense. Read poems. Read news stories. Read cereal boxes. Read even when they won't sit still. And when they don’t want to read to you and/or stop wanting to be read to — at age 9, our oldest has hit this milestone — then read together in companionable silence. We have a family reading hour most nights before bed. Sometimes I read aloud. Sometimes we all read silently. Either way, I think we all feel cozy and content and loved.
Talk about books. Ask what they’re reading. Tell them what you’re reading. Let them hear you talking about books with your partner or your friends. I love when my boys come bounding down the stairs, well past bedtime, to gush about the book they’ve stayed up too late to finish. And if you're talking about books, you don't have to worry about what they're reading — Judy Blume says so.
Make books constantly accessible. The boys always have had a basket or shelf of books in our living room, books in their rooms, books in the cars, everywhere. We love the library, and we made a celebration of getting their library cards. Now, they get online and request books from the library; I made a special trip yesterday just for their books.
Recommend good books, encourage all books. Your kids are going to pick out crap. My boys have read more Ninjago stories than I can count. Let them have the books they love about the topics they want, but keep throwing good books at them, too, until something sticks. When my boys were little, I used to tell them they could have five books at a time from the library — three they picked out and two we picked out together. A kid who picks up a crappy book is a kid at risk of thinking reading is lame. Don’t let that happen. This is where reading aloud comes in handy; you have more say over a family reading project.
And finally, never make reading a punishment. I realize you might have teenagers who have to just suck it up and deal with reading A Tale of Two Cities(though, maybe they’ll end up loving it as I did), but for elementary-age kids build that love of reading by keeping things positive. If they have to read a book they don’t love, try reading it with them or finding the book on audio, so they can follow along — anything to make it fun. And don't make a kid read before getting something good or after doing something bad. Reading should be something they get to do, not something they have to do.
That's how things are in our house. How are you raising readers?