As I lugged all of my bags after work to the front door of my home, I could hear squeals seeping from the windows. I smiled as I thought of my giggly, toddler daughter playing happily with her dad. I imagined them shaking maracas and beating on the cajon together, or throwing balls back and forth, two of her recent favorite activities. Instead I found my sweet daughter laying on her play mat, happily exploring a Berenstain Bears book she had recently received from a friend. As she flipped the pages, she pointed excitedly at different pictures and babbled and laughed as if the book was an old, dear friend. My heart melted as I realized that my daughter delighted in reading, even before her first birthday.
In our home, we are readers. If you open my front door on any given day you would find books on our coffee table, books on our shelves, books on the floor, books on the kitchen table, books in the toy area, books in our bedrooms, and yes, even a book or two in the bathroom. We read A LOT. And my husband and I decided that our children will read A LOT. But how do you raise children who love to read, without force, bribes, or tears? How do you compete with the bright screens, noisy toys and short attention spans?
After doing some research I ran across Sarah Mackenzie’s blog Read Aloud Revival. She wrote and produced a podcast and blog series titled Creating a Book Club Culture at Home. In this series, she gives tips and tricks to remove the pressure placed on our children to read and encourages parents to cultivate a home environment that satiates their desire to delight in a book. Below are a few of her tricks, along with some tips from the educators at Fun Van, which we hope will lead you on your way to raising children who devour books purely for the sake of enjoyment.
Tip 1: Model Reading in front of your children: Often we read to our children, but we wait until they are not around to read “our” books. Our children need to see us indulging in our favorite books just as much as we want to see them reading their books. Don’t have time? Try just 10 minutes. Pull out a book while your children are playing quietly, have a book in the car to read while waiting in the pickup line, bring a book to appointments, or even set aside 10 minutes for everyone to read their own books together.
Tip 2: Schedule reading time into your day: Make reading books a natural option during your day. For smaller children, pull them onto your lap and read a quick 5 minute story before running an errand, or while they are eating a meal. For older children who do not nap anymore, establish a quiet hour (or 30 minutes) where everyone engages in books either together or separately to wind down and recharge. Bedtime is still a great time for scheduled reading, but try to get more creative as your children get older.
Tip 3: Have conversations about what your children are reading daily: At first it may seem awkward, but the more you engage your children in discussions about what they are reading, the more they will be eager to share what they are enjoying, what moves them, inspires them and even what questions they have about a book. This should be a discussion, not a drill of questions. Think about how you discuss a movie you really enjoy. You use phrases like, ” I was surprised that…” or “I could relate with this character because..” These questions get to the heart of what moves your child to read because they want to, not because they are going to be quizzed on it. ( There is a time and place for asking questions for comprehension, but try to limit those times when encouraging reading for reading’s sake.)
Tip 4: Display books in an appealing way: Have you noticed how libraries and book stores display the books they want to catch your attention? Cover facing out! Try to find creative ways to display books with their covers facing out to attract your child’s attention. Books can be displayed on window sills (like the picture below), coffee tables, in baskets on the floor, and anywhere else where your child will be able to see and reach books whenever they want.
Tip 5: Choose a small snack or treat to serve your children during their quiet reading hour: Sarah Mackenzie points out in her podcast that anyone who has attended a book club knows that half of the fun of book club is dishing over your favorite book while eating delicious food. So, why not create the same environment for your home? Try a small treat that has a low chance of damaging a book. Sarah suggests 3 jelly beans, but you could also give yogurt drops, pretzels and cheese, dried fruit, popcorn (for children over 4) or something else yummy your child enjoys. The positive association of a special treat while reading will increase the likelihood that your child will be excited to participate in quiet reading time.
Tip 6: Create a mock book club or other special reading event: As your children begin to enjoy reading and discussing books more, you can plan your own book club event. Choose a book suitable for the majority of readers in your family and decide on a date and time to discuss the book. Create a warm environment (maybe a fort, or a tent outside, or even tons of blankets and pillows to create a comfy book nest), have special treats (you could even have themed treats to the book you read), and model discussions about the book with your children. If you need help with what questions to ask, some books have a book club discussion guide that you can modify for your family. If you do this, please send us pictures to feature on the blog and Facebook!!
What about you? What tips have you tried with your family to cultivate a lifelong love of reading? Leave a comment below to let us know! Thanks to Sarah Mackenzie for her great ideas and articles. Click over to readaloudrevival.com to learn more about reading aloud as a family.