Growing up, I was that kid who always had her nose in a book. Apparently, I begged my mom to teach me to read when I was five years old, but I had to take speech therapy first so I could actually say the sounds correctly. Once I did learn, I couldn’t stop. During my teen years we lived in a very small town but were blessed to have 3 libraries, albeit small ones, within a 30 mile radius. On library day, we would go to library #1, check out the 10 book limit, go to library #2, check out another 10 books, and then a day or two later, head to the other library where you could check out fifty books. And yes, there were times I checked out all fifty books… just because I could. And sometimes I would read all seventy books in two weeks time. So yeah, you could say I liked to read.
In Micah I found a fellow book-lover (and found that he rivaled my record, too) and when the time came to start a family, we knew that we hoped to instill a love of reading in our kids. Books can inspire and ignite the imagination. Take you on adventures without ever leaving your favorite comfy chair. And for a couple of introverts, books were faithful friends throughout those awkward teen years.
The thing is, there’s was no guarantee that our kids would be readers. Some kids naturally love books while others couldn’t care less. All we can really do is try our best to inspire a love of reading and keep our fingers crossed for the rest.
READ TO THEM AS BABIES
It all starts with them as babies. From a young age, read as much as they’ll let you! A bedtime story is a favorite tradition in many families. That was always more of Micah’s thing with the kids while I loved morning snuggle sessions. Whatever works! As for age-appropriate books, I discovered Baby Lit after Sam was already a toddler but I can’t wait to get them when the next one comes along.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE AND READ IN FRONT OF THEM
Children learn by example, so if they see your love for literature, hopefully that will help evoke their own passion. Even if you’re not a reader, it’s good to read something in front of your kids. Try for one book a month or a substantial magazine or two. One thing I’m looking forward to is having the kids read the Great illustrated Classics while I read the “grown up version” and being able to discuss our favorite parts.
And family story time doesn’t have to end when they are no longer toddlers. Try picking a book a few reading levels up, so if your child is in 1st grade, pick something on a 4th grade reading level, and read aloud a few days a week. That’s how I heard Little House on the Prairie for the first time, with my mom reading it to us during an especially long car trip. She would pause to explain any difficult passages or concept, ask review questions at the end of the chapter to make sure we were “getting” the story, and would even do voices for the different characters if she was feeling especially playful. To this day, I hear her voice when reading On the Banks of Plum Creek.
MAKE BOOKS EASILY AVAILABLE
Dedicate a low shelf or easily-accessible bookcase as the “kids books” and stock it full of the old classics and new favorites. Thrift stores and yard sales are great places to stock up on books for the cheap. At our local shop, Bishop’s Attic, children’s books are 10 to 50 cents each, even school books! A lot of books have found a new home on our shelves.
One important thing to keep in mind is that not every kid likes the same kind of books. Older readers may have clear preferences for specific genres. Younger readers tend to like certain series, characters, or subjects. I saved a lot of my childhood books and was excited to find that Caleb and Samantha love Berenstain Bears as much as I did.
Every kid should be signed up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It’s a free program dedicated to ensuring that each child has books of their very own to read and enjoy. Books arrive in the mail each month and I don’t know about your kids, but my kids LOVE getting their own mail. You can also subscribe to magazines, too. Caleb loves getting the Lego Magazine (free)!
VISIT THE LIBRARY OFTEN AND REGULARLY
I know we all have busy schedules, but don’t underestimate your local library as a valuable tool and resource. From multi-age story times to summer reading programs, libraries are making great strides to add more and more offerings so they can be an even greater benefit to families. As a past volunteer to the Children’s Librarian (best five years!), I know first-hand how much work and effort goes into creating the various programs offered. Even if you can only make it once a month, it will be one of the most looked-foward-to days for your kids. Promise.
Unfortunately, Thursday is one of my studio days so we can usually only attend Storytime 2x a month, but I can attribute our attendance for the past year with helping Caleb overcome his shyness, get rid of some wiggles, and falling even more in love with stories. We plan to attend as long as one of my kids is within the age bracket and once the stories get too “babyish” for the older ones, we’ll just have them bring their own books.
Libraries can help you save money, too! Instead of renting movies or having cable, check out movies from the library or in lieu of going out to the movies, try a family movie nights if offered. For the teens in your family, some libraries offer special teen-only nights, complete with a theme (our library recently did Dr. Who!), pizza, and even costumes!
Libraries also promote community involvement, partnering with local emergency services for safety week (complete with a visit from both an ambulance and a fire truck), and even wildlife services, bringing in animals to teach about conservation and live-broadcasting from an out-of-state aquarium to teach about sharks. This just goes to show all the amazing things libraries can offer. If you don’t have a library card yet, go today!
USE READING AS A REWARD AND REWARD READING
Instead of using treats, movies, iPad, or video games as a reward, why not use books? In our house, if the kids get ready for bed extra quickly then they are allowed to read for 15 minutes before lights-out. Who knew when we started that this would become one of their favorite things? Being allowed to do something special or out of the ordinary provides an added incentive, and is a great way to get in that 30 minutes of reading that homework requires.
If your little one has a hard time reading, don’t be stingy with the rewards! Set rewards for each list or challenge they complete, like reading for three hours a week, making it through their summer reading list, or tackling that really long book. Celebrate those accomplishments, no matter how big or small! This is especially true of new readers where each book read is the equivalent of us finishing Moby Dick!
TRY DIFFERENT MEDIUMS
Don’t waste your commute. Check out your local library for audio books and make use of your time in the car by playing books-on-cd’s for the kids. You can usually find all the classics, like Charlotte’s Web and The Chronicles of Narnia as well as more recent (and shorter) favorites like Curious George.
If playing audio books off your smartphone or computer is more your thing, then check to see if your library has a digital library, like ours here in Alaska or use a service like Audible. We can check out audiobooks for two weeks at a time, just like a physical book, and download/stream it to our smartphone and tablets.
A remnant from Micah’s childhood, we were blessed with the Alphabet Pals and the Early World of Learning audio cassettes and accompanying books (anyone remember Zak and Amy?) and incorporate them as part of Caleb’s school.
And it doesn’t stop at audio books. Both Micah and I grew up on Adventures in Odyssey and have recently started playing episodes on our hour-long trips to and from church on Sundays. While not strictly books, listening to audio dramas helps promote listening skills (obviously), as well as audio-to-visual interpretation, and the ability to sit still for 30+ minutes at a time.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF READING APPS
When used in moderation, tablets and apps can be useful tools! The key is to have the apps be more education-based with a few fun games sprinkled in the mix.
One of the best programs out there is Teach Your Monster to Read (free for the computer!) as well as these favorites:
KNOW THAT EVEN WIGGLY ONES CAN LOVE TO READ
Our Caleb is quite the wiggle worm. For the last few years, getting him to sit still is like nailing jello to the wall, as my Granny used to say. But he’ll sit still for hours with a stack of books. Most times.
Provide a special reading chair and comfy pillows or cushions that encourage sitting still. Or, if reading upside down with feet in the air is more their style, go with it! At least they’re reading, right?
What are the ways you try to inspire reading in your kids? Any tips to add to our list?