I sometimes get questions about how we got SuperSam interested in books so early and how he began to read at such a young age. I can’t take credit for his learning to read, since he basically did that on his own. One thing we do to encourage lots of reading in our home is try to create a print-rich environment. This means that there is a lot of reading and writing in our home, so our children are constantly exposed to it and see it as part of their daily life.
We have books everywhere, and our children have access to them. They have baskets of their own books in every room of our house. They have bookshelves or cubbies with books in their bedrooms. They pull the “grownup” books off the shelves in our living room or off our bedside tables and open them up to see what’s inside. They look at catalogs and magazines. They see us making lists. The Sisters see SuperSam making his own lists and reading the grocery list at the store (which we know is already making an impression on them because they copy him!). We leave notes and letters for each other around the house. We write their names on everything. (This backfired when SuperSam wrote his own name on all the furniture and walls in his room one day while he was supposed to be napping.)
The most important thing we do, though, is read together frequently, multiple times each day (not just at bedtime!).
Here is our list of ways that can help encourage book-love in your kids:
Read together frequently. (Yes, I know I just said that, but it’s the number one, primary, super-duper most important thing you can do to help your child learn to love reading. Quality time with you plus a story? What could be better?)
Make little spaces inviting places for reading. Use cozy corners to create reading nooks. Try to find moments to curl up there together and read something. If your child isn’t a “snuggle up and read” kind of kid, find another scene- the front steps, a playhouse outside, the swing set where you read while he swings or the sandbox where you read while she digs. You don’t have to be sitting still to enjoy a book.
Display books attractively. If they look appealing, our children are more likely to want to pick them up. If you have a lot of books crowded onto a shelf, it can feel overwhelming to a child. Consider rotating your book stash so there are different ones out on display at different times. Most of our books for the children live in baskets right now for easy access and easy cleanup, but we have some books with similar themes displayed together by our favorite reading spot in the living room (currently, the books there are our favorite snow books…we’re still holding out hope for a good snow before spring). Low shelves are another great option, especially if you need some books within children’s reach but out of younger babies’ reach. I love these DIY bookshelves at Carrots for Michaelmas for keeping library books visible and easily accessible (but safe from baby fingers and mouths).
|Lucy’s first trip to Powell’s with Aunt Laura|
Put books everywhere! Kitchen. Bathroom. Your closet, so the children can look at them when they inevitably follow you in while you are getting dressed. Everywhere.
Pick quality over quantity. Yes, there are books in the dollar aisle at Target. Although it won’t hurt anything to have some of those around, remember that you are building a library for the future. Try to focus on adding quality titles with interesting characters and writing that will capture your child’s imagination and draw her into the story. Good art is important, of course – pay attention to the illustrations – but listen to the language of the book, too (and make sure you won’t mind reading it over and over and over again, because you’ll probably be doing just that).
Make books and stories part of your family’s culture. Tell stories about your day at the dinner table or at bedtime. Find ways to remind your family of favorite stories while you are out living your own story. (“Remember in A Snowy Day when Peter found the stick? Want to look for one now and see what we can do with it?”) It might feel awkward at first, but when your child starts spontaneously talking to you about his favorite characters and plot lines during lunch or making up stories about his Celestial Buddies while you’re in line at the grocery store, it’s a really amazing thing.
Listen to audio books together in the car or while you’re doing something else, like morning chores or folding laundry.
Books make good gifts! Consider starting a tradition of giving books to each other at traditional gift-giving times (and consider letting grandparents and others know that your kids would enjoy receiving books instead of another toy).
Personalize your books. Inscribe them when you give them to each other as gifts. Use bookplates.
Take books along with you in the car and to restaurants. Board books are especially good for this – they wipe clean and are so sturdy, they can go anywhere.
Make your own books. Shutterfly and Snapfish photo books can make great family stories if you add text. Even a photo album with prints of family photos can be a story without words that you tell to each other (or try writing the text of your story on labels to add to the photos). Construction paper, folded in half and stapled, makes an easy book for children to author themselves. (Try laminating the pages before stapling to make it more durable.) Plastic zip-top sandwich bags with cardboard inserts and hand-drawn or magazine cutout pages make great (and cheap!) books for little ones. Make your own versions of your favorites. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle lends itself well to becoming a personalized family story…just replace the animal names with people in your family (“SuperSam, SuperSam, who do you see? I see Daddy looking at me,” etc.)
Get your kids their own library cards. There’s a real sense of pride in being able to check out your own stack of books with your own card – it feels really different than just having your parent use his or her card for you.
Never use reading as a punishment. That’s a great way to make it more likely that your child will resent reading and not want to choose it for fun.
Let your kids see what you’re reading. At an appropriate age, teach them how to respectfully handle books so you won’t be afraid to let them handle “grownup” or “real” books.
Track your progress. Reading is its own reward. Don’t bribe them to read, but keep records of what you and they read. Make it visual- fill in a bar graph, or fill in squares on a game board, or keep a reading journal with lists of all the books you have read…just do something to show you are proud of what you and they are accomplishing.
If your efforts to grow your children as readers don’t feel like an immediate success, take heart. What we are attempting to do is to invite children to discover a love of reading that will last them a lifetime. When a journey is lifelong, even little steps taken in the right direction count.
What ideas have worked for you in raising your kids to be readers and lovers of books?