A recent survey by the National Education Progress Assessment revealed that reading for pleasure among children is at an all-time low.
The decline is, unsurprisingly here, likely attributed to increased screen usage.
It is likely that these children who do not read will become adults who do not read.
I don’t want my kids to be those kids who don’t read for fun and then become adults who don’t read for fun either.
I want them to be readers.
Reading not only improves a child’s academic performance and cognitive development, but more importantly, at least to me, reading is simply one of life’s most rewarding and uplifting activities. Reading has had a huge impact on my own life. I had my world expanded by reading. I had fun for hours while reading. I made friends through reading. I even made a career out of reading.
I want my children to experience that same vital power of reading.
It looks like they’re – fingers crossed – about to become lifelong readers. Gus and Scout have their noses in a book before falling asleep at night. When we take long car trips, they intentionally mix shorter sessions of screen time with longer periods of reading. One of my favorite sounds is Gus laughing out loud at something he’s reading in a book.
If you’re looking for tips on how to raise a reader, here’s what has seemed to work for us so far to boost our kids’ reading habit:
Keep a well-stocked personal library. When I read the biographies of prominent men who were voracious readers (which, oddly enough, almost all of them were – there is certainly a correlation between reading and success), many of them talk about growing up in homes full of books.
It’s not just that keeping a library at home gives your child access to lots of books (while they could hypothetically pull a book off our shelves, my kids haven’t — they have their own taste in literature), is that the library acts as a powerful signal that reading is important to you as parents, and is important in your family culture. And it’s a reminder that tons and tons of knowledge exists in the world – more than they could imagine as they navigate the familiar and worn paths carved by their digital browsing habits – and it’s all there to be discovered. and taken!
While you can build a digital library of books, that’s one of the many reasons concrete, hard-copy bound copies are truly superior. Your Kindle app is never going to continually pique your children’s curiosity.
Of course, a home library won’t have much of an effect if its books are just decorative and your kids never see you opening them. So:
Be a reader yourself. Your children are always watching you. They are more likely to do what you do than what you say. So lead them by example and be a reader yourself. Let your kids catch you reading.
I am grateful to my parents for many things, but one thing I am especially grateful for is their example of being readers. Growing up, I always saw both my parents with their noses in books. They made reading feel like a normal part of life – just something you do. They never taught my siblings and me to read, but we all followed their example and read ourselves.
Read aloud to them when they’re little (and beyond). Just because your kids are too young to read on their own doesn’t mean you can’t start instilling the habit of reading in them. Read aloud to your children when they are young. This will establish a pattern for them that reading is just a normal part of the routine of life. Like brushing your teeth.
Even when your children are old enough to read on their own, continue to read aloud to them. It’s a great way to spend time with your kids and reinforces that reading is just something you do in your family. We read aloud to our children since they were small. We now read chapters to them before they go to bed. It’s been a chance for Kate and I to expose our kids to books we enjoyed as kids (and discover new books we missed as we grew up).
Let your children read whatever they want. Some well-meaning parents have this idea that if their children are going to be readers, then they will only read the Great Books or only the classics of children’s literature. So they enroll their children in a reading program and force their children to browse through books that don’t interest them.
It’s a great way to turn your kids into non-readers. If you go this route, you turn reading into something like eating your lima beans or taking medicine. Not something you want to do, but something you should To do. yuck!
Instead, let your kids read whatever they want. Well no whatever They want. I don’t recommend letting a nine-year-old read Devil in blue dress (although I recommend reading this and other hard-boiled crime novels as an adult). But let them read whatever they want. . . it’s age appropriate. You want them to learn enjoy reading. As literature professor Alan Jacobs says, let your children read according to Caprice.
This hands-off approach means your kids can read unscholarly books for a while. Gus has been through, and Scout is still in the middle of the little kids graphic novel phase. Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Fat Nate, etc. Are these books that I would personally choose for my children? No. But they liked to read these books, so we let them read them. Gus has finally emerged in plain text chapter books, and Scout is getting there too.
Your children have the rest of their lives to read the Great Books. Your main goal as a parent is to make reading something your children enjoy doing so that when they are old enough to read the Iliad, they actually go want to to read it.
Get them a library card. Most libraries allow your children to get a library card when they are quite young. Give one to your child and take it to the library frequently. Free books! The idea here again is to make the book an integral part of life.
Buy your children’s books with abandon. While we used to take our children to the library a lot when they were little, as they grew up and developed the ability to read on their own, we take them to the bookstore more often and let them choose books which we then buy for them. .
Not because we are spendthrifts, but because there are several reasons why I think buying books for your children is a good idea.
There seems to be something about buying a book for your kids that makes them more motivated to read it. I guess it’s the dopamine that comes with buying stuff. I’ve noticed that my kids are more likely to immerse themselves in a book we bought them than a book they check out at the library.
Buying books also helps your children create their own library at home. Our children often like to read the same book twice (or more).
Also, the fact that we buy books for our kids, while having them use their own pocket money to buy things like toys and video games, makes books feel less like a special treat, and more like other basic necessities that we fund such as clothing. and the food.
In my opinion, books are a real godsend, especially children’s books. A new children’s paperback book is only $10 (or less!) and will provide your children with hours of entertainment, all kinds of cognitive, emotional and academic benefits, and another boost on the path to becoming lifetime readers.