In the last twelve years, I have made many, many mistakes, but there is one thing I have done right: my children are readers. Obsessive readers, the kind who bump into streetlights and door jambs because their heads are buried in a book. Ubiquitous readers, who will anything from the ingredients on the back of the pickle jar to the worm composting book we brought home from the library by mistake. Interactive readers, who often burst into laughter in the middle of a passage or beg to be allowed to share the most hilarious (or interesting or surprising or disgusting) lines.
How did this happen? Well, of course they’re brilliant, creative types. But since this is a blog about reading, I thought I would start by giving my advice on something I know well: how to get your kids to read.
First the ones everybody knows:
1. Read to your kids often from the time they are very small
2. Have a lot of books around the house.
3. Let them see you reading.
Those are in all the parenting books. But here are my additional, foolproof, money-back guaranteed (ha, ha, see that’s a laugh out loud line one of my kids would read out) suggestions
4. Go to the library! A lot! Have Thursday Night Library Night or Saturday Morning Library Morning or Surprise! It’s Library Afternoon. Let your kids get out as many books as they want/the library will allow (within reason). This drives my husband crazy because we usually have, literally, 45 library books on our library shelf. (Seriously, if you do this, keep a library shelf because otherwise you will lose your library books. I speak from experience. Even if you have a library shelf, you may lose books, but not as many.) Kids love the idea that they can get out all 7 Harry Potter’s or 6 different dinosaur books. And they love being able to choose what they want, even if it’s not something you would choose. And because it’s free, you don’t have to worry that every book is worthwhile. We go to the library once or twice a week. Generally, when we get home, I come into the house by myself, because the kids are still in the back seat of the car, engrossed in whatever new books they’ve just picked out.
5. Don’t forget non-fiction! When I was a kid, all they had for kids non-fiction tradebooks were encyclopedia-light books like The Dormouse or Delaware. But nowadays there are absolutely amazing, insightful books on every topic you can imagine. My son read books earlier this year about the making of the atom bomb and a boy in an tiny African village who built his own windmill. My daughter’s favorite author last year was Gail Gibbons who writes books about everything from frogs to Valentine’s Day to the post office. If your child has an interest, there’s sure to be a book about it. And if you want to find your child an interest, the National Science Teacher’s Association puts out a list of the best trade books published each year. I generally go through it and find all the books on the list that are in our library. Also, there are lots of books on less-sciency non-fiction topics: rock stars and video games and TV characters, etc. (Those are not generally on the NSTA’s list though, you’re on your own.)
6. Don’t worry about age level. My kids, now 8 and 12, just read through the entire list of picture book nominees for the North Carolina Children’s Book Award. They found many of them hilarious. At the other extreme, last year Ms Tumble (my 8-year-old) got really into Shakespeare and actually read the first two acts of Twelfth Night. (I’m not sure how much she understood it – maybe more than I would have wanted her to!) This isn’t to say you shouldn’t determine that the content of some books is inappropriate for your kids – of course you should! That’s part of being a parent. It’s just to say ‘don’t get hung up on the labels on the book that say ages 6-9’ or whatever. That’s just some marketing director trying to figure out how best to sell the books, and it has nothing to do with your particular child.
7. Limit screen time. Okay, I know everyone has their own philosophy about this, and every kid is different, etc., etc. So I say this only from my own experience. We allow video games only on Friday and TV/videos only in French. (That’s what works for us!) My son is an avid reader who probably reads a minimum of 5-7 books every week for pleasure. I guarantee you that if he were allowed unlimited video games, he wouldn’t read a single one. Ms Tumble is different – she gets bored with video games after an hour or two. But my son? He forgets to eat, drink and use the bathroom when he’s playing video games, so I really think he would forget about books. (And I know there are a lot of people who will maintain that reading books is no better than playing video games, that video games encourage creativity and develop critical thinking, etc. And that’s fine. This post isn’t to say books are better than video games, just to say that – for people who want their kids to read – unlimited screen time may make it harder.)
I have a lot more thoughts on this topic; I will add them as I think of them. Toodleloo.