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How to Raise Readers

2017 September 5

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” – J.K. Rowling

I grew up as a bookworm. One of my fondest memories of elementary school is being captain of the “Battle of the Books” team where we could go to the local high school and compete against other kids on fictional trivia and knowledge. I read everything from Archie to Anne of Green Gables to the back of the cereal box every morning. My second favorite memory was the Kids for Peace club so you can garner what kind of kid I was…ha. But regardless of which phase of life and socialization and growing I was in (i.e. I was not the captain of anything in high school…besides maybe hanging out), books stuck with me all the way. And at almost 40, I still see the benefits. When I am feeling digital overload and need to quiet my mind and my eyes? I turn to a book. More often than not, I choose reading over mind-numbing television most nights of the week. And I always carry a book with me in my bag so that when I come across a lull in my day, I can dive back in instead of scrolling Instagram incessantly. Reading is a gift. A free one, at that. And one I believe we need to instill in our kids, however and wherever we can, so they can carry it with them forever, too. Let’s start with a little caveat: I do believe some kids are just born passionate about reading and some aren’t. BUT I also believe that those who are less enthusiastic can still be shown the way with the right guidance and insight from us. Here are some of the ways I am raising readers in our home, in case they might help in yours:

Start young. Yes, it’s a given but one that is so often overlooked. I know it’s easier to entertain a toddler with an iPad. I have had two of my own. But introducing them to an early love of books is one of the first steps to setting up the right foundation so do your very best to read with them as much as possible in the early years. And read real books! Swapping the app on your device is simply teaching them another way to be dependent on a screen. Old school paper books. Buy them, borrow them, swap them with friends.

Or start now. If the “young” years have passed you by, stop telling yourself your kids “just aren’t readers.” And better yet, stop telling them that when you say it in front of them to teachers, friends, care-givers, etc! If you keep saying your kid is “not a reader,” your kid will think the same. Encourage them to love reading every single day, even if they don’t yet. And celebrate it when they do. Oh, and read this if your kids are independent readers…your work is not quite done yet.

Lead the way. I happen to love to read. It’s easy for me to spend a whole Saturday afternoon on the couch with a new book. And I encourage my kids to do the same alongside me. It’s easy with my daughter. She is happiest in a book and she is ten so it’s not hard to twist her arm to sit and chill. My son is a different story, though. He is only six and while he definitely likes to read, we’re still working on the passion part of it. But I lead by example and encourage him to join us in “reading” time for as long as he can, each and every time. He sees me reading at night on the couch. He watches me read at the park while they play. It can be a magazine or a cookbook or the newspaper. Just let them see you read. It definitely feels better than letting them see you staring at your phone all the time instead and I promise it will catch on. Even if it’s bit by bit.

Battle of the books. Take the time to find books your kids are going to be interested in. It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s more important than you think. For us, it was the Magic Tree House series in pre-kindergarten that turned into Puppy Place for her and anything Galaxy Zack for him, and then it became Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. If your kids are bored reading, they aren’t reading the right thing. Maybe it’s too hard for them and you need to dial back a few levels. Maybe it’s the wrong subject matter. Maybe you need more Lego Batman books in your life. Help them find the books and topics and authors or illustrators that keep them engaged. And keep searching until they do.

Make books a treat. A trip to the library is one of my kids’ favorite outings. They each got their own card this year with their own account (and their own late fees, ha!) and they take great pride in the ritual of visiting the library, making their selections and checking them out on their own. A trip to the bookstore is even better so we often swap out celebratory trips to Target or frozen yogurt with a trip to the bookstore instead. We often gift books to our own kids and for friends’ birthday parties and have found that magazine subscriptions are even more fun to give and receive. We make books and book-related things just as much of a treat as ice cream and Legos. And with time, they grew to see them that way, too.

Set them up for success. We are screen free during the week (old – and possibly slightly outdated – post on how and why is here). We are screen free in restaurants until after the kids finish eating…and now that they are six and ten, we’re phasing that out to be completely screen free there, too. We give our kids ample opportunity to read, to discover reading, to use reading as a last resort, if need be. And it works. Is it always easy? Absolutely not. Do we always succeed at it? Absolutely not. But we sure as hell try our best. Because at almost 40, I still see that something magical in every book I pick up. In every hour spent on the couch. In every trip to the library. And I want them to see it, too.

*A friend of mine shared the image above on Instagram with me a while back because of its striking resemblance to my little ones. And it’s quite uncanny, actually. The low, loose ponytail on her, the shaggy cut and bare feet on him. All that’s missing are the books. The artist is here

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