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Raising a Joyful Reader: Top Ten Tips
Consider giving books for gifts this holiday season. A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.
As a child in rural Georgia, I knew the exact day and time when the mobile library or Bookmobile was scheduled to arrive in my hometown. New books, just waiting to be read, lined the shelves on the walls of that vehicle. There was a limit to the number of books available for checkout and I maxed out the limit every time. Now, it’s hard to imagine that two-week wait. With electronic devices, a new book is just a click away.
Not everyone shares my love of reading. One of my friends is quick to remind me of that fact. I’ll start a sentence with, “Have you read… and she quickly gives me the evil eye. I never even get to finish my sentence. Her response on many occasions has made me wonder and ponder why some people love reading and others hate it. It’s an age-old question and I don’t have the answer. But, I do have some thoughts on how to help children enjoy reading from a young age.
Here are my top ten tips for engaging children in reading.
Show your enjoyment of reading – Let your children see you reading and truly enjoying it. Share a joke from the book you are reading, or maybe a fascinating fact, or even a funny excerpt. Let them see you research questions in books, find ideas for parties in books, find fun recipes to make together in books, and even read aloud the Sunday comics from a newspaper.
- Read with your children – Let the entire family enjoy reading before bedtime. When my children were little, our family could be found in the same bed huddled up reading a book. Even as babies, we handed them picture books to enjoy and babble over while we read our books. Then, when reading time was over, they knew it was off to bed and lights out. It was a calming transition from a busy day to a peaceful night. As the children got older, there was an automatic transition from school to dinner, to bath, to reading, to bedtime.
- Let reading have a purpose – Reading shouldn’t be about the 20 minutes required by school each night for homework. Reading should be seen as part of life. Let’s say your children are begging to go to Disney World. What better way to get them reading than to let them do the research? Let them discover the best rides, the best restaurants, the cost of tickets, the best route to take from home to the park, and how much time to spend at each park. Why should you do all the work? Let them do the research and help you plan the trip. You’ll be surprised how few complaints you hear when they have invested in the preparation. As a bonus, they’ve just spent hours gaining skills in reading comprehension.
- Help your child start a book club – Offer a special space for a book club to meet and offer snacks and drinks for the club members. Books are chosen by club members and parent approved. They can also be downloaded in the form of e-books to keep book costs low. Set aside a time and day of the week/month so that all members can attend. Be sure to show interest in their choices and allow time for them to share their thoughts and excitement about characters and the club.
- Help your child make a book – If you have a non-reader, or a child who avoids reading, try letting him/her make a book. It’s easy. Have the child make up a story and record it using a voice recorder. Then, simplify the words into story form putting each story “segment” on a page by itself. Bind the story together and ask the child to illustrate each page. For non-readers, read the simplified version as you point to the words. For children who avoid reading, try reading the entire story to them to make sure you “got it right” in the translation. Then have them read one page and illustrate it. If the book is 10 pages long, it may take ten days to complete it. After the book is completely illustrated and the child’s name is glaringly apparent as the author and illustrator, have the child share it with family and friends to foster pride in understanding and sharing the written word.
- Use books as rewards starting at a young age – This can either be printed books or e-books. If rewarding with printed books, celebrate the time together by making a special trip to a bookstore or even a library to choose a new book. If reading e-books, set aside special time to choose and download the e-book together. Show interest in the book your child chooses. Meal time is an excellent chance to ask about the book or characters in the book. Children enjoy engaging with adults when topics are of mutual interest. When my son was a child, he loved reading so much that disciplining him was a breeze. All I had to do was say, “You are about to lose your reading time.” and the negative behavior stopped on a dime. Books were a reward and a treasure to him.
- Let holiday parties involve reading through games – My children are adults now but still cherish a good scavenger hunt. We’ve incorporated scavenger hunts at Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, and on vacations. How does it work? Like this: When my son was nine, he requested a Pirate Party for his birthday. So, my husband made pirate swords for guests and we had pirate juice and treasure cupcakes. I also created a treasure scavenger hunt. One clue led to the next clue which ultimately led to the treasure map and the treasure chest. I made the clues tough. They had to really read for understanding to find the next clue. The children had a blast and reading comprehension was key to finding the treasure. It took them over an hour to find the treasure and he still says it was the best birthday party ever.
- Have daily chores revolve around reading – When you go to the grocery store, have your children read the list. Then, have them read the signs showing which items are on the aisles. Have them reason where needed items will be found based on the signage in the store. Once the items are located, have them read the first three ingredients to be sure it is a mom approved item. Discuss the choices. Let chores be educational.
- Read to children before they are born – It may feel a little strange at first, but it is never too early to instill a love of reading or learning. My husband and I both read aloud to our babies in utero. At first, it felt really silly. Then, we started to enjoy it. It was time spent focusing on nothing and no one except our little family. I have no scientific proof that it made a difference in my own children; but, I can tell you that they were both reading before preschool and are still avid readers.
- Celebrate a book night once a week – Children enjoy theme nights. Many families have menu theme nights like Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, etc. Why not have Saturday book night and call it Saturday Stories. If children are young, adults can choose a children’s book and let the dinner conversation center around the book. It may even be conducive to pair the food with the book. Examples are: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, Strega Nona By Tomie dePaola and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. So many childrens’ books are based around food. What a fun way to spend an evening
What are your ideas for helping children enjoy reading? How do you foster reading comprehension? Readers would love to hear your ideas.