When I was pregnant with my first child, the only thing I knew for sure was that we could never have enough books. Nine years and four kids later, I’m navigating around piles of books, trying not to trip. When I look at all my children, draped around the living room in various states of noodley relaxation, each deep in a book, I don’t regret it for an instant. I really think just having books around encourages reading.
Here are ten other ways I raised my kids to be readers:
- Read early, read often. When my first baby was born, I didn’t actually have any idea what to do with him all day. When he was three days old, I read him My Car by Byron Barton because I’d already changed his diaper and fed him, and he was awake. He seemed to like it, so I read it to him again. Nine years later, My Car is still making the rounds, and I should send Mr. Barton cookies for keeping us so entertained.
- Show them what a reader looks like. My husband and I read a lot. Our kids see us reading all the time. They’re still at ages where they think we’re cool, and so they seem happy to lie on the rug and read next to us.
- Talk about books. The best books are ones that you can relate to. We’re constantly quoting Frog and Toad (“I’ll do it tomorrow”), talking about how we feel like Small Brown Dog on his bad remembering day, or quoting the zookeeper from 1 Zany Zoo (“Get back to your cages!”). I am deeply indebted to Linda Urban for writing A Crooked Kind of Perfect – there is no better example than Zoe Elias to explain to my older two why they need to practice their instruments daily. And I love when , instead of bringing a book into the real world, my kids jump into the book’s world: “Let’s play Narnia and Peter Nimble and Ivy and Bean!”
- Don’t worry about what you sound like. Children are generally so content snuggled next to a caring adult, being read to, that they don’t care how well you’re reading. Sometimes I do the voices, sure, but I’m also likely to fall asleep when I’m reading. Dramatic or comedic readings definitely show kids the magic in books, but often it’s the experience of being read to, any which way, that matters.
- Figure out what books they’ll like. There are books all my kids like (funny picture books) and books that only one of them will like. There’s nothing like presenting one of them with a book I know he or she will go nuts over. It’s important for them to know there are books about whatever they’re into at the moment.
- Along these same lines: Let them read anything. This is the beauty of the library. Sometimes my kids choose books I’m not crazy about. In those cases, I’m glad these books only stay at our house for three weeks. I might say, “This book bothers me because it’s saying boys are dumb” or “I think this story is kind of boring because there’s no conflict.” There’s no rule that says I have to read all of the books we bring home. But I let them choose what they want, and look at it as much as they want.
- Don’t read to your kids all the time. Read to your kids often, yes. But let them read by themselves, too. A lot. Even if they can’t read. Every day, one of my kids will ask me to read, and I’ll respond by giving them a pile of books I know they like. Read to yourself, honey. Because reading to your kids is super important, but so is convincing them that reading by themselves is an awesome thing to do.
- Sometimes, if a book is really great, forget about housework, and read the book. When we read The Hobbit, we plowed through it by reading for two or three hours at a time. When we started reading The True Meaning of Smekday, it was so good that we saw no reason to stop. We read for almost six hours one day and two the next. Now my kids feel like they sort of lived in the book for a while, and they talk about it with a reverent fondness that’s partially because it’s such a great book, but also because we put life on hold and did nothing but read. I could barely talk afterwards, though.
- Stop reading. Sometimes you need some fresh air and exercise. The stuff happening in books matters more when you’ve been doing some living of your own. Sometimes you have to put the book down and ride your bike around the block. If you want to pretend you’re being chased by Voldemort, that’s fine by me.
- Share the love. We built a Little Free Library in our front yard. Anyone walking by the house can take a book or leave a book, and the kids are so excited to share books with the neighborhood. Yesterday I heard my 6-year-old yelling to someone out the attic window. “Hi!” he said. “Are you getting a book?” [pause] ”What’d you get?” [pause] “Oh! That’s a good one! You’ll like that!” Hollering out your book enthusiasm from the top of the house for all to hear – does it get any better than that?
Julie Falatko lives in Maine with her husband and four children. She blogs at http://worldofjulie.com, does picture book reviews for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast, and happily maintains a Little Free Library in her front yard.