Ten Ways to Raise Readers by Julie Falatko
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.
Wonderful ideas and reminders for parents. I like the the idea to skip homework sometimes and read a book. Great to see a fellow Mainah too.
It’s great to hear all the ways your children are becoming readers, but I loved that final story about your front yard library-just makes my heart feel good. Happy reading!
Everyone should make a Little Free Library! It’s the most fun ever. Sometimes I just go outside and stare into it lovingly. And sometimes I take photos of it like it’s another one of my kids. (More info here: http://littlefreelibrary.org)
The little free library is definitely a “keeper” idea! Also, I have a kid who has Aspergers, which entails him having “special interests” that are very dear to him. I do–as you suggest–pick out books for him that I know he’ll like (especially if it’s in his special interest of the month) and he LOVES it. Like I’ve just baked him a cake AND put ice cream on top!
I love that idea too—how wonderful!
Great ideas. And just imagining your six year old yelling out of the window brought a big smile to my tired face 🙂
🙂 Reciprocally, you smiling about that made me smile.
I’ve been working at a library for a few months and I have to say that this ‘list’ is heartwarming… I often had to bite my lips to keep quiet, when I saw parents forbidding their kids from choosing books they considered ‘too difficult’ or ‘too demanding’… how could those kids learn how absolutely awesome reading is, if all they could read was a mass of babyish non-sense plot-less stuff? I think kids should feel challenged by books. And they should be encouraged to accept that challenge.
My 6-year-old frequently checks out books that totally make me shudder (things that somehow manage to incorporate the words warfare, weapons, war, army, soldiers, gunfight, battle, and tanks in the title), but he loves them. And my 4-year-old constantly picks out very involved chapter books that she loves because they are pink and have butterflies on the cover (she just likes to carry them around and pretend to be older, I think).
I love all of your suggestions. My kids love to read to themselves. They love me reading to them. They can never get enough of books. It makes me happy to find them snuggled up somewhere with a pile of picture books, going through them one by one. Books for Kids
Lovely post! I’m looking up all your book mentions as we speak!
I made a more formal list of the books I mentioned, here, on my own blog: http://worldofjulie.com/?p=3645
I think I fell in love with reading as a kid because of my relationship with my grandmother, who read to me and did everything she could to support me reading. When I was a tween, she opened an open-end credit for me at a mobile book fair (I don’t think those trailers ever went mobile so it was great for me). I loved walking amongst the rows and rows of books, going from trailer to trailer, picking one after another off the shelves. With technology these days and books being e-books, I wonder how those changes will effect getting kids to become and remain readers, if at all.
I’m totally swooning at the concept of “open-end credit…at a mobile book fair.”
I love reading and knew that I wanted my kids to be readers. I’m happy to say that they (I also have four) all love reading as much as I do.:)
I think if you love reading, that’s 98% of the battle right there (“battle”? that doesn’t sound right…you know what I mean).
Wonderful piece. Especially love “Share the Love.”
I love this article, Julie! You are a great mom. And yep, I agree – the front yard library is the BEST!
I grew up in a household like that, but we were 14 miles out of town so there was no Front Yard Library, unfortunately. I would have loved that. I have vivid memories of sitting on the front veranda not a word being spoken, as the whole family buried themselves in a book. My aunt used to complain when she visited that she may as well have stayed at home, as it was so difficult to get a conversation out of either my sister or myself. Mum always had a pile of books sitting by chairs and by her bed.
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