Raising Sharp Readers by Colby and Alaina Sharp
7 years ago, we were elated and terrified to welcome the first of our three little readers into the world. As parents, we don’t do a lot of things right – Breslin’s gone to school with his pants on backwards enough times to verify that. But, we have managed to turn out three little people who love reading fiercely. Here are some of our thoughts on how we have helped to foster and nourish that love in our home.
1. Have books everywhere.
Our oldest isn’t one to go the bookshelf and pick up a book. He’s not the type of kid that you tell to go and read a book. What we’ve found is that if we have books laying around all over the place (tables, floor, car, bed, etc) he reads a ton. Sometimes he’ll find a book laying on the coffee table and read it cover to cover. Yesterday we cleaned out AJ’s loft bed and found close to 40 books. They were jammed in between the mattress and the frame, crammed under her pillows, and wedged under the comforter at the foot of the bed. And don’t even get us started on the van. The book explosion that seems to follow us wherever we go is worth it because it means that our kids are more likely to read something no matter where they are.
2. Let them see you read.
Our kids are always seeing us with our noses in books or are hearing us talk about books. We would probably be embarassed to admit how many times we have responded to one of their requests for a snack or a drink with, “As soon as I finish this page.” We both read before bed, we read at the beach, and we read in the car on long trips. Seeing us choose reading as something we do for fun or for relaxation helps them to see how valuable and important we view reading.
3. Celebrate books and acknowledge authors as the rockstars they are.
Most people that are members of the Nerdy Book Club think authors are rockstars and they celebrate books daily. We take our kids to bookshops to meet authors, we take them to comic festivals, and we get excited when new books enter our home. When they grab their nightly boobook before bed,they are always asking if we have any new books. We want our kids to know that new books are always coming out, and we want them to get excited when a new favorite joins our family.
4. Give books as gifts.
What’s worse than getting a bunch of plastic junk for your kids’ birthday party? How about knowing that you are contributing to the plastic junk of other people’s kids? We have made our lives infinitely simpler by making a conscious effort to give books as gifts to both our own kids and to others. When we set out to purchase a gift, we let the kids pick a book (or two or three), which is a decidedly entertaining process. Which Elephant and Piggie book would Mia like the best? Can we get the Penny stuffed animal to go with Penny and Her Song for Mary? Would grandpa like a book about football for Christmas? Of COURSE. Giving books as gifts shows our little ones that books are precious and that our favorites are worth sharing with others.
5. Keep it fresh.
Nobody wants to read the same book every night. Yes, we did read Penny and her Song at least 185 consecutive nights, but our kids still need to be flooded with new books as much as possible. We’re always putting new books in front of our kids. We rotate the piles around the house. We clean out the books from the van and they are gradually replaced with different ones. The books we get from the library go straight into their cute little hands. When we see our old favorites, like a Calvin and Hobbes anthology at a garage sale, we pick it up and let them try it out. We never quite know what they’ll end up with, but the bottom line is that they always end up with something.
6. Encourage unsupervised reading.
You don’t have to be RIGHT THERE next to your kids for them to read, even if they are really small. We both have vivid memories of AJ sitting with a picture book in her high chair while we made dinner, entertaining herself by just looking at the pictures in a board book or making up her own words to the story she saw unfolding in her hands. As a parent, a lot of times we worry that our kids will mispronounce a word or form bad habits if we aren’t there to guide them, but it’s simply not true. Think of how much more your kids would be able to read if they didn’t need you right there all up in their business. And when they can do it by themselves, they are beginning to see how reading is something that can be fun and rewarding even if they are all on their own.
7. Let “going to the library” be more than just checking out books.
Just like going to see a movie, visiting the museum, or a trip to the bounce house, going to the library is an event. The kids equate a trip to the library with a fun adventure out of the house. We don’t force them to pick out books, and we don’t say no to any books they want to get. We let them play with the puppets, tea sets, and puzzles and we participate in the crafts and activities. It’s not a chore or an obligation, but an entertaining privilege — each time a visit is suggested, it is met with cheers from our little posse.
8. Help them find books that align with their interests.
This one might seem super obvious, but pulling it off is harder and requires more self-sacrifice than it sounds. Sure, Breslin’s love of Legos made it easy to pick up a monster volume of Lego history, but when AJ went through a phase where all she wanted to hear was Caillou or when the girls were obsessed with the encyclopedia of Lalaloopsy, we had to grit our teeth and take one for our tiny team. Kids don’t always want to read award-winning literature, and that’s okay. There’s a reason they like the things they do and reasons they want to read the books they choose. We might not see the appeal of the Barbie Ballerina book, but those girls will read it non-stop. We call that a win.
9. Never force it.
One of our biggest reading fears is that our kids will ever see reading as a chore.So, we don’t make our kids read. There are no bookmarks with timers on them, and we don’t have a set time during the day when we read. We’re busy. A set time would be setting us up for failure. We surround our kids with books, we read all the time, we celebrate books and do all sorts of other things to get our kids reading. But, our kids like to watch television too. We let them watch. Our oldest is obsessed with video games. We let him play. Reading is a very important things in our family, but it isn’t everything.
10. Bedtime Reading
We have a nice little bedtime reading routine at our house. The kids brush their teeth, put on their PJs, and pick a couple of books to read with us before bed. They don’t have to read, but the only other option is to head to bed. They always choose books. After reading a pile of books we tuck the kids in and leave them with their books. They fall asleep reading, holding, and cuddling a handful (or sometimes a bedful) of books.
Alaina and Colby Sharp are teachers in the Parma Western School District. They have three book loving kids. Their fourth child is due tomorrow. You can follow them on Twitter at @sharpsgalore and @colbysharp.