This week is National Library Week, and I didn’t want to let it pass without writing a post devoted to one of my favorite pastimes: Reading.
With twelve children, as you might imagine, we have a wide spectrum of personalities and interests. Some of our kids love to read and will devour anything they can get their hands on: books, magazines, junk mail, food labels — even surprise birthday party plans that Mom thoughtlessly leaves open on her computer.
But for some of our children, reading has been more of a struggle, and — even once they’ve learned to do it — it doesn’t rank very high on their list of preferred activities. There are countless other ways they’d rather spend their time than with their nose in a book.
Although I now read a lot as an adult, I fell into this second category as a child, so I can totally relate to kids who have a hard time sitting still long enough to finish a book. Yet I also recognize how vitally important reading is to their success.
So what can a parent do to foster of love of reading in their children? Here’s a list of the things we’ve found most effective in instilling that love in ours:
25 Ways to Encourage Literacy
Set the example
Children whose parents are avid readers are more likely to value reading themselves, so if you want your kids to read a lot, keep at least one book in play at all times yourself.
There is no age at which a child becomes too old to be read to. The books you read during storytime may change over the years, but let the practice of reading aloud as a family remain constant as long as your kids are still living at home.
When teaching your child the alphabet, teach the sounds each letter makes. Choose a phonics-based reading program, such as Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Sing songs that reinforce that knowledge, such as “Apple Apple, ă, ă, ă.” Take turns coming up with words that rhyme with a given word or start with the same consonant sound (alliteration).
Visit the library
Let your little ones get their own card as soon as the library will allow it, then use it regularly. Sign up for their summer reading program and attend preschool storytime, author lectures, book sales, and other special programs of interest.
Cook something yummy
Following a recipe is another very practical way to work in a little reading. Teach your children how to decipher the ingredient list and step-by-step instructions, and there’ll be no end to the delicious things they can cook up in the kitchen. Several of our kids, both boys and girls, especially enjoy baking and have even been known to spend their own money on new recipe books to add to their growing collection.
Play word games
This includes “real” games like Scrabble and Bananagrams, as well as impromptu games of your own making, such as forming the alphabet out of playdough or spelling words with magnetic letters on the refrigerator or with Cheetos at lunch.
Ensure easy access
Build a home library. Whether you devote a single shelf in a closet or an entire room of your house to book storage, make books easily accessible and provide a variety of choices. You needn’t spend a bunch of money on this project. Our family has bought a lot of books at garage sales for cents on the dollar — plus we’ve also found ways to get books for free.
Adopt a pen pal
Reading correspondence still counts as reading, but to get letters in the mail, you usually have to write a few first. Encourage your children to send notes or send postcards to friends and family far away. Or let them send a fan letter to one of their favorite authors. I still have the letter one such author sent me in response nearly 30 years ago!
See the movie
I know the movie is rarely as good as the book, but it is still fun to see a story you’ve read brought to life on the silver screen. Sometimes just knowing that a family movie night is forthcoming provides sufficient motivation to finish the book the movie is based on before that happens. We’ve done this for years with read alouds, and some of my children now challenge themselves in the same way before heading to the theater.
Subscribe to periodicals
Magazines and newspapers delivered straight to your doorstep can provide another steady influx of reading material. Whether you subscribe to magazines geared toward your child’s age (God’s World News and Focus on the Family have some good ones) or just peruse the Sunday comics together in your local newspaper, you can learn something new while reinforcing reading skills and creating fond memories together.
Having your children copy Scripture or great selections from classic literature will not only strengthen their reading skills, but will improve their writing skills, as well. You can either do this either by providing a short passage for them to copy verbatim, or by having them write the words as you dictate them. If you are savvy about the passages you select, you may even spark a desire in your child to read the entire book.
Join a book club
It’s always fun to discuss what an author has written with others who’ve read the same book. Current reads can be great topics of conversation for family mealtimes, but don’t be shy about expanding such discussions by joining a book club — or forming one of your own. Assign a title, set a deadline to complete the reading, then meet up with friends to talk about your reactions to what you read. If you’re reading fiction, you might even dress up as characters from the book, play literary charades, or eat a themed meal from the book’s time period.
Keep a calendar
Post a large wall calendar in a central location to keep track of family schedules and upcoming events. You’ll be amazed at how quickly even young children form the habit of checking the calendar to see what’s coming up in a given week — and as a bonus, they’ll learn to adjust their own assignments accordingly so they can join in on the fun.
Do a DIY project
Almost every book I checked out of the library in elementary school was a “How To” book of some sort. Don’t underestimate the power of craft and building projects to motivate reluctant readers into deciphering instructions. Reading becomes a means to an end.
Plan a vacation
Here’s another fun, real world application that will help sharpen reading skills: Let your kids have some input on planning your next road trip of family holiday. Let them map out the route you’ll take to reach your destination and help plan interesting stops along the way. Don’t know where to begin? Check out my favorite vacation planning websites for ideas.
Read on the road
Try listening to books on tape while traveling. We love to match the books we hear with the sites we visit: we listened to Johnny Tremain on our trip to Boston, for instance, and Sing Down the Moon as we drove through Arizona. Sometimes we play reading games to help pass the time on long road trips, such as the alphabet game, where players scour billboards and road signs to find the ABC’s in order — first person to make it all the way to Z wins!
Use signs and labels
When my little ones are first learning to read, I put large colorful labels on everything: the sofa, the refrigerator, the bathtub. Those are just practice words to help build their vocabulary, and they only stay up a week or so. But I also label lots of other things to make it clear where things go, like our dirty clothes hampers (one’s marked “lights” and one “darks”), shoe shelves in the garage, food shelves in the pantry (bread and crackers on this one, canned goods on that one), even the interior door of my dishwasher (to let me know if the dishes are clean or dirty). Those labels stay up year-round, so the children get continued reading practice, and our house stays neater as a bonus!
Give books as gifts
In the words of Garrison Keillor: “A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Don’t know which book to give? Try my husband’s trick: He takes our kids on “bookstore dates” nearly every birthday so they can pick one out themselves.
Write stories together
Some of the first “books” my children ever read are the stapled paper variety on which are written silly, impromptu stories I make up on the spot using only words I know they know how to read. But boy, are they ever proud of the accomplishment! Soon they graduate to reading stories they make up and dictate to me. (I usually only write one sentence per page, so they’ll have plenty of room to add original illustrations.)
Read fairy tales
Albert Einstein once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” There are lots of great lessons to be learned by reading fiction in general, but fairy tales stoke the imagination in an extra-special way.
Do book reports
Want to increase reading comprehension? Have your children summarize what they’ve read, using their own words (something Charlotte Mason calls “narration”). This can be done informally, every few paragraphs when your little ones are reading aloud to you or at the end of each chapter for older kids. Or you can have them give an oral or written book report for longer reading assignments.
Harness their curiosity
Curiosity is a natural motivator. “Enquiring minds want to know….” Don’t just feed your kids the answers to all their questions. Show them where to find the answers, instead. Help them look things up in the encyclopedia or online and get them digging deeper into topics that interest them.
Enjoy a little poetry
Teaching nursery rhymes to your little ones is a fine starting point, but don’t stop there. Continue reading poems together, even (especially) after they’re too big to sit in your lap. Analyze and discuss what you read. Commit a few of your favorites to memory. Poetry provides a wonderful way to broaden your horizons, build your vocabulary, add depth to your understanding, and enrich your life.
Offer reading incentives
Whether you offer group rewards (“When everyone finishes reading this book, we’ll watch the movie version”) or individual challenges (“You’ll earn points for every hour you spend reading, which can be exchanged for the following prizes”), reading incentives give some children just the push they need to make reading for pleasure a lifelong habit. Many public libraries and businesses in the food and entertainment industry offer reading programs through which kids can earn great prizes, all year long.
Books before technology
This is probably the hardest but most important principle of all. Our older kids grew up before the advent of smartphones and tablets and laptops, so none of those distractions were even an option for them. In this day and age, however, it has become increasingly difficult for the written word to compete with all the bells and whistles of computer games, YouTube videos, and all the innumerable apps vying for our children’s attention. Unless we actively do something to even the odds, kids will have a hard time choosing books over devices, especially if they’ve not yet developed a proficiency and/or a love for reading. One thing we’ve done to help with this goal is to track reading v. computer time with charts such as this or this.
That’s about everything I can think of on this topic. Do you have other good ideas for fostering a love for reading in your kids? What has worked best in your home? Please share in the comments below!
For more on the topic of reading, I recommend checking out these great posts and podcasts from other bloggers:
Michael Hyatt – “Permission to Turn the Page”
Simple Homeschool – “How to Read Aloud Every Day”
Reading Rockets – “11 Ways Parents Can Help Their Children Read”
Homeschool Enrichment – “7 Surprising Lessons I Learned from Teaching My Children to Read“