My kids love to read, both of them. I love to read, and I've been reading books to them by the truckload since they were born.
Reading and writing are the most important skills your kids need for school success, whether they go to school or are homeschooled. There is nothing more fundamental to communication than reading and writing.
Building a love of the written word in your kids isn't as easy as teaching them to read. You have to make it fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable. They have to look forward to it or you won't have an enthusiastic reader on your hands.
With that in mind, here are my top 25 tips for growing a reader:
- Read to her every day. Somewhere, parents have gotten the idea that kids who can read don't need to be read to any more, but that is all wrong. All kids should be read to every day, ideally for 15-30 minutes. If that's not possible (or their attention spans won't permit it), even 5-10 minutes is better than nothing. When I was a high school teacher, I even read to my teenage students. They loved it. Need some ideas for what to read? Check out 101 Picture Books and 101 Chapter Books to Hear Before You Grow Up.
- Be a reader. Kids model what they see, so if you want your kids to read books, you have to read books. I'm cognizant of this myself as I'm reading the Charlotte Mason book series on the computer. Unfortunately, to my kids, my reading on the computer looks a lot like surfing the internet or working, so I have to close the laptop and get out a regular old book to join them in family reading time.
- Label everything. Make labels for the everyday things in your home and post them everywhere. If your child sees CHAIR and TABLE every time she sits down to eat dinner and SINK when she goes to brush her teeth, she will quickly learn to recognize those words. The more labels you have, the better.
- Make reading the easy choice. If the tv remote and the iPad are handy but the books are kept on a high shelf, what is the likelihood that your kids are going to read? Virtually none. But if the iPad and the remote are kept up high while the books are easily accessible, they are going to head to the books when they have nothing better to do.
- Limit screen time. Few kids would choose a book over tv or iPad time. While there's nothing wrong with a little tv or iPad play, those can't be the go-tos for your kids during down time. If they are, books will never be high on their list of free time activities.
- Have a library routine. Not only does a library routine make library fines a thing of the past (don't ask me how many fines I've had over the years), but having a library schedule will encourage your kids to see books as a treat. They will look forward to the opportunity to get new books out of the library as they look forward to dessert. Well, maybe not quite that much, but a lot.
- Ask questions. Stop before the end of the story and ask what she thinks will happen next. Ask her to point things out in the illustrations, if there are any. Ask what she would have done if she were the main character. Get her thinking about the story.
- Give her a wide range of experiences. Kids who've never seen a cow might not really understand what one is in a story. But if she's been to a dairy farm and seen the cows chewing their cud and heard them moo, and maybe even touched a wet nose, she will be able to visualize the story at a whole different level.
- Stay up late reading. Take advantage of lazy summer mornings and let her stay up late to read. Tell her on these special nights, she can stay up as late as she wants - as long as she's reading in bed. Chances are she'll fall asleep pretty early anyway, but she'll feel really special and daring because she stayed up past her bedtime. She's the ultimate winner, because she'll see that reading can be a fun and worthwhile experience. (If she's not reading on her own, read to her. I've done that lots of times.)
- Have a comfortable reading nook... If you have a really cozy spot to read, you'll look forward to doing it. Make sure you have a spot carved out for your regular reading. Grace and I like to lay on her bed to read. Allie and I like to sit in my oversized chair in the living room.
- ...But branch out and read in other places, too. Making reading fun might mean reading in a tent in the backyard (make one by throwing a sheet over the clothesline) or reading in a fort in the dining room (make this by throwing the sheet over the dining room table). Read in a hammock or on a picnic blanket. You can even read when you're waiting in the car.
- Listen to audiobooks in the car. My kids have quickly amassed all their summer reading club minutes by listening to audiobooks in the car. It's so easy; we don't even have to think about it. (The benefits of audiobooks are not quite the same as reading aloud to your kids, but it's still better than nothing.)
- Cook together. Cooking is great for so many academic skills, especially math, reading, and following directions. Get your kids in the kitchen with you. Let them choose a recipe that they love, and help them to read the ingredients and the instructions.
- Start a family library. If you don't have a robust family library, now is the time to start. You can find books inexpensively at library book sales, but you'll probably have to go to a bookstore or Amazon to get your family's favorites. Just buy one or two at a time until you have a decent collection. My 101 Books posts (linked above in #1) have the Amazon links right in the post for convenient book buying.
- Get a guest reader. Don't think you're the only person who can read to your child! Your spouse, the grandparents, and older siblings can read stories. Kids can even take turns reading to each other. I've also convinced Grace to read to her stuffed animals a time or two.
- Make sure your child has books that are on just at her level. Books that are too easy might be boring, and books that are too hard will be frustrating. A good way to see if a book is at the right level is the hand test. Have her read a page from the book or story. Every time she finds a word that's too hard, she should put up a finger. If she finishes the page with no fingers up, the book is probably too easy. If she has all 5 fingers up before the end of the page, it's too hard. If she finishes the page with a few fingers up, it's probably just about right.
- Have a scavenger hunt. If your child is an emerging reader, go for these scavenger hunt tips. If she's older, make up your own clues and send her on a quest for popsicles or some other fun prize.
- Be a good listener. Ask your child to read aloud to you. She may be reluctant at first, but with consistent encouragement, she might come around and enjoy it. Make sure you're giving her your full attention.
- Subscribe to magazines she likes. Grace loves National Geographic Kids and American Girl magazines. When they come in the mail, she can do nothing aside from pore over each and every page. It's really kind of special for this word-loving momma. Find the magazines that light your kids' fires and get them delivered in the mail. (Bonus, everybody loves getting mail!)
- Chill out. If your child doesn't love to read, don't make a big issue out of it. Making it a point of contention will cement the fact that she doesn't like it, and she will dig in her heels just toÃ‚ prove you wrong. If she doesn't like to read, continue to provide good quality, interesting books and magazines for her, read to her, and do the other things on the list. Hopefully she'll come around eventually.
These tips all combined together will make your home a mecca of reading goodness. I can't promise that they will turn your tv watchers into readers overnight, but they will most certainly set the pendulum going in the right direction. Turn off the tv, hide the iPad, let them play with toys, and set out lots of good reading material to pique their curiosity.
And then be patient, because it will take a while.
In the meantime, read to them some more.