I want my kids to love reading. And I’m not looking for a casual love affair. I want an obsession. I want them to devour books. I dream of them turning down movies, TV, and other entertainment in favor of a suspenseful page-turner. I’m looking forward to the day when I find them up, well past their bed time, reading by flashlight. When that day comes, I’ll have to pretend to be furious, but secretly I’ll be overjoyed. On that night, I’ll know that my kids are so addicted to reading that even the threat of a tired, angry parent couldn’t stop them from trying to squeeze in “just one more page.”
Why do I care so much that my kids love reading? There are lots of reasons, but the biggest one is that I love reading and I want to share that love with them. I want them to know what it feels like to sail to Treasure Island with Jim Hawkins, fly through the battle room with Ender Wiggins, and defend Redwall Abbey with Martin the Warrior’s sword. I want them to laugh so hard they spew milk on their spouse while reading Dave Barry’s views on politics, parenting, and exploding toilets. I want their minds opened to the mysteries of the universe by Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman.
Most importantly though, I want reading to inspire them. I want them to fight injustice after reading the stories of heroes like Frederick Douglass, Thomas Jefferson, and Steven Biko. I want them to be a little kinder to their neighbor after reading the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. I want them to eventually be a better spouse and parent because of the The Five Love Languages. Basically, I want reading to transform them the way it’s transformed me.
But just because I love reading doesn’t mean my kids will too. Unfortunately, a love of reading isn’t the sort of thing that’s genetically handed down. That’s why, early in our marriage, Sam and I devised a plan to get our kids hooked on reading. And so far, it’s worked. Even though neither of our kids can read yet, they both go bonkers for book time.
Our plan has evolved some as our kids have grown older and we’ve found out things that work (and things that don’t). Our current version consists of twelve essential strategies.
Strategy 1 – Read to Your Kids
Take time every day to read out loud to your kids. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to let reading time fall through the cracks amidst the time-consuming rigors of parenting.
Eventually, I imagine our kids will lose interest in out loud reading. When that time comes, we’re planning on starting a family book club. Then, even though we won’t be actively reading to our kids, we’ll still be reading together.
Strategy 2 – Start Young
The earlier you start, the easier it is. Start on day one if you can. If you’ve already missed that opportunity, never fear. You can start now and find success. As a word of warning, if your kids are older and aren’t that into reading, you will definitely need to implement the next strategy, which is . . .
Strategy 3 – Turn Off the TV
Few kids will choose reading over TV. So, don’t give them that choice. If you have to, do what we did and cut TV out altogether (we literally do not own a TV).
Strategy 4 – Frequent the Library
Go to the library. A lot. Each time you go, gets tons of books. Even if you won’t read them all by the time you have to return them (or, in our case, even if you’ll misplace them all) your kids will love going overboard with books.
Another point about libraries: when your kids are old enough, get them their own library card. They’ll be jazzed about it.
Strategy 5 – Answer Your Kid’s Questions by Saying, “Let’s find a book about that”
When your kid asks you questions like, “How big is the Sun” or “What do boogers smell like,” don’t just shrug and say, “I don’t know.” Instead say, “Good question! Next time we’re at the library, we’ll have to get some books about that.” This will help them get excited about going to the library and learning new things.
Strategy 6 – Find Books Your Kids Will Like
I’m a firm believer that people who say they don’t like reading simply haven’t read the right books yet. There are books out there you kid will like, you just have to find them. If you aren’t sure what to try first, some good bets are popular books like Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Treehouse, or Percy Jackson. They’re all bestsellers for a reason.
If none of those options strike you child’s fancy, try others. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble are a great resource in this book hunt. While you might not buy the book at the store (books are usually cheaper ordering them through Amazon, especially if you have Prime), Barnes and Noble does a great job breaking down books into appropriate age groups and interests. And they literally have thousands of books. There’s bound to be something in that store that your kid will want to read.
Strategy 7 – Provide Daily Opportunities for Your Kids to Read Out Loud
Take some time each night to read a story out loud as a whole family. Give each of your kids an opportunity to read. Not only will this give them valuable out-loud reading experience, it will drive home the message that reading is an important element of your family dynamic. Be sure to get young kids involved. Even if they can’t read, you can whisper in their ear and let them repeat the words.
When you first implement family reading time, don’t force a child to read if he doesn’t want to. You don’t want to turn him off to reading by pushing too hard. Instead, just be patient. He or she will likely come around given enough time.
Strategy 8 – Allocate Time for Your Kids to Read to Themselves Each Day
When our kids gave up on naps (sad day), we decided to replace that time with what we call “quiet time.” During quiet time, the kids are expected to sit quietly on their bed. We give them the choice of either staring at the wall or reading books. Not surprisingly, they usually choose reading.
While quiet time currently works for us, the right time for personal book reading will vary from family to family. For your family, the optimal time might be right before school, right after school, or just before bed. Whenever it is, just be sure you get it in regularly.
Strategy 9 – Give Books as Gifts
A book is the perfect gift for any occasion. Books are especially good stocking stuffers because kids on winter break have plenty of time to read things from Santa.
Strategy 10 – Get Your Kids a Magazine Subscription
Order your kids a magazine about a topic they’re interested in. For example, if they like sports, get them Sports Illustrated for Kids or ESPN the Magazine. If they like animals, get Zoobooks (one of my personal favorites). I guarantee that they will love getting a regularly occurring magazine in the mail that’s especially for them.
Strategy 11 – Spend Time Reading to Yourself
If you want to let your children know just how important reading is, regularly spend time reading yourself. Doing so helps deliver a clear and consistent message that reading is important to your family. Also, as you read, your passion for reading will grow and you’ll feel greater motivation to share reading with your kids.
Strategy 12 – Prominently Display Books In Your Home
By displaying books in your home, your kids will have a constant reminder that books are something your family values. Plus, I think books on bookshelves look really cool. They provide your home with an air of sophistication and style.
That sums up our 12 strategies to help your children love reading. As our kids get older, I’m sure our reading plan will continue to grow and evolve, just like everything else in our family. But for now, these strategies have worked swimmingly well for the five year-old and a two year-old in our lives.
How have you taught your kids to love reading? For families with older kids, how has your plan of attack changed over the years?