“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world- Love of books is the best of all.”
–Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
As an avid reader, a mother of four successful adult children (three of which have graduated from college), reading tutor for Chinese students and for Hoot Reading, as well as a Reading and Language Arts teacher entering my 28th year, I am still looking for the “holy grail” answer to the mystery of fostering a love of reading in all children.
I would like to be able to testify that I was successful in birthing an obsessive, “read all night” type love in all of my children, however that would not be true. Only three of my children have that “can’t put it down” kind of love of reading. However, I can say that all of my children possess literacy in many areas and are successfully able to read and comprehend texts that they encounter on a daily basis – from high school, to college, to the career world.
At the heart of every parent is the desire for their children to be literate, but there are so many things that contribute to literacy. Let’s consider how many types of literacy there are…it’s impossible, because the types of literacy are innumerable!
Let’s take a closer look at how Merriam-Webster defines the term “literate.” It has multiple meanings that all become components of what we as mature readers often take for granted – to be “educated, versed in literature, polished, and exhibit knowledge and competence” (2019, Merriam-Webster).
When we look at the width and breadth of what it means to be literate, our knowledge and acceptance of what makes a “good reader” or a “competent reader” should expand to not only include the narrow scope of what makes a successful academic, literary reader, but what makes a life long lover of the written word. Literacy speaks of reading and writing competence in all subjects – i.e. computers, recipes, “how to” books, automobile repair, poetry, science journals, health and wellness articles, fiction, non-fiction, diaries, journals, cartoons – the list goes on and on. Though I can’t understand the computer science articles and computer hardware “how to” blogs that my seventeen-year-old son prefers to read, rather than the classics that are more my cup of tea, his choices still allow him to engage in rigorous reading. Even better, I do not have to ask him to read those articles. He is completely self-motivated, because the information serves a purpose in helping him navigate his life. Reading can provide pure enjoyment as well as essential information.
So many parents have asked me what the key is to provide a successful environment for readers to grow a rich, healthy relationship with books. Though my experience as an education-forward mom has helped me to navigate the pitfalls of encouraging and/or discouraging my children as readers, I can’t discount what I have repeatedly witnessed as a secondary reading teacher. It has contributed to my understanding how students tend to love reading in elementary school and begin to slowly develop an allergy to reading as they move on into their middle school and high school years.
Some of my students come to me with an already burdened sense of surrendered responsibility or resistant refusal when I suggest reading is part of the day’s lesson. Reading has, in a word, become “drudgery”, to use a recently introduced vocabulary term in our 9th grade class. Due to our objective laden agendas in general education, reading is no longer the story time our children used to look forward to. Reading has become a part of the long list of required tasks that our children feel pressured to complete.
It is true that teachers and parents alike have pushed the message that reading skills are essential to prepare our youth for the 21st century. No professional educator would say any different; literacy is essential, but not at the risk of losing the opportunity to live a thousand lives, hear a thousand different voices, and experience a thousand worlds. Reading is the priceless gift we impart to our children that keeps on giving! In the article, “Reading Is Not A Natural Skill”, Lyons states, “… Learning to read begins far before children enter formal schooling. Children who have stimulating literacy experiences from birth onward have an edge in vocabulary development, understanding the goals of reading, and developing an awareness of print and literacy concepts” (Lyon, G. 1998, March). Therefore, we must intentionally think of what might contribute to an atmosphere of growth in our children and the development of a positive attitude towards reading. Honestly, there is no sure way of predicting what might flip on the “reading switch” in your children, but here are some do’s and don’ts to consider when preparing a positive environment to foster the love of reading.
Lots of Do’s
- Know your child’s interests – i.e. recipes, how to build a robot, video games, etc.
- Know your child’s comfort level with reading
- Create a comfortable place for reading
- Be your child’s favorite guest reader
- For older children and teens, read the same book that your child is reading!
- Have book talks and snacks (this works wonders with my students!)
- For my preschoolers, use catchy songs that connect letters to sounds of the alphabet (the Letter People worked so well for me!)
- Take time to read yourself (let your children see that you honor reading)
- Take your children to their favorite book store or library and let them select their own book
- Point out famous people they respect that read books
- Know that reading does not always have to be silent and sustained
- Have a family quiet time (when they see mom and dad reading books and playing board games that require reading)
- Limit certain types of screen time (start early to get ahead of the “video game/social media” invasion sure to come with teenage years)
- Set up a reward system when your child finishes a goal
- Express your approval when your child reads anything (even road signs on a family vacation)
- Provide exposure to many different experiences (field trips, plays, museums, concerts, etc.) to increase your child’s “prior knowledge”, to enrich his or her reading experiences.
Just A Few Don’ts
- Don’t force reading
- Don’t stop reading with your child
- Don’t judge the type of book your child chooses (unless it’s not age or content appropriate)
- Don’t over-analyze books (they get enough of that at school)
Whether we are professional educators, parents, or grandparents that are part of the village that is responsible for raising our children, we all want the same things for the most part: healthy, intelligent children that can read, write, comprehend, and think independently. Providing an environment where a rich variety of reading experiences strikes a healthy balance with real life exposure to adventures can succeed in helping open your child’s eyes in ways that stringent reading schedules and nagging tend to fail. Investing the time and attention to develop a lifetime love of reading in your child can transform reading from an act of “drudgery” to an act of “love”.
Lyon, G. (1998, March). Why Reading Is Not A Natural Process. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx
Merriam-Webster (2019) Online Definitions. Merriam- Webster Incorporated. Accessed April 27, 2019
Onassis, Jacqueline. Quotable Quote. 2019 Goodreads, Inc. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6822910-there-are-many-little-ways-to-enlarge-your-child-s-world
Snow, C. E., Burns, S. M., & Griffin, P. Editors. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Chapter 4: Predictors of Success and Failure in Reading.. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. Courtesy of National Academy Press. Reprinted with permission.
The Letter People (1974/Revised 1990) Abrams and Company Publishers of Waterbury, Connecticut