Raise a Child Who Loves to Read
1. Read to your child from the earliest age.
And not just at bedtime. Buy board books and cloth books as some of your child’s first toys. Carry them around with snacks in the diaper bag. Create “cozy time,” a ritual of connection in which you both associate love and cuddling with reading. Any time either of you needs a break, grab a book and read to your child. Post tantrum, during lunch, after school, while you have your coffee on Sunday, any time can be cozy time.
2. Begin visiting the library regularly
…by the time your child is two and she may well prefer reading to any other activity. Use the time in the library to read to your child as well as to select books. My kids would never sit still at library “story times,” but if your child likes them, by all means go. Write down the names of the books you check out if your library can’t give you a printout, so you can keep track of returning them on time. Keep library books on a separate shelf in the living room or kitchen so you don’t lose them, and so you can always easily find something new to read. (If you don’t take them out of the house, you won’t lose them.)
Supervising a toddler and perusing bookshelves is always a challenge; it helps if you can develop a list of authors and books so you can find good ones easily. Librarians usually have a list of favorite books for various ages, and other parents and kids are always a good source of suggestions.
3. Read to your child as often as possible.
Children could really participate in meals, reading to them during lunch or an early dinner (when the other parent isn’t yet home from work) entertained them enough to keep them sitting. This is very different from putting kids in front of a screen while they eat. Then, they stare at the screen as they unconsciously put things in their mouth. Being read to is more like listening to the radio; they can look at their food and savor it as they listen, glancing occasionally at the pictures you hold up.
4. Don’t push your child to learn to read.
Most children learn to read naturally once they develop the preliminary skills. Your goal is not to help him sound out words, but to encourage a love of books, both pictures and stories. Teaching him to read may take all the fun out of reading. If you push him, he’ll feel put on the spot, and he’ll feel dumb. That feeling will last his whole life, and it won’t help him like reading.
If you notice that your child seems to have a hard time recognizing letters, or confuses letters, or can’t sound out words, or can’t recognize words that he has seen many times before, it is possible that he has a learning difference such as dyslexia. Discuss your concern with your child’s school and ask to speak to their learning specialist, who should be experienced in diagnosis and early intervention.
5. Don’t stop reading to him once he learns to read.
Read to him every step of the way, for as long as he’ll let you. Continuing to read to him will keep him interested as his skills develop. And it gives you lots of fodder for conversations about values and choices.
Parents often complain that their early readers CAN read, but just don’t seem interested in doing so. Most kids go through this stage, but you can help to keep it a brief one. The child’s problem, of course, is that he can read simple books, but his imagination craves more developed plots and characters. Those books are agonizing work, with too many words he doesn’t know, and the labor distracts him from the story. He needs his parents to keep reading to him, to keep him fascinated with the secrets of books and motivated to become a proficient reader.
At this vulnerable stage, it is well worth the extra time to track down books he can read and will find exciting. Picture books with lots of words work well, since he can use the pictures to help him stay interested and figure out the words. Soon, through his work in school, as well as the books he picks up at home, his reading skills will catch up with his appetite for books. Within a few months, he’ll be able to handle simple chapter books. At that point, look for series books, which often lure kids on to the next book and the next.
6. Ritualize daily reading time.
Set up a “cozy reading time” every day. This can be a perfect chill-out time after school, or after lunch in the summer, or a wind-down time at the end of the evening. It’s amazing how motivated kids are to read if this allows them to stay up a little later. We negotiated a half hour later bedtime that our first graders were ready for anyway, as long as it was spent in bed reading a book.
Some six year olds are just so tired by the end of the day, however, that reading is simply too much work for them then. Until your child is ready for bedtime reading, try setting up his cozy reading time while you make dinner, after homework is done. The only downside to this is that you’ll need to scrape out a half hour to start him off at what is probably your busiest time of the day.
7. Help her tackle the next level.
Pick a book she can read, but that is a bit harder than she might choose on her own — a simple chapter book, rather than a picture book, for example. Read together until you have to answer the phone or start dinner, but a minimum of a quarter of the book, so your child is hooked. Then tell her it’s time for her read-alone time. It’s her choice. Does she want to keep reading the book you’ve just gotten her into, or read something else? Most kids grab the book and finish it themselves. (If she doesn’t, you may need to drop back a level to a slightly simpler book.) Keep choosing engrossing, slightly harder books.
8. Help him improve his reading by alternating pages with him
…during your read-aloud time. But if he stumbles, supply the word. Don’t make him stop and sound things out; your goal is to keep him excited about the book by moving forward with the story. I recommend this only for limited periods of time – it tires kids out — and I recommend that you not be rigid about enforcing your child’s participation (in other words, have them do every third page, or fourth). If you take the fun out of reading with him, you’ve done more harm than good.
9. Try smart comics for reluctant readers.
Some kids get a terrific jump start from comics, which are less intimidating to them than chapter books.
10. Never stop reading to her.
But why give up such an important time to connect with each other emotionally? Why give up the chance to read books that trigger good discussions about values and choices and hardships and hope? Don’t stop till she fires you.
11. Read yourself.
Role model. If they don’t see you read, why should they? Discuss what you’re all reading at the dinner table. Institutionalize family reading time, when a parent reads to the whole family. As kids get older, they can take over the role of reader, or the book can be passed around the circle.
12. Limit technology.
There is no way a book can compete with TV or computer. Most kids, given the choice, just won’t choose the book often enough to make it a habit. Before you know it, they’ll have developed other habits for relaxing, and reading will be something other people do. Limiting or even banning screen usage until reading is well-established may be the most important thing you can do to encourage reading.