Reading has always been something very dear to me. I still remember my first grade teacher pulling me aside early on and handing me the book The Boxcar Children. That night, curled up on the couch, I read the whole thing. It was my first chapter book. Since that moment books have been an almost constant companion to me.
When I became a parent I knew that I wanted to raise kids who loved to read. I wanted them to embrace literature and enjoy spending a rainy afternoon on an adventure in a far-off land. I also knew this meant starting early on.
While I am no where near done (my kids are six and three) I do have to say that both of my kids enjoy books and so I thought I would share some advice that we’ve incorporated into our lives that, I think, have played a big part in creating a reading family.
- Introduce books almost immediately. You can read to your baby in the womb (my son came out clearly recognizing Goodnight Moon since I read it to my daughter nightly while he was gestating) or very early on as part of your loving interaction with your infant. While he or she won’t be focusing on the pages in those first few weeks, listening to the cadence of your voice while you read is still a valuable interaction and always nice to listen to.
- Have board books available from the beginning. You can prop a book up next to a baby while on his or her back and once in a while the infant will turn and face the page. And once your baby can hold onto objects, she or he can enjoy books through touch as well.
- Have a variety of GOOD board books. There is a LOT of fluff out there! You want to find a booklist that has books with beautiful language and beautiful illustrations. Some of my favorites off the top of my head are:
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle (and The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
- Corduroy by Don Freeman.
- Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt.
- The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton.
- Goodnight Moon by Margret Wise Brown.
- Are You My Mother? (and most other Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman board books).
- Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field (my son memorized this just from hearing it over and over).
- Have a few non-fiction board books with bright illustrations to start introducing the world. These are not so much about reading as they are about getting your littles to enjoy holding and interacting with book format. Boys tend to like vehicle books. Girls are drawn to faces. And both enjoy animals.
- Create a bedtime routine where you read at least one book a night. Have a basket next to the bed and rotate books weekly (but keep that favorite in there!).
- Read throughout the day too. If you like to schedule activities or have a more structured day, pencil in times to read. Otherwise, find natural lulls in the day or use mealtimes (they’re captive audiences haha!) to share a short story.
- Don’t be alarmed if you have a “natural” reader and a more resistant reader. My daughter has loved books since she was a baby and has naturally acted as I would expect her to act throughout the various “reading” stages. My son, on the other hand, did NOT want to sit still for a story, especially as a toddler. He was too busy exploring the world! At first this made me a little nervous because I was worried he was doomed to dislike books (haha the drama of motherhood!) but I found the solution: I would just sit down and read aloud anyway. Most often he would toddle his way over to look at a picture and hear at least some of the story. As he progressed from early one/early twos to almost three his attention span also grew and so did his enjoyment of books.
- Don’t worry about early literacy skills like ABCs or phonics at this age! Toddlers (1-3 year olds) need exposure and positive interactions with books. Modeling your own reading practices will go much further than pushing “What does A say?”. Just allow your kiddo access to good books to both explore as well as hear.
- Take books with you! Creating a reading culture means infusing books into your daily lives in multiple ways. Either pack the diaper bag with a few board books and/or keep a few in the car for entertainment. Even when we travel across country I pack books. This is when I’m thankful I have those paperbacks of classics. They’re light and pack easy. We take books with us to church, to the doctor, on a road trip, and to visit Grandma, just to name a few.
- Keep introducing GOOD books. Some resources I love for booklists are:
- Utilize technology for those pre-reading skills. For my daughter we used:
- ABC Mouse (this seriously taught her her letters and sounds. I barely did any work lol). We downloaded the app onto an iPad and she spent weeks cruising through her learning path. Now, her three year old brother has NO interest in this type of learning so I will have to find a different approach to encourage pre-reading skills. Kids are different – no way around that!
- The LeapFrog Phonics Farm movie. Such a fun little video and both kids love it.
- Library! (But go with a booklist or your kids might pick out some terrible books). And along with this, find a good story time! We’ve been visiting Barnes & Noble on Saturdays as a family and that’s a nice way to be surrounded by books and see others kids also interacting with books (although their story time book selection is sometimes lacking).
- Continue reading to them, especially rhythmic or repetitive stories. Read simple stories over and over until your child can “read” them to you through memorization. My daughter memorized Just One More and was insanely excited to read it to us and others often. This created a real sense of confidence in her reading skills and encouraged her to continue to find others to “read”. Another good repetition book is We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.
- Start a reading program. Soon after my daughter turned five we started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Englemann. Did she love this? Not always. BUT I made it as fun as we could and the lessons were limited to 20 minutes a day (if/when I use this again I’ll limit to 10 minutes). It was at about Lesson 14 when some of the principles started to click and she began to feel empowered because she knew she was learning a very important skill. The book took us a LOT longer than expected. I think we finished it in about 10 months. BUT again, I did that on purpose. I never wanted to push learning to read before she was ready but I also expected her to try. It’s a balance for sure and one you have to feel out with your kids.
- Continue to read to them! This it something I learned through my extensive homeschooling research but reading aloud should NEVER stop! I’m serious. I plan on reading aloud to by 16 year old. You may laugh but there’s crazy science about reading aloud as a family. I mean, what family doesn’t want to all go to the Hundred Acre Wood together and have that shared experience for a lifetime?
- Provide TONS of books, especially on what interests your child. As children get older they get curious! Use books (instead of just the internet) to teach how books can be used to answer questions. The Charlotte Mason bookfinder mentioned above is a great place to start.
- Encourage “reading” to younger siblings. It’s beyond precious when my kids sit down together with a book.
- Once basic reading has taken hold, have your child read to you, even if it’s reluctantly. In our house it’s expected that my six year old read at least a few pages to someone daily. Typically it’s me but it could also be her dad, her little brother, or a grandparent. Since she’s technically Kindergarten I don’t stress her knowing or sounding out every word but if it’s a word she knows or is phonetically straight-forward, I expect her to at least try. And she does. Children will rise to the expectations you set for them. Just don’t get into a power struggle! Reading a little each day continues to build her skills and confidence.
- Start reading chapter books if you haven’t already. Most kids are ready to process and listen to a longer storyline around five years old. Finding the right book to start with can be tricky but it’s definitely worth it! We personally started out with Little House in the Big Woods. I don’t suggest this for a first chapter book! Those I LOVE Laura and plan on revisiting her prairie adventures soon, it was too detail-heavy for my then five-year-old, though I have to give her credit for getting about 2/3 through the story. After that mistake we moved on to the Ramona Quimby series that I had grown up with and we have made our way through all but the last one. At this point I’ve decided I couldn’t wait any longer to start our journey to Narnia and began The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I never read C.S. Lewis growing up and even made the mistake of starting with The Magician’s Nephew (that one was way over her head) but we’re all enjoying ourselves now.
So that’s where I’m at. I have a kindergartner who can sit down and attempt to read almost any picture book. Throughout her six years, books have been a huge part of her life and a go-to form of entertainment. My three-year-old is still in the exploring stages with books, working on honing his attention skills. Once in a while he graces us with his presence for chapter book reading.
Raising readers does not come by chance. I know there are kids out there who despite their environment are veracious readers but most kids need their surroundings to be conducive with this large goal. As with parenting in general, you have to plan for the skills and values that you want for your child.
I’m curious: What are your child’s favorite books? What do you do in your home to make reading a priority?
Until next time,