I’ve heard it said, kids are terrible at doing what we say, but experts at copying what we do. In my experience, it couldn’t be more true. Obviously, this happens most effectively when I’m at my worst. That curse word that I let slip in the car? Little buddy is SURE to drop it when he trips on his way into the neighbor’s house. (Sorry, Nana.) Is it a stressful moment and I’m yelling? My kids will be at each other’s throats the rest of the night. I could name countless moments when my behavior influenced what my kiddos said and did.
Thankfully, the same can be true for my stronger, kinder, better moments. Sometimes, I really am the positive influence I want to be in their lives.
So, how am I getting my kids to read voluntarily?
It’s easy. I’m going to carry a book around with me and open it whenever I have a moment! If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of this making any difference at all, stick with me for a moment. It really is a simple thing I do to get my kids to read. And it works!
We all want to raise a child who genuinely wants to spend some of their free time reading, right? But for many of us, the road to this destination can be bumpy, and often discouraging. I’ll never forget the day we finally decided to forgo kindergarten and homeschool my first child. I felt completely responsible for her ability to read. Could I teach her this? What if she had difficulty, or flat-out hated it? I was afraid that she wouldn’t take reading seriously.
As someone who enjoys and values reading, having a child who loves to read was incredibly important to me.
We would sit together reciting syllable after syllable, while she whimpered and pleaded to go play. There was so much external and internal pressure, and we both felt it. All I could imagine were the faces of sneering family members whispering behind my back saying “she should have stayed in school.”
I am an empathetic mom, so I would let her run laps around the couch, or shake off her sillies for two minutes, but then it was back to the business of learning to read. She quickly became frustrated and so did I. But I pushed harder because I was afraid that if I didn’t, she wouldn’t ever read. She started digging her heels into the ground and refused to sit down with me at times. This resistance scared me. It threatened the vision I had of her enjoying a skill that would serve her for the rest of her life.
As a new homeschool mom, I grasped for every resource I could get my hands on.
I started listening to author Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast The Read-Aloud Revival which encourages literacy through reading aloud, as a family, no matter the age. Since infancy, I had been reading to my kids, but I took it up with more passion and vigor scouring book lists and getting recommendations from other mothers. Heck, I figured that if all else failed, my kids would have stories in their heads, and that MUST amount to something.
Reading stories, however, served not just my children, but me too. We were snuggling, connecting, and enjoying them together. Something within me began to trust her, trust the process, and trust myself.
My mind was opening to a whole new way of approaching how I was going to get my kids to read.
The positivity I felt didn’t stop there. Sarah, a homeschooling mother of four, recommended that moms should prioritize their own reading for enjoyment. She said that your children should catch you with a book in hand. I thought to myself, “Are you serious? Do you know my life, lady? I have five children, five and under!”
At that time, I wouldn’t have considered myself a pleasure reader and my precious spare time was limited. Nevertheless, I decided that I would start carrying a novel around with me, and open it when I had a few moments. I wanted my kids to see me reading.
I didn’t give up on teaching my daughter the foundations of reading, but I did let go of the pressure I felt to push her to literacy. Doing this gave us both space to enjoy the process. My reading flourished which was very enjoyable, and my daughter became comfortable reading to me because she wanted to, not because she was expected to.
I switched my focus from performance to pleasure, from coercion to influence, and that allowed her to create her own relationship with reading. Which is what I wanted most for her!
Nowadays, there are stacks of books on my bedpost. I have a special reading chair, and so do my kiddos. We fill our coffee tables with children’s books that I refresh every few weeks, we subscribe to magazines like National Geographic Kids and Ranger Rick, and when we go to the library, we take home close to fifty books, most of which have been chosen by my kids. They gravitate towards books of their interests, and I intentionally seek out books online or through interlibrary loans if what they are looking for is not at our local library.
There is no magic here, just intention. This one simple thing I do to get my kids to read requires that I model enjoyment of reading, and the kids take it from there.
If you don’t already have a culture of reading in your home, homeschooling or not, getting kids to read may be challenging, but you don’t need to use coercion, rewards, or consequences to turn your kids into voracious lifelong readers (although it’s tempting). You may just want to ask yourself, “How am I modeling a lifestyle of reading to my child(ren)?” And, “In what ways can I inspire reading and partner with my child(ren) so that it is gratifying for all of us?”
This may require getting outside of your comfort zone, prioritizing your reading for pleasure, and rethinking how you communicate about reading to your children. There is no shame here, and the struggle is real! Getting kids to read doesn’t have to be frustrating, but it does take a little bit of intention, and a lot of enjoyment.
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