The other day while cleaning the house with my two kids, my son desperately asked if we could take a “reading break” and my daughter enthusiastically backed him up. It took everything I had to stop myself from tossing the cleaning supplies in the trash and racing them to the bookshelf. I mean, of course, we dropped everything for a reading break, just without throwing our supplies in the garbage. All I cared about was that I was raising kids who love to read!
Granted, reading is definitely more fun than cleaning, but he didn’t ask to take a Lego break or a snack break- and Lego builds and snacks are fun too. As soon as I said yes, he beelined to his current favorite book, a graphic novel, and curled up with it. My three-year-old wasn’t far behind, grabbing her book and diving onto the couch next to him.
At that moment, I felt the universe singing and the stars aligning, and all the other mystical things. I might make a lot of parenting mistakes, but this is my dream come true…
I am raising kids who love to read.
I use the term “reading” loosely here because my three-year-old isn’t reading on her own yet, and my six-year-old is still learning. Nor do I expect them to be reading! There are many schools of thought on when it is best for kids to start actually reading words, but enjoying books in any way is a major part of pre-reading and is crucial for raising kids who love to read.
Here are some other easy ways to help instill a love of reading in young children:
Pediatricians and educators suggest that families and caregivers read to children for at least twenty minutes every day, starting in infancy. To some, twenty minutes can seem like a long time for little ones to sit and listen, and they wouldn’t be wrong! Especially for very active toddlers who can’t sit down, well, ever. So, break it up, five minutes here, ten there, however you can fit it all in. Read a book to them while they sit on the potty when potty-training, or while you are sitting in the insanely long pick-up line waiting for their older brother to get out of school (my three-year-old and I crush a ton of books that way!) Don’t forget to read before bed– we often do at least 20 minutes before snoozing.
2. Books Galore
Exposure to books is like exposure to vegetables, hopefully, they will start to like them after being offered them a million times. In our house, we have books everywhere so that they are always easily accessible.
For younger kids, having books on display or in cute baskets is better than having bookshelves where only the spines face out. Board books and Indestructible Books are also just right for little hands and mouths to explore. Turning pages, getting a close look at pictures, and retelling stories in their heads all help build this set of pre-reading skills.
For older kids, having accessible storage is also helpful, especially if it is easy to navigate. We have a shelving unit just for library books so they always know where to find them, and shelves that are designated for our old favorites or bedtime books. That way they know exactly where to go to help themselves.
Once you know they aren’t going to tear books to shreds, you can get creative with storage in their rooms too. Have them help plan or build their own tree bookshelf or some other cool storage unit, to keep books at the ready in their rooms. If they decide how to store them, they may be more likely to put their books away when they’re finished reading them, instead of leaving them all over the floor!
3. Library Time
To help keep our book selection fresh and exciting without spending our whole mortgage, we go to the library every week, sometimes more than once. My kids select their own books so they feel ownership over what they are reading and discover new interests. We have reading time each day and that includes them seeing me reading, though I may only get to read a page or two in between all the urgent “Mama!” screams. (Don’t worry, they just scream like that when they want snacks. Which is always.)
4. Book Club
My kids and I do our very own “book club” where we each get to present a book, give a quick summary, and decide if the book gets a thumbs up or thumbs down. Or, if the book is really good or really bad, two thumbs up or down. Usually, they pick ones we have read a million times and know well enough to explain from memory. It is pretty hilarious to see my preschooler get critical about a book that stars a magic hat or a kooky llama. Not only is this activity good for story retention and cognitive skills, but it’s also another way to boost empowerment around reading.
You don’t need to do things like this if it feels like too much, just having your kids tell you stories they know well can be helpful in sparking their reading love. And don’t worry, it’s okay if you zone out on the fifth retelling!
Another fun book club rendition is Would You Rather, with books! After reading two different books, you can discuss which one might be the one you would want to live in. For example, would you rather go on a trip to the ocean and build a sandcastle for royalty like in the book Sandcastle by Einat Tsarfati or go on your first camping trip with your best pal like in the book The Camping Trip by Jennifer K. Mann?
5. Books and Games
In addition to Book Club and Would You Rather, we play a lot of reading-based games that include movement. Active storytimes keep kiddos busy while still getting their book time in. Even easier is reading books that contain ways to get moving and grooving, like You Are A Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo, Stomp, Wiggle, Clap, and Tap: My First Book Of Dance by Rachelle Burk and Alyssa De Asis. The best part about this is you can help your kids get their wiggles out while you are sitting down!
6. Again and Again
Ever notice that young children, especially toddlers, want the same story over and over again? That repetition can be annoying but it’s helping them learn. Repetition is important for vocabulary building and acquiring new skills, as well as testing out what they already know. So, even though reading that same bear book for the hundredth time might make you want to stick a fork in your eye, just remember that they are gaining so much from it. (And they’ll be onto a new book in a few months, hopefully!) You can always get a break from reading by trying out a story time at your local library or checking out Woke Kindergarten. It’s screen time, but it’s reading so that makes it okay, right?!
Story podcasts are also a great way to hear stories! Circle Round is a great choice that has stage and screen performers helping to retell diverse folktales. Just right for kindergarteners and up, but I’ll admit I love this one too!
Story Pirates is also another hilarious way to hear kids’ stories… and by that, I mean actual kids’ stories since the talented Story Pirates team is acting out stories submitted by kids! This podcast may even inspire your little reader to write something of their own. Check out their website to find out how to submit a story or for other fun educational resources.
7. Pointing Out Words
Whenever you are reading, it’s always a good idea to point out words or follow along with your finger at times. It gives the subtle hint that those lines are not just squiggly additions to the illustrations but are meaningful symbols. If I’m reading a book that has a word that’s repeated a lot, I’ll point to the word every time I say it. Small things like this can make a difference when it comes to letter and word recognition later on.
8. Write Their Own Books
Yup, you read that write, ba dum bum. With preschool-aged children, they can make up a story on their own while you write down the words. (Don’t bother to edit it! It only has to make sense to them, and they think bunnies can fly to the moon with a balloon so the bar is pretty low.) Then they can illustrate each page, staple them all together, and poof! They are an accomplished author and illustrator!
My kids have been dictating stories for me since they could talk and it’s made me realize that I would have been a fantastic 1950s secretary because I’m apparently good at dictation. These books will be fun to read over and over again, especially many years later when you are trying to remind them what a cool parent you were for helping them write their first book.
Raising kids who love to read is all about getting the books into their hands and the stories into their minds. Once they have a love of all things literacy, the actual reading and writing parts are next. What are your favorite ways to get your kids to love reading?
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