I am in a somewhat unique situation with two kids in college and two kids in preschool/kindergarten. This large age gap sometimes makes us feel like we are raising two separate families and my husband and I joke that the good news here is we can correct our mistakes the second time around. Though we laugh there is a bit of truth to it. Don’t get me wrong, despite our rookie parenting, our two oldest kids turned out to be fine young adults who we are very proud of. But there are definitely lessons learned that we decided should be applied to our younger kids. At the top of the list: reading. Over the years we watched our older kids develop friendships in their small school and saw one common denominator with the kids who were getting good grades…typically they loved to read. And by that I mean that they were – avid readers. Their faces lit up when describing a great book or sharing about the next novel they couldn’t wait to read.
Some people say kids either have a love of books or they don’t; they were simply born that way. Perhaps that’s true. However, I believe a love of reading can be instilled. As parents, we can make stories come to life and share the excitement, adventure, mystery, and humor found in books as a way to get them hooked. I wish I would have read more to our oldest kids when they were little, but now I make reading a much bigger priority with our little guys.
Here’s what I do:
- Read Each Day. It’s such a great routine and for us and it seems to calm them down before bedtime. Our reading ritual has become as much of a habit as brushing their teeth: I let them pick the book they want to read, then I point to each word as it’s being read..
- Channel My Inner Actress. Instead of just reading to the kids, I try to make the book come to life by being as dramatic as I can at the risk of looking too silly. Actually, the sillier I behave the better they seem to like it.
- Ask Questions. I try to engage them by asking what they think of a character in the book or ask them to tell me about the story as we go. This also tells me if I’m reading books they really understand. And it gives them a bit of an introduction to the reading retention quizzes that I know that they’ll be getting in coming years in school.
- Talk to Friends. Other mothers at my daughter’s preschool who are equally passionate about reading to their kids have given me the best suggestions on books and authors. Another great resource is the Bing forums and related communities.
- Focus on the Child’s Interests. My daughter prefers princess books; my son loves anything that involves trucks or planes. Selecting their favorites encourages participation and also expands their horizons: who knew there were books about bridges, leaves, star fish, sand, volcanoes? (Well, you, but they’re new to this). I also hope they feel special knowing we think their interests are worth exploring.
- Get Free Books….Use the Library. It is fun to visit the bookstore, but getting them for free is so budget-friendly. Also, many libraries have a gently used bookstore where you can purchase great books at a fantastic price. Look for another blog post on libraries soon, as there is just so much to share here.
- Have an Escape Plan. Ever have a night when you are just too tired to turn pages and too distracted to hold a thought longer than three seconds? Sure, as parents we all have those moments, so I have the cheater version of reading to kids that I’m sure you will thank me for. It’s called Storyline Online, created by the Screen Actors Guild and features known actors reading kids’ books. Better still — there’s no charge to use the site. My kids love reading “computer books” and it’s a great way to give me a night off every once in a while. I just huddle with the kids and my laptop and we are all entertained.
So who knows, in another 10+ years when our younger kids are in high school I will be able to tell if our decision to focus on reading made a difference, but until then I’m not taking any chances.
How do you encourage reading at your house? I would love to hear from you.
– Barb –