I was born into a family of readers. Growing up, my mom, a special education teacher, was always reading books about new ways to make learning fun and relevant for her students. When she wasn’t teaching or learning more about teaching, she would devour a science fiction or historical fiction novel. Now that my parents are retired (and have a child-free house) they enjoy reading for pleasure more than ever.
There’s no doubt that as a child I knew my parents valued reading. They worked hard to show my brother and me that education can empower, fight against ignorance, and provide a window into other peoples’ experiences. This knowledge has shaped my love for traveling and desire to learn about anything and everything I can. My parents’ love for literacy has provided me with valuable takeaways as I parent my own child, including creating a home where books line every shelf.
If you want to create a home where your children know that reading matters, here are a few things you can start doing today.
- Find books they enjoy. Reading and I didn’t have a “love at first sight” type of relationship. My brother started reading well before I did, and he enjoyed everything from comics to the famous Goosebumps series. Since he was older, I’m sure my mom didn’t expect to have to trick me into falling in love with reading. But it was super difficult for me, and I lacked patience to persevere through the struggle. Once she drew me in by finding books I enjoyed, the struggle was worth it!She started reading age-appropriate Christian-romance novels to me when I was around 10. She would start by reading the books aloud, and then, right before something epic happened to the protagonist in the story (such as the protagonist’s loved one finally rescuing her from impending doom), she set the book down on my nightstand and told me it was time for bed. I’m sure you can predict what happened next: I picked up the book to find out what happened! Although the book was above my reading level, I struggled through the difficult words and small text until I understood what happened next. My motivation increased my desire to persevere through the challenges.When we seek out books that align with our children’s interests, we show that we value them. To raise readers who truly love reading, children must have opportunities to read books that they want to read, not just books chosen by their parents or teachers.
- Don’t underestimate audiobooks. You may have come across articles that discuss if audiobooks really count as reading. According to Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia:
“Consider why audiobooks are a good workaround for people with dyslexia: They allow listeners to get the meaning while skirting the work of decoding, that is, the translation of print on the page to words in the mind. Although decoding is serious work for beginning readers, it’s automatic by high school, and no more effortful or error prone than listening. Once you’ve identified the words (whether by listening or reading), the same mental process comprehends the sentences and paragraphs they form.”
Although print and audio provide children with a different experience, audio versions of books can (and should) be used to help all kids experience the joy of being swept away into a great book. If reading print is hard for your child because they struggle with decoding or oral fluency, try listening to an audiobook together!
- Create space to read as a family. In the age of “technology is everywhere and I can’t get away,” be sure to create space for your family to put away all their devices and read together. Choose chapter books that you can read aloud as your children listen in sleeping bags on the ground, or encourage each family member to pick out their favorite book and read together in a comfortable space. Another idea would be to listen to an audiobook together to encourage your children to tap into their imaginations. Pause the audiobook to ask them what they are visualizing in their minds and compare and contrast their thoughts with the thoughts of other family members. The most important part about creating space to read together is that your children see you excited about reading. For extra fun, have each member of your family complete the Reading Interest Survey or have a Family Theater Night!
- Get excited about learning. If we want our children to be excited about reading, then we have to be excited. First, think about your favorite things to do as a family and create a list (traveling, going to the beach, playing with trains, searching for geckos in the yard, and so on). Next, learn more about one of the chosen topics through reading. For example, if you love to travel, learn about the place you are visiting before you go! If you are heading to Mexico City, check out books from the library about fun things to do, the culture and languages, and sightseeing musts. Extend the learning by searching for information online and printing out articles and photographs that get your children excited about the trip. Keep everything in a binder and label it “Learning About Mexico City.” When we get excited about learning and show our children where to find information (such as books and online sources), they will become seekers of knowledge, too!
- Visit and support your local library. When I think about the critical role a library plays in the life of a child and the community as a whole, my mind comes to the book Dreamers by Yuyi Morales. In this beautiful book about hope and family, Yuyi takes the reader on a journey of her passage from Zalapa, Mexico, to the United States. Although she felt alone and scared at times and didn’t speak English, the public library became a safe haven for her and her son. All this is to say we need to support and value the public libraries in our communities. Spend time learning about the after-school activities and summer camps, and see if they have any volunteer needs. Teach your child how to search for books by their favorite authors or things they want to learn more about. Bring the Library Exploration worksheet to the library to teach your child about genres, or Make a Library Card Holder to make their visit to the library extra special.
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.