Kids become lifelong readers for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes there’s one key book that captures a kid’s imagination and opens him or her up to the exciting world of fiction. Other times, a teacher who assigns great books in class sparks a hunger for more fantasy-based ideas and fine writing. In some cases, parents influence kids’ appreciation of books by sharing their own love of literature and modeling reader behavior — always having a book to read, taking books on vacation, reading before bedtime, making regular trips to the library and bookstore, etc. Planting the reading seed in your kids will not only provide a lifelong hobby, but also reading is extremely instrumental in expanding vocabulary in a person of any age.
Here are Common Sense Media’s and Judy Kent’s best tips for nurturing a love of reading that can last a lifetime:
Read aloud: This comes naturally to lots of new parents, but it’s important to keep it up. Kids will enjoy it longer than you think. For babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and kids in early grade school, it’s wonderful to have a kid on your lap, snuggled next to you on the couch, or drifting off to sleep in bed as you enjoy picture books together. You may have to read your kid’s favorite a hundred times, but just go with it. Your kid will remember the closeness as well as the story. And try nonfiction for those who are curious about pirates, Vikings, robots, castles, history, sports, biography, animals, whatever. For second through fifth graders, read those rich and meaty books that might be missed otherwise, maybe classics like Treasure Island orAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Many parents think that as soon as their kids learn to read on their own, they no longer need to be read to. But kids still love it and benefit from it as they hear the rhythm of the language, learn correct pronunciation, and get to relax and just take it all in. Kids will get the idea that there’s something worthwhile in books and that there’s something special about time spent with a parent.
Start Young: The gift of literacy begins at birth. Infants respond to many elements of the read-aloud experience: the human voice and its expressiveness, the touch, smell, and color of books and the attention that is part of the endeavor. Start the reading habit early by reading aloud daily. Experiment, using different voices and creating different sounds with words.
Savor the series: It’s common for kids to become book lovers for life after getting hooked on a series. And there are lots of good ones that keep kids hungry for the next installment. Some reliable prospects: Ivy and Bean, Judy Moody for beginning readers; Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Percy Jackson series for middle graders; and Hunger Games, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and Twilight (unless you think vampires are too creepy) for older kids.
Establish a Routine: Humans love routine. We form habits simply by creating routines. To instill the lifelong habit of reading, make it a priority each day. Each family must find a convenient time for reading each day. This may be snuggling and reading together just before bed or taking a few moments while dinner is cooking. With younger children, it may be before naptime or the first activity after a nap. It is also important for children to see the adults in their life reading. Create a time when the entire family reads – even though a child may not be an independent reader yet, he will happily “read” books with the rest of the family. Modeling reading for pleasure and for information is vital.
Print Is Everywhere: Stop for a moment and think about the world we live in. Print is everywhere! We are surrounded by words – street signs, billboards, grocery stores, the aisles at Target. Parents may open this world to children simply by talking about what is seen, hunting for letters, finding words together or having children read signs at the grocery store.
Grab onto a genre: Kids go through phases of genres they’re passionate about, fromgirl detectives to science fiction and fantasy. Don’t get hung up on whether it’s considered great literature (although some genre books are). Be happy that your kid is devouring books one after the other.
Feed the favorite-author addiction: Once your kids finds a writer they love, they may want to read all of his or her books — a great excuse for a trip to the library or an opportunity for book swapping among friends and classmates. Here are some good bets for favorites. Younger kids: Dav Pilkey (The Adventures of Captain Underpants), Beverly Cleary (Beezus and Ramona). Middle grade: Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book). Tweens and teens: Judy Blume (Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret) and Sarah Dessen (Just Listen).
Count on the Classics: Books are called classics because they continue to engage readers generation after generation. There are no guarantees, but you could try introducing your kids to books you loved as a kid and see which ones click. Some good ones to try are the Dr. Seuss and Narnia books, Charlotte’s Web, and The Secret Garden. Check out our Classic Books for Kids list to find more.
Find Books About the Things Your Kid Loves: If your kid adores horses, try Black Beauty or any of the titles on our list of best Horse Books. If he’s wild about cars, trucks and trains, check out our list of Vehicle Books. Librarians, booksellers, and Internet searches will help you find books on any favorite topic.
Create a Space for Books: Books are appealing. They call you to worlds unknown; they are a source of information; they are friends waiting to happen. Books deserve a special place in a home. Work to create a home library. The library could be as small as a special crate with a place of honor in the family room or a closet transformed into a book nook. If possible, include cozy pillows, cushions or chairs that will accommodate at least one adult and one child. Fill the library with reading material – a variety of selections to meet the interests of the child. Take advantage of the local library to keep the home library fresh and appealing.
Reading is an important activity for individuals and families. It may not be the easiest task to fit reading into your family’s lifestyle, but once each member finds a book they truly enjoy, it will be tough to get that book out of their hands! Make sure you set aside time for reading only — turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone. Encourage focused reading time, either for independent reading or reading aloud. Take preschoolers to story time hours at libraries and bookstores. For older kids, a parent-kid book club can be fun. Read to kids at bedtime. Provide time and space for your kids to read for pleasure in the car (if they don’t get car sick!), on vacation, after homework is done, on their own before bed. Warning: It could be habit-forming!
Judy Kent – Director of Admissions at Academy at the Lakes