Last week I talked about making certain your children – your mini-me’s and imitators extraordinaire – see you reading. If you missed that post, please check it out here. There is no better way to make reading important to children than for them to see their role models reading.
So once you are modeling good reading habits for the kids, how do you make sure they feel comfortable picking up a book and enjoying it? Here are some great tips to help., for kids of any age.
1. Make interesting books easily accessible. I know that seems self-evident, but take a minute to think about your home, your friends’ and family’s homes. Are age-appropriate books kept in places the kids can see them? Reach them? Are they as easy or easier to access than toys and electronics? This can be as simple as spreading a few kids’ books on the coffee table or as elaborate as creating a kids’ reading area (more on that later).
If all your baby’s books are on a high shelf in her hutch, she thinks of them as “don’t touch” or “bedtime” objects. If the blocks are in arm’s reach, but the books are not, your 3-year-old will choose the blocks. If there’s an awesome book about Star Wars or a magazine featuring disgusting World Records on the media console in the family room, maybe your teen will read it before (s)he turns on the TV. It’s that simple.
2. Associate reading with friendships and fun: For the toddler to preschool crowd, have your child help select a book to share with a friend during a play date, or to take along when you meet up with friends. Be ready to involve all the kids in the story – asking questions about what’s happening and what might happen next. Think of ways to include the book in playtime after reading. (See my earlier post about this topic here.) Or plan to attend a children’s story time at a local library or bookstore.
For older kids, meeting up with friends at the bookstore or library can be a lot of fun, too. Skip the story time and let the kids prowl together to find the topics that interest them. Consider getting books your child likes (especially from a series or about a favorite topic/band/sports figure) for his/her friends at birthdays. I can’t tell you how much time my 8-year-old spends discussing Magic Puppy with her friends! Also consider activity books your child can do with friends when they play together. Some great ones include Star Wars Folded Flyers by Ben Harper and Klutz or Fashion Design Workshop by Stephanie Corfee (both available at Amazon and elsewhere).
3. Get thematic: I like to rotate books by season and theme to combat boredom. In the fall, there is a whole box of books about apple-picking, Halloween, and Thanksgiving that comes out. When winter rolls around, those books get put away and a large basket with a red bow comes out, filled with holiday and snow themed books. Ask your librarian to help you find good reads to fit any theme you like to learn about and have the kids help decorate a box to match. Try changing book selections with your decor and you’ll see your kids getting excited about the “new” options year after year.
4. Make a spot where kids love to read: Harper Collins did a great spread just the other day with pictures of adorable reading nooks. You can check it out here. But you really don’t have to be that elaborate. Each of my 3 girls has a chair that suits their style, in a quiet spot, with a bookshelf or basket nearby. A corner of a closet with a soft pillow, box of books, and a stick-up light works just fine for some. Others like a pop-up tent, window seat, or desk. (Desks are especially great for kids who combine reading with art or writing.) Make the spot personal, comfortable, and free of distracting noises (or siblings!)
5. Think of the Three Bears: Reading experts will tell you that it is good for children to have books with a range of difficulty – some a little too easy, some slightly challenging, and some just right – on hand at any time. Your child’s teacher can help you determine their “just right” level, and many companies such as Scholastic have rating systems or age levels on their books. Your local or school librarian can also help you choose the right difficulty levels.
6. Get the picture: Many older kids still like picture books, but won’t admit it to their friends. Try some with more complex themes, like Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. Series of graphic novels – like BabyMouse and Diary of a Wimpy Kid – have also become increasingly popular. Don’t let the illustrations fool you – some of these have advanced themes and vocabulary.
Kids of all ages can appreciate more varieties of pictures and art than you’d expect. Look for books and magazines featuring photography, line drawings, or lush landscapes, as well as the typical picture books you remember from childhood. My children love National Geographic Kids magazine for its amazing nature photography, as well as cute pics of pets doing silly things. A new series of chapter books, The G.G. Series by Marty Mokler Banks features awesome sports photography by Alisa Harper. And at FlavorWire you’ll find “The 20 Most Beautiful Children’s Books of All Time.”
7. When you must, use the hype to your advantage: Nickelodeon, Disney, Mattel, ESPN…they have all invested huge amounts of time and money into getting your kids to love their characters. If your kids are passionate about a show, toy, movie, or sport, and you can use that to facilitate their love of reading; then I say go for it. But beware, some of the books based on shows/toys/etc are NOT well-written. Use some discretion and check out other parents’ reviews before buying. CommonSenseMedia.org is a great resource for reviews of all things TV/movie/game related.
I hope this helps all you parents in your efforts to raise children who love to read! A friend posted this to my Facebook page earlier in the week, and the sentiment is so perfect, I just have to share it:
Here’s to helping them find the right books!