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Sometimes parents ask me how I raised 3 kids who love to read - and I’ll be the first to admit that part of it was just good luck. (And some of it was J.K. Rowling.) I know that some children gravitate to reading quickly, some are intimidated by reading at first, and some become disenchanted with it over time. But I also know that given the correct support and encouragement, all kids can build a love of reading. So how do you hook your kids on books, and just as importantly, how do you keep them interested in the long term?
Here's the key:
The single most important thing you can do to instill and maintain a love of reading in your kids is to MODEL A HAPPY READING LIFE.
That’s right. The most impactful thing you can do as a parent is to model the behaviors you want your children to acquire. So when you wonder, “How do I help my child love books?” first ask yourself, “Do I model a love of reading?”
Research shows that reading with your child every day leads to gains in literacy, vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension as well as improving the parent-child emotional bond and child self-esteem. You should absolutely read to and with your child. But it’s also vital to read without them - to model reading as a positive, enjoyable part of your own daily life.
Think about it: was your child dying to play on your phone before he could walk? Why do you think that happened? Well, sure, the lights and colors and sounds are fascinating, but your kids also saw you and other adults modeling frequent phone usage – and kids are natural copycats!
Now imagine if your children watched you engage with reading material with the same frequency and enthusiasm given to Candy Crush and Twitter. Book-lovers from birth!
The good news is, you can start anytime! We’ve compiled 10 simple ways to model a love of reading in your home
10 Ways to Model a Love of Reading
1. Set aside time every day to read something you enjoy, in a spot where your child will see you doing it. You can read while your child plays, snacks, colors, or does homework. Let your kids see you choosing to spend leisure time reading - and enjoying it! I love to wind down with a book and a glass of wine while the kids play outside.
2. Talk to your child about what you’ve been reading, why you chose it, and how it makes you feel.
“I am so glad I found this book about Italy. It makes me want to take a vacation there.”
“I’m reading the back of this cereal box to find out if it has healthy ingredients.”
“I want to plant vegetables in the backyard, so I checked out this book about gardening.”
3. Place reading material in visible, accessible places around your house. Keep books and magazines on your coffee table, in a basket by your favorite chair, on your bedside table, in the bathroom, and in the car. (Apologies to Marie Kondo.)
4. Pack reading material for yourself and your child whenever you leave the house. Call attention to this when you do it. “Look, I’m putting my favorite poetry book in our bag. Which books do you want to bring?” This makes books seem as essential as keys, snacks and wipes!
5. Choose reading when you have a wait – like at a restaurant waiting for your food, in the dentist’s waiting room, or while sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice.
6. Talk to family and friends about what you and they are reading. Your children hear your conversations and they judge what is important to you by the things you say. If you talk about books and reading, they will internalize that value.
7. Schedule a family trip to the library at least once a month and prioritize it! At the library, help your child explore and choose books that interest him/her, but also let them see you choosing and checking out books for yourself. Hold conversations with the librarian as you check out, making sure your child hears you say things like “I really enjoyed that last book,” or, “We are big readers in our house.”
8. Give books as gifts, ask for books as gifts, and involve your kids in choosing books as gifts.
9. Model a wide variety of reading options. Listen to audiobooks in the car or while making dinner or folding laundry. Read books, magazines, and comics. If you are reading on an electronic device, clarify this for your child.
“I’m reading a news story about the president online.”
“I just ordered a new adventure story from the library, and I can read it on my tablet.”
When you demonstrate that there are many ways to read, kids don’t feel limited, embarrassed, or judged about their own reading choices.
10. Model “not liking” books. When you read a chapter or two and don’t connect to a book, you should say so, and let your children see how you handle it.
“I thought I was going to like this book, but it’s not really for me. I’m going to read something different.”
“Your dad liked this book, but I don’t. I’m glad I tried it, though.”
It’s so important for kids to see that putting down a book is okay, and that not everyone likes every book. This spares them from feeling “bad” or “wrong” when they encounter books they don’t enjoy and encourages them to try a different book rather than give up.
Attend a story time at your local bookstore, start a book club, go to a book festival where you can meet authors and illustrators, or check out a family-friendly day at an event like ComicCon or BookExpo America. Adding bookish events to your family’s leisure activities reinforces that books are a treat, not a chore!
When you make reading a part of your family’s daily life, special occasions, and leisure choices, you give your children a clear message and supportive environment to grow their own relationships with books. You really can instill and maintain a love of reading in your family starting today!