Not all my children consumed 85 books last year (only one of them). But all of them do read a lot, and they seem to enjoy it. If you are trying to raise a home full of readers, here are my seven tips.
First – be excited about books and reading.
My wife and I enjoy books. We talk about books. We share anecdotes and information learned while reading. We do this when we are alone (are we ever alone with six children in the home?) and we talk about books in front of the kids.
The point about creating bookishly excited kids is the infectious nature of booklove. It needs to be real in you first, and then slowly, it will spread to others. You can’t pass on a virus you don’t have. So don’t try to fake a love for books. If you don’t have a love for books, your kids might catch the bug somewhere else, but there’s no need for you to fake it.
If you want your kids to be readers and don’t read much yourself (shame on you) but go ahead and try some of these other tips.
Second, fill your home with books.
I was visiting another family and was in their home for the first time. Something wasn’t right. Something felt strange. It took a few minutes and even a second visit to their home before I realized what it was. The home was bookless.
That’s right – I’m not making this up – a bookless home. I knew such homes existed, but actually standing in a bookless home gave me a fright. I felt alone, out-of-place, and lost. It was eerie and creepy.
I didn’t search every room and maybe the home had a library second to none behind a closed door. But I don’t think so. My bookdar was in full force and it wasn’t sensing anything – not even a cookbook.
Back in the comfort of my own house, I stood looking at my books. I do that from time to time. Just stand in front of a book shelf and stare.
Oh, I remember that book. I still need to read that one. Maybe it’s time to finally read this one. I learned a lot from that one. Ah, now I feel better.
If you want to raise readers, a home full of books is a must. After all, you don’t want your home to feel creepy, do you?
Third, use the library.
As I write these words I have my suspicions. My wife is on an errand to the grocery store. But I bet she makes another stop; I bet she stops at the library.
If there were an award for the number of books checked out in a year, my wife would be a finalist. She’s on the verge of abusing the system. Sometimes she checks out books no one in the family requested, but ones she hopes they read. She places these books prominently in our home and suggest them to the kids. She’s sneaky like that – just like she’s sneaky with cauliflower. But that’s for another time.
Make the library a part of your family life. The library should become a warm and familiar building to a family raising readers.
Our library has an annual book bag sale; a paper grocery bag full of books for six dollars. Take advantage of such things. Look them up, plan for them, save up your six dollars and go have some fun. I mean, a bag full of books for six dollars. Are you hearing me?
Fourth, give books as gifts.
At every birthday and Christmas my children get books. We aren’t cruel; they get new socks and underwear (we cover the necessities). But books are standard gifts. You can’t go wrong giving books to your children. Not only does a book highlight the value of reading and learning; books don’t go beep, zip, blip. Do kids really need more toys that make noise? I’ll answer for you. No, they don’t.
In a world of electronic mayhem, kids need the placid feeling books provide. No one else will give them a break from the electronic inferno surrounding them. Parents provide the first line of defense.
The school system won’t keep children safe from electronic terrorism. They want a computer in every classroom. As if a computer magically makes children smart. They don’t, trust me. A good book, a shady lawn, a teacher and a student. That’s a classroom worthy of the name.
Grandparents won’t help either. Just before saying goodbye, a sinister smile flits across their faces as they say, “Oh, we almost forgot. We bought a little something for the kids.” Then they proceed to pass out kazoos and battery operated whirligigs. One more smile and they beeline to their car. Trust me, I’m onto their game.
Don’t think we parents aren’t wise to your mischief, grandparents. It may be payback for our noisy childhoods, but it’s still wrong. Just wrong.
Fifth, use technology.
Point four warned of electronic gadgets. But electronics are redeemable. Here’s three technologies which have helped my children learn to love books and reading.
- E-readers. Both Nook and Kindle, but mainly Kindle. The prices are right, the convenience can’t be beat. I used to say, “Always bring a book” to my children. Now that my two oldest have smart phones, I don’t need to say that; books are in their pocket always. One of them reads so much she is almost anti-social. Almost. Actually is it anti-social to read when people are around? Never mind; I’m pondering as I type. Just ignore that.
- Use the Overdrive website and app. Haven’t heard about this one? That’s because you don’t visit the library often. If you had, you would have seen ads for Overdrive as you stood in line at the library help desk. Overdrive allows you to use your library card number to download ebooks and audiobooks. Again, the price is right and they actually have a fair selection (at least from my library). Here’s a tip: use your bluetooth phone thingy to listen to audiobooks. Unless you don’t answer when they speak to you, people won’t even know your listening to something. Here’s a tip: keep the volume low and pay attention when your wife is talking. Oh yeah, I forgot; this was supposed to be about getting your children to read. Let’s get back to them.
- Use Goodreads.com. The internet is tricky for parents with kids. Goodreads allows children to like, comment, and share things related to books. It does this without the problems associated with other social media. It allows you to teach them how to like, share, and comment wisely. “Son, you don’t need to recommend your favorite detective novel to everyone in your network. It might be wise to recommend that book only to people who might enjoy that type of book.” And so forth. Goodreads has been a game changer in our home. Set yourself up with an account and try it first. Then get your child (at the age you deem appropriate) an account. Recommend books to them, ‘like’ their book comments, and help them navigate booklife and weblife at the same time.
Sixth, join summer reading programs.
Summer doesn’t mean reading must stop. Education must go on. Libraries, bookstores, and online organizations host summer reading programs. Some of them give away stupid prizes (can I use that S word?) and some give good prizes. But all of them will get your children reading. If…
If you are enthusiastic about the programs yourself. If you drive them to the library to get more books. If you read with them to them (my next point) and if you make reading a delight and not a duty.
Really, summer reading programs are just selfish of me. I want to work through my own summer reading list, but when I make the emphasis on summer reading about the kids I feel better. So will you. Try it and see.
Seventh, read with and to your children.
It’s not only important to read to your children, but it’s important to read with your children. Last year my oldest daughters and I read through several books together. We read a separate times and then met to discuss the reading. Try this with your older kids.
My six-year-old girl likes it when I tell her stories before bed. I made up one story about a dragon named ladybug (it seemed less ominous for a little girl) and another about a boy whose face was upside down. In the middle of telling that story I realized the wisdom of reading to my children. Authors of published works have already worked through a story line, with an editor and everything. They don’t need to worry about how a boy with an upside down face blows his nose.
How did his face get that way? What is an accident, or was he born that way? Did he need to plug his nose when he was outside in the rain? You get the idea. Books have many strange characters and story lines, but they’ve been re-written many times until they work somehow. My stories, not so much.
There you have it then, seven tips for raising readers. It’s time for me to go; my wife just got back home from the er…. grocery store.