As a parent and a former teacher who desperately wants to build my kids' love of reading, I oftentimes find myself overwhelmed with advice. What should we be doing to build a strong foundation for them? Are we making rookie mistakes? I've boiled down my observations and experiences as a parent and an educator into these five rules to read by for our home... so I do not kill their love of reading. So far, so good.
- Get Rid of Labels. I used to think my littlest one didn't like to read, and I told people she wasn't "as into reading as her brother," when she was only a toddler! In her case, it was simple... I hadn't yet found the right book she loved. From the moment she opened I Know a Lot, she was hooked! Turned out, that was her gateway into being completely obsessed with reading. Now, she is going through a series of little book obsessions. Of course, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and many more. I've committed to dropping any labels, and instead, trying many different tacts. In the U.S., it's widely acceptable to say, "I'm just not a math person." While it's not acceptable to say, "I'm not a reading person," parents often tell me, "Well, he's really good at math. He's just not that into reading." Enough! Being good at one thing doesn't preclude enjoying another... being good at math most certainly isn't what might have someone (usually boys) into reading. Not that into reading? Keep trying! Stop labeling our kids, and instead start figuring out what they love, what interests them... and make reading the vehicle to learn more about it.
- Let Them Read Aloud. An old college classmate of mine wrote to let me know she updated her personalized selection profile on Zoobean because, "Cybil is reading independently now. She doesn't need picture books." She's 7 years old, and likely a very capable reader, but despite being ready to read on her own, she will benefit from reading aloud with her parents! What Cybil's mom was expressing as pride in her daughter's ability is quite common. According to a study at Oxford university, parents dramatically drop off in reading aloud to their kids, and yet reading aloud as kids grow up is key to building their love and enjoyment of reading. In fact, kids who continue to read aloud with adults in elementary school end up with higher performance in the long run. I'm OK with requesting a particular kind of book, but not if it means she'll be reading it alone each night! Reading aloud to our kids throughout their elementary years is critical... and I believe picture books are a great way to make that engaging, but support any kind of read aloud that works for a family.
- Follow Their Interests. My second year in the classroom, I was assigned to co-teach a remedial seventh grade Reading course with my best friend and teacher extraordinaire, Katie. One child in particular was impossible for me to reach. His name was Fred, and he would just sit in the back of the class looking uninterested or drawing pictures of trucks and motorcycles. He was absolutely obsessed with racing and cars. One day, Katie brought in several car and truck magazines, and that changed the game with Fred. Suddenly, he couldn't wait to get to class, to read aloud or to write about what he was learning. Katie did what any smart teacher or parent does...f ollow her student's interests to get him excited about reading and learning. This isn't rocket science, but it is backed by data. Follow kids' interests, and they will want to continue to read and learn.
- Forget What You Think Counts As Reading. I guess we all have images of our kids reading Shakespeare and other great works. Maybe that's why my friend Jasmine constantly bemoaned the fact that her son was obsessed with graphic novels. He basically was abandoning other books she gave him unless he had to read it for school. At first, she resisted and refused to buy him books he liked. But you know what? She found a stack of them from the school library hidden under his bed. Did you read that... books hidden under the bed! What hit her then is what is evidenced in research like this... if we want our kids to engage better with text and to enjoy reading, we have to show them it is fun and interesting. Her son had already discovered that for himself, but until she embraced what he was reading and accepted it as "counting," she had basically given him the message that reading could only be meaningful if he was reading certain things. My mom always told me that the principal of her school used to say, "Read, read, read. Whether it's a novel or the side of the cereal box. Just read!" Precisely.
- Show Them How It's Done. This is the most tried and true method of all! One of my earliest memories is of my parents reading side by side on their bed at night. Honestly, as an entrepreneur and mom of two, I sometimes don't have the energy for more than a few pages, but I make sure my kids see me reading... fiction, newspapers, magazines, you name it. In the words of reading guru Donalyn Miller, "Adults who read and share their love of reading with kids send a powerful message that reading matters for personal reasons, not just academic ones." Amen.
So tonight, I'll sit down to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear for the ten thousandth time, invite our kids to play around our room while I finally get to read today's paper, and do my very best ninja moves to go along with another ninja book for our newly obsessed 4-year old son. Just another day at the home office!
What are you doing to inspire a love of reading in your home?