My love of books is so strong that I have always hoped that my children would have that as a shared interest. My heart actually breaks a little whenever someone tells me they don’t like to read. My favorite way to unwind is with a book in a coffee shop, or curled up under a blanket with a cup of warm tea, candle aglow, and book in hand. I remember when I was growing up, my parents were always reading. One of my favorite pastimes with my dad was going to Barnes & Nobles, and sitting on the floor for hours just reading.
I spent a lot of hours at the library too checking out books. I knew the library so well, in fact, that I modeled my bookshelf at home like the library’s system by rearranging my books in ABC order, author last name first. I created a card catalog so friends could “check out” my books. I even went as far as wrapping all my paperback books using calendar pages so they wouldn’t get damaged. Yes, my love of reading goes way way back, so now you understand why I hope my children come to love books as well.
These are some of the ways I’ve tried to cultivate a love of reading in my two kids:
1. Read to your child – read early and often. Numerous studies have shown that cultivating a love of reading at a young age is a strong indicator of future academic success. With my two children, Noelle was always an avid reader and could sit quietly in my lap and soak in each book until the very end. Jaren, on the other hand, loved books too in the sense that he’d grab a bunch and plop down next to me for me to read to him. However, as I started reading he’d quickly flip flip flip through all the pages in lightning speed before I ever get the chance to even finish the book. Then he’d wander off and pick a new book. I’d just run with it, knowing the importance here was not finishing the book, but the process and act of reading.
2. Make the reading interactive – ask questions, point at pictures, ask them what animals they see and what color that is. Change up your tone, read in rhythm, and find ways to engage your young reader. These types of interactions help bring books to life!
3. Model reading – Read in front of your children. For me, personally, I make an effort to read paperback books in front of my children. They’re at an age where they can play independently for decently long periods of time, so sometimes I’ll open up a book and read silently alongside them while they play. Noelle loves to see what I’m up to and often asks, “What are you doing, Mommy?” I love responding with, “Mommy’s reading. Do you want to read with me?” I really do believe modeling our love of books makes one of the biggest impressions on our kids. I remember when I was young, my mom and dad were always reading in front of me. My dad loved classic novels, and my mom (the practical one), preferred old-fashioned newspapers. But whatever they were reading, they read to unwind. Thus, I always associated reading as a way to relax at the end of a long day. Seriously, read anything – just show your children that you read! Newspapers, advertisements, magazines… show them that reading is enjoyable in all forms, and that you do it for the pure love of it!
4. Create a special reading area – I recently turned a corner of our play area into a reading nook. All I did was put a bunch of pillows on the floor to make the area cozy, and incorporated an IKEA book shelf hack using spice racks. The kids love this little reading corner, and usually jump up in excitement when I shout, “It’s reading time!” I bring over some blankets, their bottles of milk, and we cuddle together with a pile of books by our side. My hope is that they’ll relate books to this sense of warmth and positivity I’ve tried to create through our little reading nook.
5. Look for opportunities to identify letters in everyday life – We have magnetic ABC letters on our refrigerator, and foam ABC toys for the bathtub. We have their names hanging above their beds. We’re constantly asking them to associate letters with their correct sounds and words. We look for signs while we’re out driving, and we make it a game as we head to our destination. “What’s THAT letter?”… “and what sound does it make?”… “That’s an M! And it sounds like?… muh muh muh for?… Monkey!”
6. Visit the library and bookstore – When I was young, going to the library or bookstore felt like a trip to Disneyland! I loved checking out new books each week, and getting to choose from so many different ones. Those trips with my dad will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope I can create the same kind of feeling for my kids.
7. Keep books in plain sight, everywhere! We have children’s books scattered in every room of the house; that way we can plop down anywhere and just read! One of the easiest ways for me to pull Jaren out of a tantrum is to say, “Hey Jaren, do you want to read a BOOK?!”, and he excitedly toddles himself over to some books within reach and makes a grab for his favorites. How can they learn to love books, if they’re not surrounded by books?
8. Buy them books for every occasion – Christmas, Birthdays, “just because,” as a reward… we take every opportunity to associate books with reward. Turning books into gifts associates them with positive feelings, and a sense of excitement – that’s exactly what I want to promote in our kids when it comes to books. We never feel like we’re spoiling them when buying them books because books are educational and long lasting! They’ll always have a welcome place in our home.
In order to reinforce your child’s love of reading, here are some activities you could do with your child to bring books to life:
- Create a book passport and give them a stamp/sticker every time they read a new book. Soon enough, they’ll get excited at the prospect of filling up their little passports!
- Write a letter to your child’s favorite author.
- Pair books with activities (i.e. Make pizza after reading Pete’s a Pizza or have a dance party after reading Giraffe’s Can’t Dance).
- Attend free story times at your local libraries and stores.
- Get your child a magazine subscription, like Highlights High Five or National Geographic Little Kids.
- Make or collect bookmarks together – let them know they are a very special keepsake purely for books.
- Introduce them to chapter books or series books, so they’ll get hooked on a particular story or character and want to come back to it.
- Dress in Halloween costumes modeled after books, like these costumes from Where the Wild Things are?, or Thing 1 and Thing 2 from the ever so popular Dr. Seuss book.
Growing up, reading never felt like work. I don’t ever remember feeling pressured to read. It was just a very natural, normal part of our home environment. It wasn’t something forced on us so that we could please our parents. It was promoted in such a way that it felt like entertainment and enjoyment over anything else. I believe it’s important to read to our children in a fun, lighthearted, engaging way that takes the pressure off so they don’t feel like books are a burden. Books are a treasure, an art. Hopefully my children will see that too.