For those of us who love to read, raising our children to become readers may seem like a self-evident process. Read to them nightly, give them plenty of books... what else needs to be done?
Alas, it's not always as easy as that. These days, there are so many more high-tech distractions and alternative forms of entertainment for children that books have a hard time competing for their attention. Nonetheless, under the right conditions, today's children can become the avid readers we remember being as kids, lost in books for hours, transported to other worlds, meeting people and places that often seemed just as vivid than our present reality.
To give our kids the best chance to fall in love with books and all that they offer, we're doing what we can to make reading central in our little ones' lives. Here are our methods. What are yours?
Read out loud... a lot. The association of reading with cozy parental bonding time can only be a good thing.
Limit all forms of screen time. The rules around screen time need to be consistent so that the kids are not always negotiating for more. The instant gratification that television, computers, video games and smart phones provide is simply too powerful for books to compete with on an even playing field.
Have lots of books around the house. Even though you could save a lot of space in your home by storing all your books on an e-reader, show your child that you value books by keeping a home library of grown-up books, and, of course, well-stocked shelves of children's books too.
Visit a good library regularly. Making a weekly or monthly trip to the library and letting your child pick out lots of books is the best kind of "cheap thrill."
Read yourself. Having an emerging reader in the house is a great reason to get back into reading yourself. The example of parents reading for pleasure is very powerful to kids.
Talk about books and authors. Making books a focus of family dinner conversations is another way to show kids how reading matters.
Ensure that your child has down time. Reading is what kids tend to do when there is nothing else to do. So we need to ensure that they have those moments when there's nothing else going on: no planned activities, no play dates, etc. It's a great reason to avoid overscheduling.
Create a comfortable, quiet reading spot for your child. A beanbag, maybe, and a good reading lamp close to a bookshelf in a corner that is removed from the main traffic of the household... sounds nice, right?
Keep close tabs on how reading is being taught at your child's school. You want to make sure that your child is being supported in learning to read at his or her own pace. Remember that learning to read is in part a developmental process, and kids pick it up at very different rates. As your child makes his or her first steps into reading, you need to remain as positive and patient as possible, no matter how slowly it goes. The important thing for the long term is that kids emerge from the learning process with a love of books and reading.
Keep an individualized reading list for your child, but also let your child take the lead in choosing books. There are so many wonderful children's books out there (and many not so great ones too). Do your homework, and keep an ever-evolving list of books that would be fun to share with your kids based on their ages, reading levels, interests, etc. At the same time, give them ample freedom to select their own reading material—what really matters is that they're loving it.
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