My oldest son started reading early -- he was into chapter books before he started kindergarten. Reading came easily to him and is still, at 13, his favorite pastime. I assumed the same would hold true for my younger son. But as all parents quickly learn, each child is different. When reading hadn’t stuck by second grade, I hit the panic button -- met with teachers, studied articles on phonetics instruction, went through some testing, all the while reminding myself of the whole “each child is different” thing... I can comfortably say that now, entering fourth grade, my youngest child is a reader. He had support from fantastic teachers in second and third grade, but I also believe that as a librarian and a mom, what happens at home matters a whole lot too in terms of a child’s reading development. Here are some strategies I have discovered and rediscovered on my parenting journey. I hope they will help you continue to kindle a love of reading in your own home or even better, if you are an educator perhaps these strategies can be shared with your students' parents as a way of helping them foster a love of reading at home.
Read out loud long after your kids actually learn to read
Read out loud to your kids. Read to them when they are younger than 6 months old and when they are 6 years old and, if they’ll let you, when they are 16. It may sound ridiculous to some -- why read out loud when kids can read independently? But research shows again and again and again and again how important it is, highlighting the huge benefits kids get from listening to read alouds. Not only does it promote literacy, comprehension, and vocabulary development, it is also key for imagination, emotional growth, bonding, and positive attitudes towards reading in general. I also think it's important for a child who is struggling to be able to connect with the books his or her peers are reading; reading aloud helps these kids keep up.
All reading counts
Graphic novels, magazines, picture books, ebooks, it all counts. I think that sometimes we as parents get stuck in a loop of what “real” reading is, but in order for kids to love to read, they have to love what they are reading. It also has to be accessible to them. Get subscriptions to magazines -- Cricket Media has a range of titles across interests and levels. Sports Illustrated Kids and National Geographic Kids are other good options. Download your public library’s ebook app (I love the new Libby app from Overdrive; we get acccess to it through Fairfax County Public Library -- you might be able to get it from your public library). My kids always flip to the back of every issue of The New Yorker to try to decide the new caption for the weekly comic contest. I put cookbooks in front of them when I get frustrated at their limited eating choices and ask them to tag recipes that look delicious. They jump for the Sunday comics in the newspaper. My younger son is desperately waiting for the end of August when the latest Dog Man book comes out (a series that truly helped him get through his reading stall), even though he is also neck deep in the third Warriors series by Erin Hunter. Celebrate ALL kinds of reading.
The power of audiobooks
In perhaps the same vein, I want to emphasize the true power of audiobooks. So accessible on our phones via a public library, audiobooks are the perfect solution for a child who struggles to read or doesn’t truly love it (yet). First and foremost, as emphasized by University of Virginia researcher Daniel Willingham “listening to an audiobook is not cheating.” I second that as a librarian mama: audiobooks 100% count as reading! They are a great downtime solution -- play an audiobook while putting dinner together. Choose an audiobook for the whole family to enjoy on the way to a summer vacation spot. Offer your child headphones and an audiobook when waiting at an older sibling's sports practice.
Make reading the reward
In order to really inspire a lifelong love of reading, instead of rewarding reading (by, say, only allowing video games after 20 minutes of reading) why not make reading the reward? Sometimes we’ll have “reading dinner” where everyone (parents included) brings a book to dinner. Or, if we’re in the midst of an action-packed read-aloud in the evening, we’ll stay up 15-30 minutes later to get through the good part. Bring books to a park and rest after a hike with some reading time under a tree. Stop by the library to get a big stack of new books as a treat before a long road trip. Encourage reading in the bathtub (or an audiobook in the shower)!
Be a reading model
This goes without saying, I think, but I’m not sure that we all do it. All parents understand the value of our own behavior and have seen our children copying the good (as well as the not so good). In order to create strong readers in our children, we need to be readers ourselves. Curl up with a book, pour over the morning paper, discuss an article at dinner. Check out books for yourself when you bring your kids to the library. Not a read aloud night at bedtime? Bring your own book and snuggle in next to your child and read side-by-side.
What strategies do you use to support reading at home? And what do you do to turn your students into lifelong readers?
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