I started reading to our girls nightly, before birth. After an early delivery, heart monitors showed our babies calm down hearing my voice.
The strange, bizarre, beautiful, classical, magical. Food to fuel new dreams, new ideas. This is the enchantment of books. The love on your child’s face as they cuddle in while you read is one of life’s joys. Children’s brain cells are turned on and energised as parents read.
Most parents believe in inspiring a love for reading — but how?
Here are our best tips for nurturing a love of reading that can last a lifetime:
Have books in the home
Kiss Goodnight Sam and it’s Going on a Bear Hunt, were two of our starter books. A bear puppet made stories fun. When our girls could turn pages, we sat in bed reading while the girls thumbed through board books.
Suggestion for an extra hour of quiet in the mornings. We loaded a basket attached inside each daughter’s cot, with board books. When we replaced cots with beds, the changing table went, and in came a large bookcase.
Road trips, waiting after school, store lines, books in a bag teach kids books beat boredom.
Acquire a variety of books, watch what they choose. Animal fact books, with illustrations worked at age four, staying relevant for years. At three, ours loved “body books,” on circulatory, digestive, and other systems. Dr. Seuss? Until my wife and I thought in rhyme. Berenstein Bears teaches social skills. Magic school bus became a favourite. Horrible Histories and similar still appeal to our 12-year-old twins. We sought condensed illustrated classics, Shakespeare, Dickens, Bronte. These wet the girl’s appetites for reading full versions. Keep books in the bathroom, bedside table, backpack. My wife jokes we use books as home insulation. You get the level of commitment we have to reading.
Share books every day
Try reading to children colouring, playing, bath time, dinner, or the classic bedtime. A child on your lap, snuggled on the couch, or drifting to sleep as you enjoy a story together, wonderful.
Six am feeding. On my lap two babies, my hands holding two bottles, a book on a music stand, I read out-loud every day. These young babies responded to the soothing sound of dad reading.
Older babies might turn back a page or two, or dwell on an illustration. With toddlers, read two pages now, three another time. You may read a favourite a hundred times, just roll with it. Ask questions and talk about pictures.
Many parents think when kids read on their own, sharing this time with them stops. Reading together at this age builds closeness, shared ideas, and correct pronunciation.
Patience and Enthusiasm
With toddlers, if you face challenges sitting still, disinterest, or chatting, it’s okay. Go with the flow. Make it as loving and fun as you can. Your patience enhances the experience.
When your child starts reading, it’s tricky to correct without discouraging. Try, “Did that word make sense? Let’s take another look.”
Emphasise reading for fun. Give your kids a choice over recreational reading. This helps kids see books as entertaining, intriguing, engaging and comforting. It’s okay if they read junk occasionally. Graphic novels are the hottest trend and can get kids hooked on reading. One of our girls is visual, and was fond of these comic style books.
It is okay to offer extrinsic rewards. Exchange concentrated reading time for movies, TV privileges, iPad time, a dollar or two. We have a rewards based reading program in our family for classics.
Make books a regular gift
Give your child a classic for each occasion. Children outgrow plastic toys, but not, Black Beauty.
Traveling for work, I keep my eye open for books’ clients’ children are reading. We discovered Charlie and Lola this way, and David Walliams.
When children find a beloved writer, invest in those books. Parents cringe at Captain Underpants, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and similar. Kids love the outrageous behaviour. They also learn about coping with feelings, standing out, mistakes, and fixing relationships. Humour is a great pathway to discovery of self, the world, social skills, and book loving.
Our girls choose books that are a stretch, growing with each. When Death, narrator of The Book Thief, detailed Nazi cruelties, intense! Intelligent questions on Hitler followed. Queries about the American Civil War we read Gone With The Wind. Indignation at America’s South in the 60’s … they loved The Help.
With difficult books we gift an audio and hard copy. Bonus! We can support their reading while relaxing with them at night as they read along with the audio.
Visit the library, a lot
Get your child their own library card, use it often! Take routine trips to the library. Check out books, go to story time, more time at the library can be a reward.
Source reading you don’t want to keep. The Warrior Cats series wasn’t something we wanted forever.
Be an example
My wife and I, like the majority, had financially challenged childhoods. No money for books, but mother found a way. Our little library was expansive. Art, travel, cooking and classics. Books and ideas were important, and discussed. The national newspaper was read daily. In Donnell’s childhood, weekly library trips were routine. Because our parents made reading valued, we both grew fond of books.
Fit reading into your lifestyle. A powerful barrier to raising readers sits in living rooms of most homes. Turn off the TV, computer, and cell phone. Yes, we can get so much information from the Internet. Electronic readers are great for some books. Hold a book, there is nothing quite like flipping pages, referencing something you read before. Be the reader you want your children to become. Your excitement will be contagious!
The result. In our home the problem isn’t usually the tablet, TVs, or computer. Instead, you hear, “Put that book down, and do your homework!” That’s a problem we can live with.