Thursday 10 February 2011

Raising readers

Our older boy loves books. I'm pretty sure he came out of the womb with his nose already buried in a book. I could be wrong though. All those post-birth hormones make everything a bit fuzzy.

When he was a toddler, I regularly had one of four Richard Scarry board books thrust into my hand with the accompanying sign - "book, book!" - one of the first signs that boy learned. I could read those things with my eyes closed (and often did, after particularly sleepless nights). I have vague recollections of hiding them once or twice, but they were his favourites and somehow they always worked their way back into our daily lives.

Well. The baby toddler (he's growing up so fast!) has recently decided that he, too, loves books. Care to take a guess as to his current favourites?

Kill me now.

We're still working on manners with this one. Instead of a polite sign, he just whacks the book against my hand until I give in and read it to him. I say "give in" because I can only cheerfully read so many books aloud in one day, and now I've got two of them constantly requesting that I read "just one more book, pleeeeease?"

Fortunately, the older one is well on his way to being able to read on his own. He has the desire and he's working on the technical aspects.

And yet I know that even when he learns to read, it won't - and shouldn't! - take away from the time I spend reading aloud to him. Reading aloud to children who are capable of reading on their own has numerous benefits, including bonding, building their attention spans, developing their listening skills, and encouraging imagination.

I joke about my kids' obsessive book requests, but truthfully I couldn't be more pleased. I love that they love books. I love books. Their daddy loves books. Maybe they never had a chance. But whatever the case may be, I want them to continue to love books. As such, these are the things we do in hopes of raising lifelong readers:

Surround them with books

In the bedroom, the living room, and the car, we surround our kids with books. They have bookshelves in their bedroom and baskets on the living room floor. We make regular trips to the library, and I can't imagine a Christmas or birthday without at least one gifted book. We want books to be an accessible and routine part of our day.

Go at their own pace

With babies, we don't try to read them books. We just look at the pictures, point things out, and let them flip forwards and backwards. When they're done, the book goes down.

As they grow, we follow their interests. Our trips to the library always begin with the question, "what do you want to read about this week?" Once we have an armful of interest-led non-fiction, we move on to the storybook section.

Expose them to variety

We encourage their interests, yes, but we also slip a few of our own selections into the stack of library books, introducing them to new ideas and whetting their appetite for more. In addition to a variety of subjects, we surround them with different types of books - picture books, chapter books, non-fiction selections, pop-up books, touch-and-feel books, and flap books.

Read aloud

We read aloud to our children everyday. It is one of our bonding times, snuggled together with a stack of good books. Our current habit is to read storybooks and non-fiction books during the day; at bedtime, they get one chapter from a longer book.

Read expressively

When reading aloud, we keep them engaged in the story by reading expressively. We use different voices for each character and adjust our tone, emotion and facial expression to match the storyline.

Read it again

Oh, I get so tired of reading the same books over and over (and over and over and over). But we do it anyway, because it has value for the child both in terms of enjoyment and development (memory, reading skills, etc).

Lead by example

Our own books are stacked around the house (who can stick to only one at a time?) and our children often see us reading. When my throat gets sore from reading aloud to the kids, I will pick up my own book and sit beside them as they continue to look at books on their own.

Limit screen time

Unlike reading, image-based screen time allows the brain to sit back passively. Too much of it will reduce a child's interest in the more demanding practice of reading. We have no television in our home, and movies are watched occasionally and enjoyed for what they are - an infrequent form of passive entertainment rather than a daily activity. A good foundation for reading can be set from the beginning by providing access to basic toys, such as a set of simple blocks, that encourage creativity and imagination, unlike their louder single-purpose electronic counterparts.

Well-developed reading skills will benefit our children throughout their lives. We want to lay the foundations by developing a strong love for reading right from the start. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do!

How do you encourage a love of reading in your home?


  1. I hear ya on how many books we read daily. One thing that I have been LOVING, is my oldest 'reading' to my youngest. I say 'reading' because he knows the board books by heart (as do I) and when I'm not awake yet they sit beside me on the bed and are occupied while I get an extra 15 min sleep. It's heavenly ;)

  2. That does sound heavenly! My oldest "read" to his little brother for the first time a couple days ago. It was so sweet to see them laying there on their tummies beside each other as they flipped through a book. I'd love for it to become something they do often, but for now the older one is usually resistant to the suggestion, so I don't push it.

  3. Hooray for bed-time read-alouds! We did this til our oldest were about 10 and 12...then #3 came along, and bedtimes became a little busier. After a few years break, I began reading to the 2 little ones (#4 had also arrived by then) and our teenagers kept their bedroom door open to hear the stories with us. This is a priceless time and memory for all of us!
    (our children are now 22, 20, 10 and 8 and we are still reading!)

  4. Kathy, that is so sweet and encouraging! Thank you for sharing!

  5. This is so great! I am hoping that my children will be readers. I am a the one in the house that loves books. Franklin will read on history and cars but not nearly as much as I do. Hopefully reading is something we'll carry on to this baby and any future children we might have.

  6. A great post! Reading is also a huge love for me. My little man loves books, but I think we have allowed a little too much television to creep into our lives (my hubby is a tv junkie *sigh*). Anyways, this is a good reminder of things I can do to encourage reading in his life. Thank you!