September 28, 2013

4 Tips for Raising Kids who Love Reading

little kids, big books

The moment I snapped the above picture on my cell phone in Lowe's, I realized that we've raised a few serious readers.  Hooray! 

All of my kids are different kinds of readers, and I think that it's important to acknowledge and accept the different kinds of readers in our family.  My 10 year old loves magic and mystery filled fiction.  She's the kids that teachers and parents look at and say, "Yes!  A reader!"  My 7 year old is a scientific investigator who devours picture captions in journal style publications and large blocks of text if, and only if "they're for real."  When we talk about reading classic literature, generally he'll ask, "If it didn't really happen, who cares?"  He'll read fiction when there's something in it to learn about how to navigate the real world.  He loved, for instance, Robinson Crusoe and Swiss family Robinson (looks like we've got a Robinson theme going on) because he thought he was getting ideas for survival skills and living off the land.  My littlest guy never met a screen he didn't want to sit behind, but he doesn't protest reading like many screen lovers do.  He prefers short stories (as do I, actually) where he can get the full story arc in a single sitting.  Kind of like an episode on paper.  That's fine with me.  As a mom, I feel frustrated by how long it takes me to read an entire book club selection with the constant interruptions and demands on my time, but  short story class that I took in college really opened my eye to what great literature can be captured in under 50 pages.  And we LOVE to listen to Selected Shorts on public radio.

So how have we managed to raise readers?  Often times, it has meant going against people's well meaning advice on how to nurture a love of reading.  Feel free to disagree, but here are my top tips for raising readers.


Make sure that reading skills are solid first.  If you've never taken the time to make sure that your child has solid foundational reading skills, none of the following tips will do a bit of good.   I'm not in the camp of moms or educators who believe that kids will just pick it up if you wait it out, nI also don't think that your only two choices are negative power struggles over reading and letting it go until they "mature a little."  I had a couple of non-readers in a 1st grade class that I taught and I found that it only took some one on one time while everyone else was out at recess before they were up to speed.  And they didn't mind missing recess a few times because being a non reader at age 7 can be really embarrassing.  They simply needed someone to say, "You can read and I'm going to help you figure it out."  I hate to over simplify, but it really is usually that simple.

If you try, calmly and regularly, to teach reading skills and your kids seems like they really aren't ready at 4 or 5 to read very basic easy readers, I wouldn't suggest waiting until they're 7 or 8 and trying again.  I would suggest looking for different reading resources because we know for certain that not everyone learns the same way, and then if it still seems like there is a serious wall, I would suggest going and getting an evaluation to see if an early intervention program might be in order.  If you're at a loss for where to start, I highly recommend Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Reading for All Learners book sets. 

Be selective.  It's been very popular, especially where boys are concerned, to say that as long as they're reading, it doesn't matter what they're reading.  So Captain Underpants is better than no reading at all and comic books will suffice. This is backed by the assumption that if you ask them to stick to reading books of worth, there will be a backlash and they will hate reading for the rest of their lives.  We'll get to that in a minute.  But for now, let me just acknowledge that this view usually comes from a recognition that boys generally have different interests in books than girls and that the institutionalized academic system does appear to place a higher value on girl-friendly reading than on boy books.  I completely agree!  It's important to acknowledge that, but then we must also recognize that there is an entire world of books that lie somewhere between Little Women and Captain Underpants.  It's a complete disservice to any child to assume that they can only appreciate a book if it contains references to bodily functions.  And the books they read as young people are honing the skills they will need to take on other, totally awesome grown up books!  I wouldn't want to see our kids stagnate in the gross-out book genre because that's all they ever nurtured the skills and interest to read.

Cater to their interest.  You don't have to go all the way to comic books to cater to their interests.  You might have to spend some time finding books, but I guarantee that there is something of value out there that will interest just about everyone.  As I said, my son does not see the point in reading anything that didn't or couldn't really happen.  When I've tried to force his interest towards fantasy, for the sake of nurturing creativity, it has always backfired.  And he doesn't want to read girl stuff.  I'll never forget his first DIBELS test, where they asked him to read and then retell, using as many words as possible, a story about a girl's slumber party.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  He could not have cared less.  He had exactly one sentence to say about that and he was ready to move on.  The woman administering the test looked a little stunned by his deficient retelling of the story, and allowed him to move on to the next passage.  This one was about tadpoles and life cycles, a thing of beauty in his mind.  He retold that story with great detail and a higher than average word count.  (My rant on the complete stupidity of judging a kids' reading level based upon non-gender appropriate passages is a whole different post all together.)  If your kids is being forced to read way outside of their interests for school on a regular basis, I think it's completely appropriate to either read the Spark Notes for the sake of being able to engage in class discussion about the moral lessons of the story, or to ask for an alternative and equivalent piece of literature.  I do think that frequently forcing kids to read what they hate runs the risk of making anti-readers, I simply don't think gross humor is the only alternative. 

Incentivize! , I know there's a huge camp of parents and educators who disagree with this, but I firmly believe in incentivizing behavior that you want and reading is no different.  We have a family right of passage that when each child finishes their very first legit chapter book, I take them to the expensive book store and let them pick out any bookmark they want.  This was a HUGE deal to the kids and those bookmarks are like badges of honor around here.  Does that mean that they only read in exchange for bookmarks?  Nope!  But did the promise of a pretty bookmark help them over the hump from the likes of I am Sam to Swiss Family Robinson?  You bet!  If there's a movie they want to see, but there's a decent book on the story line, they read the book first.  That's actually what's going on in that pic up top.  Hannah Jane had one chapter left before she could watch Lightning Thief and if she didn't rent it that day, she'd have to wait a full week to get it, so she was motivated.  That said, my personal approach to reading books whose movie I plan to watch is to never read the last chapter so that there's still some surprise to the movie.  She, on the other hand, didn't want anything to do with the dvd until she had finished every last word.  Even if it meant reading in the paint department at Lowe's.  Incentives don't have to be expensive or frequent.  They're helpful, though, when you want your kids to jump out of their comfort zone into a new reading level or when they're cursed with a school assignment that there's just no getting out of. 

Do you have tips for raising readers?  I'd love to hear them!  Happy reading!

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