By Brittany Carlson
True story: when I was a kid, I loved reading so much that when Mom and Dad needed to punish me for bad behavior, they took away my reading privileges at night. On nights like that, with a mandatory “lights out” curfew, I can remember getting out a flashlight and reading under my covers, in real Harry Potter style, because I just had to find out what happened next.
As an adult, I still feel this way about books, and I want to pass on the love of reading, imagination and learning to my boys (ages 4 and 2). To this end, we spend a lot of time reading together, visiting the library, and even doing reading lessons together.
If you’re looking for a few easy ways to get your kids excited about reading too, here are some of my favorites:
1) Take advantage of all your local library has to offer. This includes story time, children’s programs and reading challenges, but also access to library staff and books across the region, especially if your library participates in the inter-library loan system. One of my favorite things offered by our library is the “What should I read next?” online program that allows you to list books you like, as well as things you don’t want to read (i.e. violence, explicit language, etc). Then, a librarian looks at your answers and emails you a list of five or so books to try. If your library doesn’t offer this specific resource, you can always ask a librarian for recommendations.
2) Find books that interest your children. For example, my son Adam* loves superheroes. I mentioned his passion to a librarian, and she showed me an entire shelf of easy-reader books dedicated to superheroes. Now Adam goes straight there when we enter the library. My 2-year-old, James*, loves animals, so I try to grab picture books (fiction and nonfiction) about animals for him. His favorites are anything by Patricia Polacco.
3) Read aloud to them as often as possible. We try to incorporate reading into our daily schedule, before quiet time/naptime and bedtime. According to reachoutandread.org, reading aloud is largely believed to be “the single most important researched activity leading to language development.” Further, the site states that reading aloud to children improves “motivation, curiosity and memory” as well as coping skills, and helps broaden their imaginations.
I’m already chomping at the bit to read my kids the chapter books I loved when I was young. Some of my favorites include “The Phantom Tollbooth,” by Norton Juster, and “The Wainscott Weasel,” by Tor Seidler. My Dad used to read my sisters and me a chapter a night of “The Wainscott Weasel,” and I looked forward to hearing him read to us so much that I want to continue the tradition with my kids.
A great resource for finding new books to read aloud to your children is www.readaloudrevival.com. Once you provide an email address, you can get access to printable booklists in different categories, such as “Board Books,” “Wordless Books,” “Picture Book Biographies,” etc. There is even a “Series for Struggling Readers” list. Finally, there is an option to just print out all 54 pages of every booklist on the site. I’ll probably start with the “Books Boys Love” list myself.
4) Mix it up. Try listening to audio books while driving or at home. On a recent road trip, we listened to Winnie the Pooh and I think I enjoyed it more than the boys.
Radio series, such as Adventures in Odyssey (produced by Focus on the Family) are another way to introduce children to ongoing stories and characters. Finally, chapter give parents a daily reason to read aloud to their kids. We just started our first “chapter” book: a children’s devotional called “Love Does” by Bob Goff. We read a new chapter every day and Adam* will remind me if I forget.
It’s also a lot of fun to let kids take a turn reading to you. My son Adam (4) also loves to act out scenes from his favorite books or sing songs that go with stories he knows. James (2) likes to take turns “reading” to me by describing what is going on in the pictures.
5) Give your child reading lessons. I know many kids who learn to read just by being read to (I’m one of them!) so I don’t think structured lessons are necessary for every kid, but I have to say, I am really enjoying teaching my son to read this way. A friend of mine recommended Siegfried Engelmann’s “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” to me after I observed, with surprise, that his 4-year-old was actually reading me a book. I decided to check it out for myself, and now, as Adam and I are nearly done with the book, he is reading well on his own. The lessons are about 20 minutes, and cover letter sounds, vocabulary, writing sounds and reading comprehension. For my son and I, it’s a special way to spend time together and give him tools to read on his own in a more structured way.
My last piece of advice for getting kids excited about reading (or anything in general) is that you should choose something that excited you as a parent. Kids can sense if you’re into it or not. When it shows that you’re enjoying a story or excited about starting something new, that excitement gets passed on to them. So whether you use one of these tips, all five, or try something completely different, I hope you’ll find new ways to help get your kids excited about reading, too!
*names changed for privacy
Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
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