About five years ago, for a now defunct blog, I wrote the below post about how to raise a reader. I admitted in the opening that I was writing from a place of hopefulness.
The stories and 8 suggestions at the end are only the beginning of my journey. I won’t spoil everything for Part 2: How to Raise a Reader – The Next Five Years, but I will say that it turns out okay in the end so the advice here isn’t terrible.
I’ve edited sections that refer to other posts or needed clarification, but this is the main post in all of its “five-years-ago-glory.”
How to Raise a Reader – The First Five Years
Oh, everyone wants the magical formula for how to raise a reader. But, just like with everything else, there isn’t one. And mostly this is because every child is different.
That sounds like a cop-out. I used to think so too. And then I had my first child, and she just could not be bothered to read.
I write this post with a huge disclaimer attached: this is my experience through the first five years. I don’t technically have “readers” in my house at this time. I’m writing from my gut, from my own love of reading, and from a perspective that is evolving rapidly thanks to the following five-year-old in our home.
Potential Reader #1 – Our 5-year-old
Our Potential Reader #1 (we’ll call her PR #1) just isn’t interested in reading, and she is smart without it. But her smarts come from two places: educational TV shows and the answers to all the questions she asks. She just has to hear something once or twice, and it lodges in her brain.
One of her teachers at last year’s summer church camp said to me, “Oh, I can tell you read the Bible to her a lot. She knew details about Moses that I had to go back and look up. And she was right.”
I didn’t have the heart to disagree. Yes, PR #1 knew the story inside and out. I had told it to her several times—each time adding more layers of details. We haven’t read it. But she knew it better than the readers.
And here I recalled a long-forgotten truth: The oral tradition predates the written tradition. Powerful stories existed before books.
Don’t get me wrong, she loves stories. She just doesn’t want to read them.
I have told her hundreds of stories. Bible stories, stories about when I was a baby, when she was a baby, when her dad was a baby, when all of her aunts and uncles were babies, stories with superheroes and princesses.
On the rare occasion that she asked me to read a book to her I dropped everything. I dropped the dishes. I dropped the laundry. I dropped our second child…okay, maybe not, but you get the point.
And I’m not worried (I mean, I’m not worried yet). I know she will learn to read, but I want her to be a reader. That is proving to be a lot more difficult. Because the truth is that there isn’t a “how to raise a reader” guidebook.
Potential Reader #2 – Our 2-year-old
Our two-year-old, Potential Reader #2 (PR #2), on the other hand is a delightful reader—a natural. She is a lap-sitting, page-turning, book-reading powerhouse. True, she is stuck at the moment in a Thomas the Tank rut, but ruts are where you go deep on a subject. For now, she’s going deep on the inter-engine dynamics on the Island of Sodor. She “reads” to her babies. She takes books in the car with her. She skips TV so she can sit in mommy’s bed and read a stack of books.
(The other benefit of our 2-yo’s reading pleasure is the unexpected boon to our 5-yo’s motivation. Our 5-yo’s competitive juices get going and she sits more often with us to read stories—more often and for longer periods of time. (Thank you 2-yo!))
Here are my suggestions from my meager few years of experience.
8 Tips for How to Raise a Reader
1. Be clear about your goals.
If you want your kid to learn how to read, then follow the educational curriculum and read to them a bit each day. If you want your kid to be a reader, that’s a whole different scenario.
2. Stop trying to force reading into a magic formula.
If you skip one day of reading 20-minutes to your child, it’s not going to set you back to pre-cognition.
3. Tell stories.
The oral tradition predates the written tradition. Powerful stories existed before books. Just because we have books now to record the stories doesn’t diminish their ability to be powerful.
4. If you start reading a book and your child moves around you, keep reading.
I enjoyed this strategy when my eldest was little (1-2 years old) and building blocks; I gritted my teeth when she was 4 and I was reading while she rearranged all the furniture in our living room and jumped from sofa, to chair, to ottoman, to small chair, to sofa in circles until I was finished. Find your happy place and do it when it works for you.
5. Go to the library.
This serves two purposes.
One: it gives them variety of reading material. If the books at home aren’t cutting it, let them pick a few out at the library.
Two: it subtly reinforces the idea that there are so many stories out there to read and take hold of and experience and absorb. More than they could possibly hope to read. More than the television. And they have the power to choose.
6. Take books in the car.
If you have the luxury of a spouse driving while you’re in the passenger seat for a trip or a weekend errand-run and the kids are acting up, read them a book.
Guys – it works like an iPad. They like the diversion.
You don’t have to do it for twelve hours. They can watch iPad or TV, it won’t kill them. But make it something that is part of the set of choices and try it out. They’re stuck in a car, there’s not much they can do to help it. Take a book on the bus or subway.
7. Make noises.
Parents, I’m looking at you: do the voices and the noises. I know, some days/nights it just isn’t happening. Don’t stress about it. But on all the other days, do it.
Make animal noises long, exaggerated, and drawn out. I realize the text only has two “O’s” after Moo, but it should be about 15. In almost every instance. Try it.
Or, do the wrong animal and then ask your kid to help.
Splat! Bam! KaPOW! Should all sound different. Sometimes it helps to do arm motions with them, warrior-style so long as you won’t accidentally slug a kid, for full effect.
In short, if your reading session starts to resemble a theater production, you’re probably doing a
good great job.
Note to you: these types of books are not good right before bed so you may need to find another time to read.
8. Finally: you read.
Become a reader. Find a book you want to explore and have it handy to read when you let the kiddos watch TV or when they are happily coloring for 10-seconds in a row. You read. They’ll want to know what it’s about.
This list doesn’t cover everything, I’m sure. For other tips and stories about trying to raise a reader, check out this post for some additional ideas and great resources or this one for some other ideas.
Then What Happened?
Like I said, I wrote this post about five years ago. Want to know how all this advice panned out? Next week I’ll post Part 2: Five Years Later. Which is, like, real time. In fact, I only thought to follow-up on this post because a couple weeks ago PR #2 told me she was officially a Book Nerd (yep, it took her five years, and I thought she was going to be the “easy” one!).
The next post includes a confession about one of these items I recommended that I just didn’t do very well. It includes an update about where each of my girls are now. And, it fills you in on where I’m looking in terms of their literary evolution.
How about you? What strategies have you found useful for nurturing the little people in your life to be readers? What have I missed?