"How do I help my child fall in love with reading?"
"My son hates to read."
"Reading and decoding words is still difficult for my child. She gets frustrated easily and doesn't want to read."
"My kids hate to read. They would rather watch TV and play video games."
One of the questions I hear a lot in education is, "How do I get my child to love reading and choose books over technology?"
In our current day and age, technology is at our children's fingertips every single day. Between the television, video game systems, iPads, tablets, and phones, there is almost never a day that goes by where our children aren't passively entertained by something flickering and moving on a screen. The constant exposure to screens where children have to do little brain work has undoubtedly caused children to choose screens over books. It's simply easier.
Reading takes effort, and I don't just mean it takes effort by way of decoding and sounding out words (although that is the case for many beginning readers). But reading words on a page, even for an adult, takes more mental and concentrated energy than what's involved with passively watching a screen. A Netflix binge is way easier than reading a book series.
So what do you do? We can't change the culture of technology, and we can't hole our children up and never allow them to see screens or interact with them. But, we can be wise stewards of technology and we can absolutely help our kids fall in love with reading!
The Top 6 Ways to Help Your Child Fall in Love with Reading
1. Get your child to fall in love with STORIES, not books. Some people are surprised by this answer and it's my absolute, number 1 tip for getting your child excited about reading and wanting to read their own books. Stories are at the heart of mankind. Our very being is drawn towards stories. From the beginning of time, the human heart has shared experiences and wisdom through stories, even before the written record of these stories came into play. Humans passed on traditions, cultures, and life lessons orally in the form of a story. Even in the Bible, Jesus often used stories to teach and connect with people.
Decoding words and phonics readers definitely have their place. After all, that's how a child will learn to read for themselves. But there is no story, no true delight, and no satisfying the thirst for adventure, mystery, and intrigue in a phonics reader. And most often, you won't find your child begging to practice the difficult skill of decoding. BUT- you can give them a love for stories!
2. Reading Aloud- Read aloud to your children! It sounds simple- and it is! But, we often forget how powerful this is and often parents stop reading aloud to their child after preschool or once their child can read for themselves. However, reading aloud gives your child the ability to fall in love with stories. Most young children cannot decode reading at the same level in which they would enjoy a story. So what are they to do? Put those exciting, adventurous stories on the shelf until they can read them independently? Only allow them to enjoy stories that are at their decoding/independent level? No way. That's the quickest and most surefire way to kill a desire and love for stories. Reading aloud gets stories into your child's imagination and heart before their ability to read them independently. Childhood is a time to fill up their reservoir with all kinds of adventures through stories. A rich catalog of stories will eventually propel your child to want to read for themselves too.
Tips for Reading Aloud:
* Choose books YOU enjoy. If you hate the book you're reading to your children, you won't prioritize picking it up and reading it to them. You'll also pass off the lack of excitement to them. Avoid the black and white notion that you HAVE to finish what you start. If the book is not enjoyable and not cutting it, pick another one!
* Don't take no for an answer! Typically, toddlers and preschoolers, even early elementary kids won't complain about you reading aloud to them. But if you've already stopped, or they're older, start right away! And yes, even your big kids! They may groan and moan and complain. But this is one of the best things you can do for them mentally, emotionally and academically. It's no different than requiring they eat vegetables because it's good for their bodies. I guarantee you that if you stick with it, they'll begin enjoying it!
* Inspire yourself to join the read aloud movement. Motivate and encourage yourself to pick up books and read to your kids! Here are two of my favorite resources to do just that.
Read Aloud Revival Podcast. This is an incredible resource (and website). Tons of topics about
reading aloud to your kids such as reading to older kids, special author highlights, the best books in each genre, etc. There is a wealth of info here! I often listen while making dinner or folding laundry.
The Read Aloud Handbook, seventh edition, by Jim Trelease. This is an absolute must have family
resource. If you don't have it, go to Amazon right now and buy it! It's that good. All kinds of data and research and best practices for reading with your kids. It will truly inspire you like nothing else! I promise!!! Best of all, a HUGE section of the book is designated to book lists for every age and genre. It's made its way into all my baby shower gifts recently!
* Don't feel tied to the boundaries of a chapter, if you're reading a chapter book. This one has helped me personally the most. I often felt like I had to read the whole chapter. But time is sometimes short or I would be falling asleep three pages in. Ha! Mom life. But, who says you have to read the whole chapter. If you get used to picking up a book when you have five minutes and reading, you will be shocked how much you can cover!
*Give your kids something to do while they read. This is crucial! We often times utilize meal times because their hands and mouths are busy. The other activity my kids love when we read is coloring. They all grab a favorite coloring book, crayons or colored pencils and sit around the coffee table or around the living room and listen while I read. This activity reaches all age categories with the big kid and adult coloring books too! Here's a GREAT list of activities your kids can do while reading. There's something on this list for every age! Even teens!
3. Audiobooks- I'm a mom with five young kids. Reading aloud? I get it. Sometimes it seems like where on earth am I going to find the time to read aloud a chapter book consistently?!?! Enter, the audiobook! The goal is getting quality, exciting, and memorable stories into our kids imaginations. Sometimes the best thing to do is put on an audiobook! Sure, we don't want audiobooks replacing all read aloud time because that strips away the relational aspect of reading to our kids, but there is for sure a solid place for audiobooks.
Tips for Audiobooks:
*Audiobooks are perfect for breakfast time and lunch time. I've found that they help curb the loud chaos of small kids while eating. We bough an inexpensive blue tooth speaker that connects to our phone and we play audiobooks while they eat. My kids have grown to love it! It's another easy and fun way to get stories into their minds every day! Another way to utilize audiobooks, especially during the hot summer months is to use them for rest time. Often times, my kids are outside all morning through lunch, swimming or playing in the sprinkler, and just being kids. By the time lunch is done they're tired and it's usually the hottest part of the day. They often retreat to the living room where I put on an audiobook and everyone plays with something quietly (like Legos, dolls, a craft kit, blocks, etc) while they listen.
*Utilize audiobooks when transitioning out of naps. When my late toddlers, early preschoolers were growing out of an afternoon nap, I found they still needed downtime and I still needed a break. We gradually transitioned to audiobook time. They would still have to go in their room at "nap" time but they could play by themselves quietly while listening to an audiobook. We would set the playlist for however long we wanted rest time to be. We tell them they can come out when the stories are done. They grew to love this quiet time to play and listen to stories and I found them requesting favorites again and again.
*Audiobooks in the car! This is another great way to get books into your daily routine! Instead of turning on the van DVD, get them into an exciting audiobook that they can't wait to hear what happens next. Bonus, it too, can keep a van quiet just like the DVD player. But beware, it might not happen at first. When kids are used to the flickering, mindless screen, they may moan and groan for awhile about having to use their brains on an audiobook instead. But I guarantee if you stick with it, they'll be hooked!
4. Bring them to the library- There's a certain ethos that a library gives off. It's one of imagination, far off places, characters, and other worlds right at your fingertips. Most reluctant readers or kids who say they hate books and don't want to read get excited about the library. There's just something about all those books at your fingertips.
* Stay off the computers. I tell my kids the library is for exploring and choosing books, not for playing games on a computer. There are plenty of other places to play video games and be on screens, and surrounded by hundreds of thousands of books is not one of those places!
* Go armed with a book list. Does it matter what books your kids choose? Absolutely yes, and sometimes no. (Blog post coming soon on choosing books). Your kids will grow to love what you continually put as a feast before them. If all you place in front of their eyes is Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Train books, or dumbed down chapter books devoid of deep story lines and zero complex language patterns they surely won't be picking up the good stuff in middle and high school. High quality books with complex language patterns train your child's brain to process and think a certain way. If you don't train their brains towards those kinds of books, they will give up reading as they get older or never gravitate towards some of the best literature the world has to offer! The rule in our house is that you can look at all the "twaddle" books (character books, dumbed down versions of books, etc) while we are at the library and you can take home five books of your own choosing. The rest of the books we actually bring home come from mom's list. Another coming blog post will detail some ways to find good booklists, but for now, start with The Read Aloud Revival website which has book lists by the month and for all kinds of different categories.
* Utilize the library hold system. If it is too daunting of a task to take the time to walk around and collect the books on your booklist while making sure your toddler isn't ripping all the books off the shelf, put them on hold so pick-up of your good take-home books is already done for you. Then let the kids browse, enjoy the ethos of the library, and pick out their favorite five books.
5. Build a home library. Building a home library can take many forms. This doesn't specifically or only mean you have to have one designated library room. It can take many forms. At our house we converted an under the stairs closet into a reading nook. We hung up spice racks on the wall that are used for book racks and stashed up the floor space with beanbags and put in an overhead light. It's the sweetest little nook. We also have books all over our house. You can't find one room in our house that doesn't always have a stack of books somewhere.
Tips for building a home library.
* Be selective about the books you purchase. Why? Because these will be the books your kids read and re-read, or that you read and re-read to them. They will be the books their eyes gravitate towards during each and every day they are present in your home. Instead of seeing the cheesy TV show character books everywhere that do little to warm the heart and bring beauty and goodness to the atmosphere, let your child see Madeline and Corduroy, Charlotte's Web, and Stuart Little laying around. Again, your child can choose his five "twaddle" books (or whatever you decide) from the library to borrow, but be selective about the books you purchase and have as keepsakes. If you are a student at The Classical Academy your family will receive The Classical Academy Treasury of Children's Literature. It contain hundreds of the best and most beloved books of childhood, the ones you'll want to purchase that will be keepsakes for even the grandkids!
* Go through your owned book stash and clean it up! Provide all the best loved children's classics- both picture read alouds and chapter books at your child's fingertips. It makes a difference. I promise! Keep twaddle from having a permanent space on your shelf.
* Build your library slowly. There's no need to go out and spend thousands at a time purchasing books. A little at a time goes a long way! If you commit to spending even $10 a month on new book purchases it'll build your stash quicker than you think. For every birthday and Christmas our kids always get books as some of their gifts, both from us and grandparents. Utilize used book sales at the library or half priced book stores. Compile a master list of books you want to own and slowly start accumulating them. Two great places to start online are Thrift Books and Abe Books.
6. Give the Gift of Time. It takes time to build a culture of reading in your home and within your kids. Time is something most families don't have in excess. But what we do have is control over our time. We can choose to take things out and we can choose to add things in. It's all about what and how you prioritize. If you want your kids to read, to really read, if you want to enjoy reading to them, you have to actually have time to do it. Kids today are too rushed, too bogged down with activity after activity. They spend WAY too much time in school and they have little time to free range, to explore, to create, and to READ.
Tips for the gift of time:
* Resist the pressure to over-schedule. In the world of social media and Pinterest every mom everywhere has felt the pang of guilt that they haven't created summer minute to win it games with their kids and their friends. Alternative? Kick your kids outside and make them create their own minute to win it games. Resist the pressure to sign them up for every summer camp and every summer sport because they just get super annoying after awhile. Resist the urge to throw them in front of the TV. Will this happen? Absolutely. Actually, right now, all five of mine are watching a show while I work. But is this every time? No. But yes, it's sometimes. Some of the time, do something different. Tell everyone to grab a stack of books, set a timer for 20-30 minutes and tell them to look at books. No they don't need to even be readers. There is absolute value for a toddler and preschooler to be able to sit down for concentrated time with a giant stack of books.
*You have more control and choices than you realize. This was huge for me personally. And, it's why I started The Classical Academy. Realizing that there ARE alternatives to what you aren't happy with in your life has changed everything. Not happy with a chaotic life? Fix it. Can you? Yes. Not happy with the overrun childhood school schedules? Make a change. Want your children to have more time for childhood and reading and just playing? You can have that too. Think you can't change the reading attitudes of your kids? It's too late? Nope. It's not. It's never too late! You can change what you think you can't. Believe that and act on that and you'll quickly see things changing for the better!
Are you interested in exploring the innovative educational model of The Classical Academy that utilizes the gift of time, paired with a high quality, classical, Christian education? Join us June 11th for an informational meeting!