Growing bookworms

Note from April: When I saw Alisha Gale’s home library and spoke with her children about their love of books, I knew this was something we needed to share with our Motherhood Matters community. Thank you, Alisha, for inspiring us all with these practical, replicable ideas!

At any given time of the day, if my children are awake, chances are at least one of them has his or her nose in a book.

My children humored me by posing for this picture. They don't actually read lined up like this.

My children humored me by posing for this picture. They don’t actually read lined up like this.

My children all love books. I suspect some of that might be genetic — both my husband and I are avid readers — but I’ve worked hard to cultivate their love for literature. April asked me to share my insights; here are the five strategies I recommend.

1. Invest in books. All kinds of books.

This used bookcase was free!

This used bookcase was free!

Did you know there is a correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and the level of education he will attain? Educators once assumed the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, it turns out, having a library with 500 books has the same effect.

It’s my firm belief that all children can love to read; they just need to find the right book. And so I’ve spent hours finding great books to add to our collection so all my children can find a book to love. I’ve had great success branching out from standard fiction. Some of our favorite books are myths and folktales, historical fiction and picture books about historical events or figures (my kids aren’t as interested in histories and biographies without pictures).

Building a library can seem expensive, but there are many ways to diminish the cost. I buy used books online and at the library’s used bookstore. When friends and relatives ask what my children want for birthdays, I suggest books.

But the truth is, I’ve spent a lot of money on children’s books. Some time ago I decided that if I wanted books to be an integral part of my childrens’ formative years, curating our library would have to be a financial priority.

2. Make use of your local library …

We make regular trips to the library during the summer. The trips make reading more exciting, and my children often choose books we wouldn’t have found otherwise. Each child (who can walk) gets a bag (I get one, too), and we all get whatever books catch our eye.

Each of my children has a "library basket" to help us keep our library books organized.

Each of my children has a “library basket” to help us keep our library books organized.

I used to limit how many books each child could check out at a time, but it didn’t take long before I heard some version of this at every outing: “These two books are actually Thomas’s, but he already has his 10, and I only have seven, so I’m checking these out for him.” So now I just make sure their stacks are reasonable. They’ve learned not to get too carried away.

3. … And your local librarian.

In my experience, no librarian is as enthusiastic and helpful as the librarians in the children’s section. So I consult with them! I’ve received dozens of fantastic suggestions and recommendations. Last year, I mentioned to our school’s librarian that my oldest son was interested in science books, but couldn’t find any at his reading level. The next time his class went to the library, this wonderful librarian made sure to point out to my son where the science books were, and he happily chose one he liked. Librarians are a great asset in the quest to find the right book.

4. Limit screen time.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons our children are voracious readers is that, in our house, there are not many options when there’s “nothing to do.” We don’t have a working TV or a video game system; they watch movies only on special occasions; and they earn computer time sparingly. I estimate our children spend less than two hours a month in front of a screen. I understand that going screen-free isn’t feasible (or even desirable) for every family, but my point is this: If you want to encourage a reluctant reader, you’ll only help your cause by minimizing the availability of more appealing alternatives.

 5. Make reading part of your family culture.

Our library is the center of our home.

We use our living room as our eating area/library.

We use our living room as our eating area/library.

We’ve read with our kids from the time they were babies. We read from a children’s novel (nearly) every night at family story time. My husband and oldest son have special books they read together as a father-son activity. Thanks to our oldest daughter’s ingenuity three years ago, our children earn books by doing chores. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, this same daughter was heard muttering recently, “I wish I had never thought of that chore chart.”)  When our children have been assigned to read books aloud for homework, I have them read to a younger sibling. I always know what book they are reading, and I ask about it — the characters, the plot, their favorite part. I listen intently when they describe the exciting parts and laugh when they read me the silly lines. My husband and I tell them about our favorite books. I congratulate them when they choose a challenging book, and I’ve rewarded them when they’ve finished a difficult book.

In short, reading has become a part of our family’s identity. My children read because it’s just something we ALL do. I’m certain the emphasis we place on reading has nurtured whatever innate love for reading our children have.

I realize not all children will be as ardent readers as mine are. And that’s OK! Even increasing your child’s love for (or tolerance of!) books just a little bit is a worthwhile endeavor.

QUESTION: What do you do to encourage your children to read? We’re especially interested in hearing from mothers of children who don’t willingly pick up books.

CHALLENGE: Read with your children today! If your children are too old for story time, discuss your favorite book(s) with them.

One comment

  1. Melanie

    My kids are book lovers, but what one of my mommy friends does with hers is “you read a page, I read a page.” She finds a really compelling page turner that the child is interested in and she makes the child read a page and then she will read a page to the child.

    I think the exposure to a huge variety of books in the home was really key for my kids. They need to be around all the time so the child grows accustomed to them being there and can pull them down and read. We have read hundreds and hundreds of books and my kids are 7, 4, and 1.5. We have a large library, but we also go to the library a lot and check out books.

    Have “family” reading time (or with mom if you are the one home) where everyone sits down and looks at books at the same time. The kids see you reading and see it is important to you and you are doing something that is enjoyable and so they are more likely to also do it too. I had read somewhere that one of the greatest predictors of children who were likely to read when they grew up was if they regularly observed their parents reading (especially their same-sex parent role model) reading for fun/enjoyment. Make sure Dads and Moms are reading to the kids at night so children see reading is important to both parents too.

    You can try tying rewards to reading like read the book and then we can rent the movie and discuss how it is different/similar to the movie (like Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, etc.)- but make sure you read the book first or it ruins it. You can let them “earn” a library card from the library after they read so many books or accomplish another goal (for mine it was being able to write their first and last names). When they earn their school library card (for reading so many points at school) we take them to get a wallet for it. It is best if the child can develop the internal motivation without rewards for reading though so they love reading just for reading’s sake.

    This works better for kids who are older and can read independently, but are reluctant to do so: Try setting a kitchen timer (with no sound/silent- just stops ticking when it goes off) for 20 minutes. Have your child read for 20 minutes each day and set the timer. If they keep asking or hear when the timer stops let them go after the 20 minutes to do something else, BUT if they are still reading and happy and the timer is done don’t tell them or interrupt their reading unless they say something to you. Just let them keep reading- they might be lost in the book and just need the motivation to get started. So don’t give them an out unless they ask for it after the 20 minutes and they just might surprise themselves and keep reading and like it.

    Continually monitor the books they are interested in or their interests. If they are getting bored it could be the book is too easy, too difficult. Go to ARbookfind.com to find books in their reading levels. Pay attention to what they ask you questions about and get books from the library on the topic. If they’re playing soccer, find books about it. It takes time and effort to research topics that might appeal to your child and find the genre they like (soccer biographies, history of soccer, soccer comics, soccer fiction, soccer picture books, a mystery about a kid who plays soccer, etc.)- keep trying and try some more! My friend’s son will only read nonfiction- who would have guessed?!

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