Literacy is vital for our children’s futures. It is vital for the future of the United States. I thought about giving you statistics, about pointing out all the things that are impacted by reading (or lack thereof). Then I thought, “Self, these wonderful people are reading a blog about Thinking Kids. These people believe in reading. These people believe in literacy.” Myself and I agreed there is no reason to address the joys of reading – at least not in this particular blog post. Rather, I thought I’d talk about how to create an atmosphere conducive to reading.
Books open up worlds to our kids, and I can’t wait to share those worlds with them. However, the task of reading requires effort to learn and to advance.
We (my husband and I, not myself and I) have two natural born readers. Our oldest and our youngest took to reading easily and gracefully, devouring books like starving baby birds cry out for worms. The other two were, well, tougher. Our solution? An environment that promotes reading.
This last school year, our 2nd grader (our third child) went through 86 chapter books, books of the Bible and non-fiction books. Our 1st grader? 129 books.
Here are my best suggestions for promoting reading in your home. I’d love to hear yours as well!
Make Reading Fun -
- Keep a reading log. I discussed our logs in Reading for Sport in March. It’s a fun way for competitive kids to keep track!
- Have in-home reading days with popcorn, jammies and hot-from-the-oven cookies.
- Find books your kids enjoy. For our 2nd grader, that includes almanacs and adult astronomy books. He is still required to read novels, but he reads non-fiction for fun.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away from a book if no one likes it. Some books are excruciating for a child. We have shelved our GA Henty books for the time being. I hope the kids will appreciate them one day, but for now, they are painfully over descriptive. We don’t feel like our kids need to read only books written more than a hundred years ago to appreciate good literature.
Set Up an Atmosphere Conducive to Reading -
- Schedule Free-Read times, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, while they are still sleepy, or after they have already played actively.
- Watch that TV time. We allow one half hour of TV on weekdays only. Sometimes the kids forget to watch their favorite show for weeks. We do make exceptions for illness or the occasional movie. Kids will rarely turn off the TV in favor of reading (or living life, for that matter), but will often seek a book if they have lots of free time.
- Allow kids to have unscheduled time in their day. Just like us, kids aren’t going to read if they have no time.
- Video games? What video games? Honestly, screen time is screen time. I recommend limiting it to constructive viewing – and only 1/2 an hour a day. We’ve found audio books and radio programs like Adventures in Odyssey to be a great alternative; they entertain and require imagination.
Own Great Books!
- I can’t tell you how important this is. We love the library, but nothing beats a restless child with a shelf full of great books. Our youngest started reading The Chronicles of Narnia in Kindergarten. It never would have occurred to me to check those out for him. They were available, though, and he’s read them a few times now.
- Make the space: when we had four kids in the house, they each had a little bookshelf (and their closets ended up full of books, too). We also had bookshelves in the hallways, nooks and crannies. Now that we’re down to two kids at home, one of the bedrooms is a library.
- Go on book hunts together. We love the used bookstores, garage sales and eBay. Many of our books were $.10 to $.50 each. The kids love picking out their own books.
- Variety is important. Kids should have access to non-fiction, novels, classic literature, historical fiction and narrative biographies.
Visit the Library
- Go often! Kids love the control of choosing their own books. Libraries have great books you may not wish to own, but would love to borrow. We do occasionally veto books, explaining why we won’t bring a particular book into our home.
- I love reading aloud to my kids. It’s bonding experience, it allows them to experience books they may naturally shy away from, and it encourages discussion. In our home, we have a “devotional” reading (this varies widely, from short biographies to apologetics or actual devotionals), we read the Bible and we are always working on some great story. I like to choose read-alouds that allow me to practice my melodramatic voices and accents!
Be a Reader
- Habits are caught, not taught. I will never forget the day I searched the house for my oh-too-quiet boys, expecting to discover the bathtub overflowing so the Lego men could go swimming (it wouldn’t be the first time the Lego men needed more room). Instead, I found them in the library on the couch, reading Joel and Obediah. It made my heart smile! It’s all my husband’s fault. He was in the living room with his Bible and four reference books, comparing theological nuances.
Thinking kids are reading kids. Reading informs, changes perspective and entertains. With a little effort on the part of parents, reading can be a joy for children.
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is a children’s writer with a love for God’s Word, history, wisdom and small people. Her work has appeared in magazines including Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr.; Upper Room Ministries’ Pockets and Devozine; CBH Ministries’ Keys for Kids, and Cobblestone Group’s FACES and Odyssey. Her work also appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters.