I always wanted my kids to be readers. Actually, let me rephrase: I was determined that if I did nothing else in my career as a mother, my kids would be readers. My own “book lover” credentials are pretty solid – editor dad, literary agent mom, elementary school career spent holed up in a closet writing (bad) poetry. Throw in the fact that I put books in the same category as food and water, and that pretty much sums it up.
I can’t say there was a real philosophical underpinning to my determination to transfer my love of books to my sons. I just knew they HAD to be readers, because that love of reading would connect us always. And I knew it was good for them without having googled a bunch of educational research.
I’m sure there are many paths to the same result. This is what I did, and how it worked.
- Be a reader. I regularly, consistently, frequently read in front of my kids. I read memoirs on my iPad, the New Yorker, The New York Times, paperback business books, hardcover fiction from the library. My kids have always connected “Mom reading” with “Mom relaxing.”
- Read out loud. I do this sporadically. I mean, I work and have a crazy life, and sometimes can’t stomach even 20 minutes of Mary Poppins or whatever it is. Or I’ve been talking all day and just don’t want to hear my own voice anymore. I know parents who have read all of Harry Potter out loud. Good for them – I can’t imagine. We read the first book, plus a few others – enough to make it a regular thing.
- Have lots of books around. Books are home decor, they are a fingerprint, a personal history. While I love my iPad (and my Kindle) kids engage better with the actual paper copies that don’t also come loaded with Clash of Clans. Make sure the lower shelves are full of stuff they might like – your old geology textbook, an Encyclopedia, picture books, comic books, whatever.
- Don’t be precious about what they read. You may have a vision of your ten-year old digging into Tolstoy, but be happy when he turns down a tv show to read Captain Underpants. It’s going to lead somewhere good, I promise. The potty jokes can’t go on forever.
- Go to the library and check out a ridiculous amount of books. This is something we’ve done consistently, every two weeks, for years. I let each child check out AS MANY books as he wants. They love the freedom of picking something because they MIGHT be interested – with no pressure. It’s a treat. As a side note, pay your late fees and round up. Donate if you can. We need our libraries.
- Talk about reading as a reward, not work. If you say “read 30 minutes then you can play,” you are sending a different message about reading than if you say, “clear your plate from the table and then you can read.” Scheduling reading time, hoping it will then stick, doesn’t work – in my experience.
Just today as I write this, my ten year old is reading ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL and my eight year old is reading THE ADVENTURES OF HUGO CABRET. It wasn’t always this way. They weren’t so excited to go to the library the first 20 times. I stuck with my program, and at about age 7 the light went on for my older son. More recently,, it happened for my younger one. “Mom?” he said. “We are rich in books.” Yes, I said. Yes, we are. And there is no better way to be rich.