I love to read, and I enjoy passing on the love of reading to others.
It doesn’t take much to encourage a child to explore the endless possibilities of reading.
No, I’m not a parent. I am an educator, an aunt, a Girl Scout volunteer, a writer and a voracious reader. I have a lot of experience with children and books. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the child’s parent to help them learn to love reading. Through the years I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t . . . So here is my recipe for raising a child that reads:
- Read to them, starting at a very early age. (Yes, I’m saying read to babies in the crib.) Reading to infants and toddlers has benefits that include not only bonding between the reading adult and the child, they learn to connect reading with being loved. It also lets them hear the language played with (Remember how much fun Dr. Seuss is?). For older children, it is a chance to share a book and then talk about what you’ve read.
I read a novel every winter with my students. Without fail, if I am excited about the story, I will have one or two teens tell me, “That’s now my favorite author.” And for the remainder of the school year, I will see that “reluctant reader” with a non-assigned book in their hand to enjoy.
- Let them see you reading silently. Children, I have found learn best by example, so model the behavior you want them to follow. If an adult they trust and respect does something, they are more likely to do the same. Actions really do speak louder than words.
I always have a book on my desk, along with a magazine or journal. If I have a few minutes between groups, I read. My students see me with my nose in a book as they enter my room, and sometimes they ask what I am reading.
- Fill your space with reading material – books, magazines, comics, newspapers – so something is always at hand to read. A social worker once told me when she does a home visit she looks for printed material (books, magazines, newspapers). If she sees more than five, then the chances of the children in this home graduating from high school jump significantly.
My house and my office have a variety of printed material. I will loan books from my office to students.
- When you find something you really like to read, be enthusiastic about it. If you’re excited about it, it may generate the child’s interest in the book or subject.
I recently finished a young adult novel that was absolutely fantastic. I shared my thoughts with the school librarian and several students. The book was purchased for the school library, and now there is a waiting list to read this book.
- Let them “book graze” or as one of my English teacher friends call it, “book tasting.” With book grazing a child goes to the library and checks out two to three books, then they read the first chapter. If they like what they have read, they can finish the book. If they don’t like it, for any reason, they just take it back and check out a different book. Unlike an assigned reading from class, they do not have to finish the book merely sample part of the text. Sometimes they don’t read for enjoyment because they haven’t found an author or a genre they like. This activity introduces them to a wide variety of writing styles and genres. When a student finds something they like, they can ask the librarian to help them find similar books.
I encourage book grazing with most of the children and teens I know. Just last week I had a student, who had skimmed several books, come back to me and wanted to know if I could recommend a book similar to the one they had just finished.
- Give books and magazine subscriptions as gifts. If the child you know has a special interest it is easy to find material on that topic to share with them.
All of my “kids” know if they get a present from Auntie Tess, it will almost always be a book. Generally, it is either a book I read at their age and really loved or a book in a genre I know they already enjoy.
Each of these examples produced concrete positive results.
This is so important because reading has benefits beyond being just relatively inexpensive entertainment. Reading can, just to name a few examples, improve vocabulary skills, teach critical thinking skills, helps develop resiliency, learn empathy, and assist the development of better language skills.
Depending on the source, reading teachers recommend students read 15 minutes to 30 minutes daily (that’s about 1,140,000 – 2,600,00 words a year!) The amount of time spent with their nose in a book had been linked to better school performance and improved self-esteem.
I can’t think of a better gift to give my “kids” then literacy and the benefits brings.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites:
The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Hannah doesn’t want to do to the Passover Seder, but this year will be different as she is transported back in time to face unspeakable horrors. Reading interest level 4th – 6th grade.
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Life is hard for Jess Aarons, being the only boy squished between four sisters, but his life changes with Leslie Burks moves in. Jess learns many lessons from Leslie, the hardest one will follow a tragic accident. Reading interest level 4th – 8th grade.
The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. A mysterious gypsy boy, Yann, lives in Paris at the dawn of the French Revolution. He must use his newly emerging powers to stop a murderous count and save the beautiful heiress, Sido. (This is the book that has the waiting list at my high school.) Reading interest level 6th – 12th grade.
By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman. Set during the California Gold Rush, follow the adventures of a boy and his trusty butler. Will they strike gold or go home empty handed? Reading interest level 4th – 7th grade.
Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska. Manolo has a secret – he’s a coward. Everyone expects him to be a great bullfighter like his father, who died in the bullring when Manolo was only three. He must make a choice to follow in his father’s footsteps or forge his own path. Reading interest level 5th – 9th grade.
If you’re wondering if a book too easy or too hard, a reading teacher taught me this trick when I was working in a bookstore: Have the child turn to a random page and read. How many words were new or difficult? None – the book will be easy to read, 1 to 2 – a little bit of a challenge, but within their reading level, 3 to 4 – more of a challenge, but if it’s of interest they will be able to read. More than four – it’s probably going to be too difficult at this time.
All this talk about reading makes me want to go pour a cup of Earl Gray tea and curl up with a good book.
Please tell me your favorite books to share with children and teen in the comments.
Until next time remember . . .
The door is always open and the kettle is always on.