As a middle school teacher, there’s nothing that hurts my heart more than hearing a student say, “I hate reading!”
I love reading so much that I can’t fathom life without that pleasure. There is no greater escape than retreating someplace quiet with a good book or walking into a library or bookstore. It always sends a thrill up my spine.
My love of reading was gifted to me by my parents, and I made a concerted effort to give the gift of reading for pleasure to my children.
Before talking about reading for fun, a word about reading as a skill: being a fluent reader is necessary for academic success. There is a plethora of research to support that fact. But I’m talking about reading for the sheer joy of it, as a desired way to spend time.
With that said, if children love reading right from the start, they will do it. They will almost certainly achieve and maintain a high reading level throughout their academic lives and beyond, which means they will always be lifelong readers. Think of it as giving your kids two wonderful gifts.
There are many things you can do to turn your kids into lifelong readers. Here are three that worked for me:
Make it a lifelong habit
From the moment I brought them home, I started reading to my babies. When our first child was born, my husband thought I was crazy and wanted to know why on earth we were reading to an infant. I insisted that we wanted them to never remember a time when they weren’t read to and that we were going to start right away.
Even on the busiest of days, I always read before going to bed. So, we did the same thing with our children. We ended the day with the three Bs: baths, books, then bed. Reading became part of our nightly routine and was interspersed throughout the day whenever possible.
When they were old enough to read to themselves, I could have let my kids take over the nightly reading. But I stuck with it for as long as they would let me. My boys allowed me to read to them until they started high school. My daughter and I read together until she went off to college.
Reading with them remains among my favorite memories of time spent with my children, and it was always time well-spent.
Surround them with books
I remember a conversation with my daughter after she spent the night at a friend’s house. She relayed to me that there were no books in her friend’s house, and she found this shocking because our house is packed to the gills with books. Every time I did a pre-PCS move walk through, the number of books we had was always met with dismay.
You know how if you want something eaten, you leave it out on the counter or on the kitchen table because you know somebody will eventually wander by and grab it? The same goes for books, magazines, or newspapers.
Leave them lying around everywhere people go: the kitchen, bathroom, playroom, TV room, etc. and they’ll get picked up and read. I always leave current magazines and newspapers out on the kitchen table, and there is nary a room in my house that doesn’t have a bookshelf full of books.
When my son lost his first molar, he received a book from the tooth fairy instead of money. It was a book he had been wanting and was thrilled, if not a little puzzled as to how the tooth fairy got the book under his pillow without waking him up. He’s in his 30’s now and still remembers that with fondness.
I gave books as gifts to my kids, whether they asked for them or not. I made going to the library and bookstores regular, fun outings. When my kids were young, we did most of our traveling in the U.S. by car. Every pending car trip was always preceded by a trip to the library where they would pick out books to read and books on audio tape that we all wanted to hear.
We shared books. The anticipation (and a little bit of healthy competition) of waiting for someone to finish a book so you can read it next is great fun. Even though they are all grown and living in different places, we still pass books around. Of course, e-readers makes this easier when distance is a factor.
Give them ownership
The idea of pride in ownership can be applied to most areas of life. We become more invested in things we have some control over.
When my kids were old enough, I gave them as much latitude as possible when it came to managing their pleasure reading. I started by allowing them to pick what they wanted to read. There are so many books that a kid will have to read for academic reasons that pleasure reading should be just that: a pleasure. And words are words. If they would rather read comic books, those have words. And they are more edifying than one might think. Have you ever read an Archie comic book? The vocabulary is surprisingly rich and rigorous.
Not only did I let them pick out their own pleasure reading but I also taught them how to give up on a book. Not finishing a book used to feel like a failing, but somewhere along the way I decided there are too many good books waiting to be read to waste my time on something I’m not enjoying. I have a personal “100-page rule.” If I start a book and I’m not feeling it after a hundred pages, I give myself permission to give up on it. I encouraged my kids to find something like that that worked for them.
Another thing I did was give them magazine subscriptions as gifts. The anticipation of waiting for that regular delivery is fun no matter how old you are. I would give them subscriptions to magazines for whatever they were passionate about.
As soon as they could read to themselves, every kid procured their own library card. We made regular trips to the library, and I let them browse without me breathing down their necks. They managed to check out their own books, as well as tracking when materials needed to be returned or renewed. For trips to the bookstore, I gave them a budget, then cut them loose and let them explore and make their own purchasing decisions.
As with any desirable behavior I wanted my children to emulate, I modeled for my kids my own reading for pleasure. We discussed books we were reading at the dinner table and shared the inherent pleasure of reading.
I’m happy to report that I was successful with my children. They are all avid pleasure reading adults and are passing that love on to their own children.
As for my students…
On the first day of 6th grade ELA this year, I ended the lesson 10 minutes early and held a book up so they could see the front cover. I told them we were going to read it together “just for fun” and proceeded to read the first chapter to them.
When I finished, I said “Okay, it’s time to leave. Good job today, and see you tomorrow.” The uproar was fierce and immediate:
“What? You can’t stop now; we want to keep going!”
“That was exciting, I want to know what happens next!”
“Please, just one more chapter!”
And just like that, I established the habit. Every day, about 15 minutes before class is over, the talk turns to the fact that it’s almost time to read. And if I go even one minute over our designated “reading for the fun of it” time, I hear about it.