Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read: 5 Simple Steps

We've heard it all before: readers are leaders, reading is fundamental to success, read a book change the world, kids who read succeed. As adults, you don't have to convince us of these truths. We know them to be true on the most basic level.

But kids are different. We have to mold them and guide them; all the while praying that they appreciate and understand the basic truths that we take for granted: look both ways before you cross the street, eat fruits and veggies, save your money. And yes, fall in love with reading because readers are leaders and all that other jazz.

How do we convince them?  How do we raise kids who love to read; kids who as adults become life long readers not just the regular Joe who only reads what he must then avoids all other written works?

Just this week, I had the pleasure of hearing my 13 year old say, "I just love to read." This announcement came after she had completed the last of the Rick Riordan Series.

She had tears in her eyes. Yes, literal tears. Don't laugh.

How many of us haven't gotten teary eyed because of the heroin's plight in a good book we were reading?  For her, she was upset that her series was finished because she had been reading his books for the past 3 years, anxiously waiting every year for the new one to come out.  Now at the end, she was emotional and at the same time she recognized, appreciated, and announced to the world (her sisters and I) that she just love reading.  How do we get to such a point with our children.  

This child is no different from my other kids.  They all love to read. They all appreciate a good book and the excitement that it brings to their lives. How did they get this way?  

As I looked at their world from a mother's perspective the following steps summarized my thoughts as to why I have raised and am still raising 4 girls, who just love to read.

Step 1

Encourage Kids Curiosity

Kids are by nature curious. As little tykes, they question everything. Why do cats have tails? Why are there stars in the sky? Why do I have to go to bed at 7:30 pm? Why is the butterfly yellow?

We have to encourage this curiosity because it is the foundation for life long learning and a life long love of reading.  Instead of shying away from their inquiries, take the time to answer them in the most thoughtful way you know how.  And if you don't know the answer, let them see you using books to help you find the information you need.  If this is done, their curiosity won't wane as they get older. Rather, they themselves will turn to the written word for answers. They will know that for every question there is an answer and that there questions are not annoyances to be batted away but thought provoking ideas to be investigated.

Step 2

Model Reading

What do I mean by model reading? Simply, you should read. Yes, kids model behavior of those around them.  The younger they are the more impressionable.  So if you want readers, then you have to be a reader also.  Read anything, it really doesn't matter: newspapers, magazines, the Enquirer, a novel.  Just let them see you reading. My husband doesn't read anything but boat magazines and his Bible.  But guess what, he reads.  We are a household of readers and the kids have always seen us  enjoying the written word. By modeling this behavior you encourage your child to want to do the same.

Step 3

Read to your Kids

Don't wait until they are teenagers.  Read to them from the time they are in the womb. Studies show that this makes a difference. I remember reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy to my 4th daughter while nursing her.  I was already reading the book so I thought why not just read it out load and so I did. I swear this child never baby talked and I believe that reading to her so early had a lot to do with it. Making a habit of reading daily to kids is vital. Read to them each and every night and if you don't have the time, then allow them to listen to an audio book.  If you read across genre, a little mystery, some classics, a biography or two, it excites their imaginations. When reading is a habitual part of bedtime they will continue with it, even as tweens, teens and young adults. Even now as an adult I read at bedtime.

Step 4

Limit TV and Limit Access to Electronics for Kids

I have said it once, twice, many times.  The number of hours of TV watched and the number of hours using electronics (iPhone, iPad, tablets, iPod, Computer) in general are inversely related to a child's desire to read. This is not a scientific discovery, just my own personal observations. Children tune out, when they tune in.  Their brains literally take a back seat to what they are observing.  On the contrary, reading engages the brain and fosters creativity.  It is no wonder so many kids are now diagnosed as ADHD.  How can they tune in to television for 2-4 hours during weekdays and at times 8 hours a day on weekends, then still be expected to go to school, sit still, listen to and learn from a teacher?

We are not doing the educational system any favors when we allow our kids to tune into electronics and television for so many hours.  If we limit their access and the number of hours they are allowed to use these devices, it will free up time in their schedule where they can physically play (I won't get on that soap box) or read a good book.

Personally, my kids are not allowed to watch television during the week and on the weekends I try and monitor the number of hours.  If I see they are vegging out in front of the TV, even on the weekends, I will encourage them to do something else.

Kids are only young once and electronics can re-circuit their brains. If you don't believe me then read Magic Trees of the Mind by Marian Diamond, PhD and Janet Hopson. I read it years ago and it was a Godsend for my family and I.

Step 5

Encourage Kids to Engage in Outdoor and Community Activities

You don't want kids to be at home all the time.  If they are engaged in their community attending church, plays, shows, events, etc., they will continue to develop their curious inquisitive nature, which is the pre-cursor to a life long love of reading.  Also, seeing and doing new things will help them to discover new interests.  A walk in a trail or a nearby park may get them interested in birds and as such they may investigate books on bird watching. Who knows what may be discovered on your adventures.  Simple adult lead and child appropriate exploration of the world is vital.

These are just 5 simple steps to help your kids fall in love with reading.  I am sure there are more.  But as I reflect, these are the things that I did and still do with my kids.  And yes, they love to read.  My 13 year old's teary eyed declaration is proof but so are the unspoken declarations of my other kids each and every time I see them curled up with a book.

Do your kids love to read?  What have you done to encourage them? Was this article helpful to you in any way?  

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