Thoughts on raising readers

I can barely remember a time when I couldn't read.

And I can barely remember a time when I didn't WANT to read.

Since I was an itty bitty thing, books have been my friends, my constant companions, my entertainment of choice, and on a few occasions, my salvation.

I've devoured the classics and mainstream fiction and trashy romance novels with equal (albeit very different) fervor.  I love memoirs and biographies, psychology books and DIY stuff.

I panic when I'm about to finish a book (especially a really good one!) if I don't have something picked out to read next.

Books are my happy place, my go-to, that one thing that has never let me down.

So when I became a Mama, I wanted my kids to be able to experience those same feelings that I had so many times - the joy of a freshly cracked spine, the possibilites of an impossibly enchanting opening sentence, the friends you make in a well-loved series.

And I'm pleased to say - so far so good.

Zachary is well ahead of his reading level in school and has been known to carry a book to the bus stop or to the dinner table.  Sometimes I let him.

Cooper isn't reading yet, but he loves to be read to, and our story times are his (and usually my) favorite time of the day.

Am I a teacher?  Nope.  An early childhood expert? Not at all. A book expert... well, maybe, if a 17 year career in retail bookselling counts for anything other than bad feet and a general dislike of the public.  But anyway, I know these things are working for me, so they might just work for you, too.

START EARLY - I started reading to Zachary while he was still in the womb.  I have no idea if he could really hear me, though I assume he could probably hear SOMETHING from in there.  But it wasn't all just for him.  It also allowed me to find my voice as an "aloud" reader, something I hadn't done for many, many years.  Once he was born, we read every day.  There have been very few days since then that I haven't read SOMETHING to both the boys.  They expect it.  It's just part of our daily life, and by making it a habit early on, it becomes a habit that is destined to continue.  But even if it's too late for you to start really early like I did, it's not too late to start... right now.

REPEAT... AND REPEAT - Sometimes the boys ask that I read the same book over and over and over and... you get the picture.  And although it occasionally makes me feel like running form the house, screaming "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!   NOT THE SHARK BOOK AGAIN!!!!!!!"  they really thrive on the repetition.  Cooper's current favorite is Too Many Toys (ah, so true!) and we read it repeatedly.  He loves that he can recite it and "read" it along with me, and truly, this early memorization will help set a framework for reading aloud later.

HAVE BOOKS IN YOUR HOUSE - I have a ton of children's books that I picked up at various clearance sales over the years, and I still pick up new (to us!) things at yard sales, secondhand stores and from friends all the time.  If a large selection of books is outside of your budget, visit your local library.  Just the sheer physical presence of books will make your kids interested in what might be inside them.

READ IN FRONT OF YOUR KIDS - Ever since Zachary was old enough to talk, he has known what Mama's "nook-book" is, and he has known that it makes Mama happy to get to spend time with it.  The same is true with Cooper. Now that they're getting older, I regularly say to the boys, "I'm going to be reading for the next 10/20/60 minutes, so you guys need to play quietly." It usually works (which gives me a much needed break from the LOUD that is just... boy), and it also drives home the idea that reading time is something to be treated with respect.  Plus more often than not, one or the other of them will end up beside me on the couch with a book of his own to look at.

MAKE READING FUN - My reading voices are top notch thankyouverymuch and we sing all the silly songs and shout out all the loud parts and just generally make total fools out of ourselves when we read together.  Sometimes we even get up and act things out.  One of the things that Zachary's teacher continues to point out about him is that he does an excellent job reading with feeling.  I have no problem claiming the credit for that.  If you're sitting quietly and reading to your kids in a monotone and they don't like reading... well, that's because it's probably pretty darn boring.  Whatever you need to do to make it exciting and fun - do it.  With two VERY active little boys to entertain this can sometimes be a challenge, but I find they do the best when they can participate and when they don't have to stay still for a long stretch of time.  I also have BIG PLANS to make Zachary's summer a fun-filled, magical time by reading the first Harry Potterbook with him, then doing activities that go along with it.  I. CANNOT. WAIT. Ahem.  Plus I think he'll really enjoy it.

LET THEM PICK THEIR OWN BOOKS - Zachary has a deep, unwavering love for books about sharkswhich makes me twitch in all the bad ways, but we read them anyway.  He also recently picked up a copy of Captain Underpantsat the school library, and while potty humor isn't really my thing, I'm being careful not to discourage it.  If you're a reader you know what it's like when you find a perfect-for-you book, and I don't want to prevent Zachary from finding his perfect-for-him book, whatever that may be.

TAKE THEM BOOK PLACES - Take them to the library.  Take them to the bookstore.  Take them to story times whenever and wherever you can.  Zachary's school district does a Family Literacy Night occasionally where families can go together to read and celebrate books.  There are plenty of opportunities out there, just make sure you take the time to seek them out.  Then go.

REWARD THEM WITH BOOKS AND/OR READING TIME -  A good report card or conduct report from school just might get Zachary a new book as a reward.  A polite and well-mannered dinner time will definitely increase the number of books we read before bed.  I have ZERO problems using books and/or reading time as part of my complicated, complex, and often inconsistent system of rewards, and I would NEVER, EVER, AS LONG AS I LIVE try to use reading as part of a punishment.  I also make sure not to treat it - even reading homework - as a chore to be accomplished.  Instead of saying "Ok, we HAVE to get your reading done now," I'll say "Great! You've finished your worksheets and that means we get to read now!"  It's a subtle thing, but my boys are pretty intuitive, and I think it makes a difference.  I also occasionally let Zachary read after "lights out," and he thinks this is a huge treat.

UNDERSTAND THAT ALL READING "COUNTS" - I'm not smart enough to read comic books.  My very linear, left to right, top to bottom brain cannot handle skipping around all over the page.  However, Zachary loves them, so not only do I "allow" it, I encourage him to read them.  He also loves looking things up online to find out about them, and that's reading, too.  So is reading the words off the back of the cereal box, or reading the street signs or reading the tv listings off the guide channel... Bottom line - there are words everywhere, and all reading is good reading.

READ TOGETHER, AND SEPARATELY - Now that Zachary is old enough to read to himself, I encourage him to do that whenever possible, but we also still read aloud together every day.  There are really different experiences to be had there, and it's great to make sure all those bases are covered.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE READING, AND ABOUT WHAT THEY'RE READING - Knowing words is just the foundation; the hard part is being able to discuss what you're reading.  Ever since Zachary and Cooper could talk, we have discussed what the books we read MEAN, and even from toddlerhood they were able to regurgitate plots and characters when asked.  As they get older, I've started asking more meaningful questions like "What do you think?" and "How do you feel?" about whatever we are reading, and periodically, they will ask me what I'm reading about, too.  It's nice to be able to have an ongoing dialogue about books with them even when we aren't actually reading, and it makes a huge difference in their ability to comprehend the subject as well.

I have made it my mission to raise my kids as readers, because I can't imagine that something that's so important to me wouldn't play a major role in their lives as well.  I feel like we're on the right track, and it makes me one proud Mama.  However, I know that I don't know it all, so I'd like to hear from you.  What do you do to instill a love of reading in your own kids?

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