If you’ve read my introduction you know I’m a K-4 literacy specialist by trade. I love all things books, but one of my favorite things in the world is seeing little kids get lost in a book, jump up and down on library day, or laugh out loud and follow along as you read to them. Reading is magic, at least to me (and many others I think!), because it’s both therapeutic and informative, it’s both entertaining and educational (for life…not just when you’re little).
One of the single most important things when it comes to developing literacy skills in young children is encouraging and helping kiddos develop a love of reading. And this post will PREACH that. I mean legit PREACH it, because I’m about to offer 20 tips for encouraging the love of reading in your own kids. And if you even do some of these 20 things, you’ll be well on your way to creating an authentic reading environment for your kids to grow up in. And that environment is what will mold them and shape them into literate adults.
I’m not going to go into detail on all 20 things, because, well, you can read. but I will elaborate on a few that I believe are some of the most important.
- Reading aloud to your kids as much as possible and surrounding them with books is single-handedly the most important thing you can do. Not only will this help them develop a love of reading, but it will result in leaps and bounds in terms of language development. Not to mention it will establish sacred family time detached from screens and technology. And it’s NEVER too young to start!
- Don’t force it. This is especially hard for me with the boys. Because I want so badly for them to occupy their days pouring through books, transporting themselves to make-believe land or learning new facts to answer their wonderings. But the more you force it, the more you’ll create a combative culture around reading. And once you have a combative culture around reading, that can be one of the most challenging things to break. It’s also one of the things that can impede them from making normal progress in learning to read conventionally in school. Reading engagement is key.
- Choice. Kids need the freedom to choose what they want to read so they can wonder and explore and learn on their own time. But giving them choices also means you have a responsibility of showing them what all the choices can be. Expose them to different genres, different authors. Nobody wants to be pigeonholed, but sometimes it’s easy to get pigeonholed if you don’t know what else is out there.
- And it’s NEVER too young to start. I’ll say it again. It’s never too young to start! I know this isn’t in the top 20, but just a reminder that there’s lots of research that suggests that even babies in the womb benefit from hearing mom or dad read to them. Starting early (a) helps you create a habit and (b) let’s a baby experience allllll the sensory aspects of reading, like touching and feeling and hearing and seeing (your facial expressions as you read).
Here’s what my kids are currently reading. Bruises on the left, when I asked them to pick their favorites from our current display in the playroom. Bow on the right – her current nightstand pile – the ones we read to her at bedtime.
I’m going to press pause for a second and give you some real honesty, because I can preach all I want but you also need to know reality. I did everything right with the bruises. We started reading to them straight out of the womb. And as babies and even in the early stages of toddlers, they ate it up. Loved reading. I would catch them knee deep in book baskets that I keep scattered around the house, all on their own.
As both boys have gotten older, they are starting to take more after their dad than me when it comes to reading. My husband’s facetious claim to fame is that he made it through high school with Spark Notes. “I’ve never finished a book in my life,” he brags. (Really something to brag about, huh?) Nowadays, they’d rather wrestle or run or play with PlayMobil over reading a book, and I’m lucky if they wander over to the book shelves and baskets on their own once a day. Now, who knows. It could be just a phase and they’ll come around again – I’m still doing all of the things I’m preaching in the most authentic way possible (without putting pressure on them). Or maybe they won’t, and that’s ok. Not everyone grows up to be a book lover. My husband’s doing just fine personally and professionally, even if he is a self-proclaimed anti-reader. I’ll never tell him this for the sake of his ego (albeit facetious), but he actually IS a reader. He just doesn’t realize he’s a reader – it’s just that he doesn’t read traditional things like books or magazines. But you can find him on his phone or iPad for hours, reading blogs or sports stories, or googling biographical information on Lin Manuel Miranda after watching Hamilton.