Friday, January 2, 2015

Raising Readers: My Personal Experience + Tips to Get Your Kids Reading

For as long as I can remember, I have been a reader. My heart would quicken to visit the library, or to hit the jackpot at a garage sale, bringing home a stack of fresh material. I read and read and read and read, often being scolded for attempting to read at the dinner table (even at restaurants). Perhaps if I hadn't been an only child, I wouldn't have loved reading so much. Perhaps if my childhood had been different in other ways, I wouldn't have searched so fervently for escape in the pages of one book after another. Or perhaps I was just destined to be a reader.

Whatever the case may be, I always knew my kids would also be readers. Never mind that Chris is not a bibliophile, not in the least. My overwhelming love for books and reading would most definitely be enough to mold and shape our children. I read to each of them since birth, took them to the library, gave them board books to ponder and chew. Did everything to reinforce the idea that we are a literary family.

One by one they learned to read, and I excitedly took them each to the library at the end of kindergarten (Mathilda's turn will be coming this year) for the important milestone of getting their own library cards. They always loved (and still love) for me to read to them, but the love of reading themselves has been a little slower to emerge.

Bethany, at 13, is my most reluctant reader. She is a busy one, always has been. Sitting down to read really just isn't her thing. She has read few books for pleasure, it pains me to admit. I still have hope though, I won't give up. I continue to search for books she might enjoy; I ask the children's librarian, I ask friends, I have taken to reading YA books myself partially in the hopes of finding books she might read. So far I've had limited success. Very limited. They do have reading time at school everyday, but generally she reads stories on the Wattpad app. I'm not sure of their quality, but I hope they're not horrible. At least she's reading though, right?

Connor is my super reader. It took him awhile (at least in my impatient viewpoint) to get into it, but I credit the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books with really getting him interested. Now, at 11, he reads voraciously. At the end of 5th grade he won the award for most AR points (they read books and then take AR tests at school, longer books have the potential for more points). This past year I have enjoyed reading several books with him, which was fun, and introducing him to some of my favorites. I employ many of the same strategies with him as with Bethany, but in his case I've met with much more success. For Christmas I picked my friend Tina's brain, as she has two sons who are avid readers, and as a result Connor has quite a nice collection of new reading material to keep him busy in 2015. At the beginning of 2014 he made a goal to read 15 books by the end of the year, and he blew that right out of the water.

Lucy is 8 and for the past six months or so has shown much more interest in reading on her own. I do still read to her quite a bit (she and Mathilda share a room and I read to them every night), but she has been reading chapter books independently as well. This year I would really like to encourage her to pick up the reading habit even more, and I will do that by taking her to the library regularly and actively seeking out books I think will interest her. For Christmas she got a set of fairy chapter books which I hope are just her thing. I also try to encourage her to ask questions when she doesn't understand something, to avoid getting frustrated and giving up. I am very hopeful that Lucy is turning into a super reader like her big brother.

My little kindergartener, Mathilda, is so excited to finally be able to read some simple words. She writes stories using all the words she knows, complete with colorful illustrations. Mathilda is so enthusiastic, and I certainly hope it holds. Right now she loves books. She looks at her books and pretends to read them, making up elaborate stories that she "reads" aloud, and finding all the words that she knows. She constantly asks me how to spell words, or spells out words that she sees and asks what they say. Hopefully the novelty never wears off and she will love to read, always. Only time will tell, but for now I make a huge fuss over her reading progress, and I know that she will be thrilled when it's her turn to get her very own library card in a few months.

What I've learned is that my kids are their own people. I can encourage all I want, but I can't force them to love reading like I do. But that's not to say I don't have a few tips for raising readers!
  1. Read to them often. Even older kids who are quite capable of reading on their own enjoy being read to. It's a wonderful calming activity for bedtime, and a great opportunity for bonding and discussion.
  2. Let them see you read. No matter how much they deny it, they really do want to be like you!
  3. Take them to the library and let them check out whatever catches their eye. We always take a canvas bag with us because we often leave with a couple dozen books. 
  4. Buy them their own books. This way they will always have books around when ever the fancy strikes to read. And they can relax and not worry about losing them or dog-earing the pages. Garage sales and thrift stores are great resources if you can't stomach the thought of paying full price.
  5. Get them an e-reader or tablet. I love real books, I really do, and so do my children. But our kids are living in a whole new era. Like it or not, they need to know how to use technology, not to mention that the option of reading on an iPad might just be that little extra incentive your child needs. And also it's awesomely convenient to have a whole library at you fingertips when waiting at the doctor's office or on long car rides (if they're lucky enough to be able to read in a moving vehicle without getting car sick).
  6. Find what interests them. This could be tricky, but keep trying! The children's librarian at your library is probably a great resource (ours is), as well as friends with kids. Probe your memory and try to think of what you liked to read at their age. If one genre doesn't click, try another. Audio books are an option too.
  7. Read books with your kids. You can either check out two of the same book from the library, or do an improvised sort of tandem reading. He reads the first three chapters, then you read the first three chapters, and so on. I've had a lot of fun doing this with Connor (and to a lesser extent with Bethany). I love having someone to discuss books with! This is also the perfect way to ensure that they understand what they're reading.
  8. Help them set reading goals. Connor got a kick out of keeping track of the books he read in 2014, especially when he surpassed his goal. As an added bonus, he now has a log of every book he read for the year. I wish I had a list of every book I ever read, wouldn't that be incredible? I also set a reading goal for myself for 2014, of which I fell embarrassingly short (okay, I admit that setting a goal of 100 books for the year may have been a bit lofty! I came in at 55, so my 2015 goal is 60). I love that I have a list of all the books I read in 2014, and I've already started a 2015 list.
What are your tips for helping your kids love books and reading? Do you keep track of the books you read? Goodreads is a helpful resource for that, where you can also rate and review the books you've read and find other books to read based on what you like.

Have you set a reading goal for 2015? Please share!

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