By TMoM Team Member Ellen Bryant Lloyd
I developed a love of books and reading at a very young age, and hoped to pass the same love down to my children when I became a parent. I thought about how this was sparked in me and realized it was my mom who helped cultivate my love of reading. Among many memories of her surrounding books, I fondly recall her reading to me and using different voices for each character, making the story come alive. We always had books readily available to read and she often talked to me about books she liked as a child and shared her thoughts about what she was reading at the time. Years later, she brought home a tall stack of early editions of Nancy Drew books and introduced me to her collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and invited me to enjoy them as I wished — I was elated.
I am thankful my mom shared her love of books and reading with me and thankful I was instrumental in encouraging this same love in my children. Here are some tips that may be helpful as you encourage your child to develop a lifelong love of books and reading.
Introduce books early
It is never too early to read to your child. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read an article that encouraged expectant parents to read to babies in utero. The researchers cited in the article said it helped promote brain activity, early literacy and language development and established early bonds with children. Intrigued, my husband and I decided to give it a try. We decided to read Oh Baby, The Places You Will Go by Dr. Seuss every day, as well as another book or two. We traded off who read — sometimes I did, sometimes he did and other times we both did. An hour or two after our son was born, my husband held our infant and read him the well-worn Dr. Seuss book. To our amazement, he turned his head up towards my husband and opened his eyes wide, hanging on to his every word.
Reading to your newborn helps give them a great start in life. As you read, talk about the characters and objects in the book or the sounds the animals or vehicles make. Engage as though you know they understand you. Babies learn language from hearing words read to them. They begin to understand emotion from voice pitch and tone, and they connect meanings between letters and pictures in books when you show them the pages of a book as you read. In addition to these developmental aspects, reading before and soon after birth helps create a special bond of connection and closeness that will enhance them feeling secure and loved.
Read aloud to your children for as long as possible
All the benefits of reading aloud to infants continue and are enhanced for as long as you choose to read aloud to your child. Children learn to love books way before they learn to read. Research shows that reading to children and discussing the book as you read is a great way to increase your child’s IQ. It is relaxing to the child to be read to, and it also helps foster their curiosity, imagination and desire to learn. As you read, make an effort to bring the characters to life. Change your voice with each character and add facial expressions, gestures and body movements to help the story become real. Let your children select books to read aloud and devote as much time as you can to reading to them every day. While bedtime is a wonderful time for this activity, be open to other times during the day as well. Please don’t feel like you have to stop reading aloud when they learn to read on their own. Children love to hear stories aloud for many years after becoming independent readers. Select more challenging books with complex storylines to read aloud to older children. You are likely to enjoy this special time as much as your child!
Be a reading role model
Leading by example is important when it comes to inspiring a love of reading. If your children do not see you read, it is hard for them to believe it is important for them to read. Let your children see you read on a regular basis. Encourage everyone in your family to turn off all screens and read together in a quiet, comfortable room on a regular basis. In addition to reading at home, consider having a book in the car to read while waiting to pick your children up from school or practice, and even consider carrying one with you to other places where you may have to wait a significant amount of time. During dinner or other family times, share comments about what you have read or are reading. It can be as simple as saying how much you are enjoying a particular book because it has an interesting storyline, it is teaching you about another culture or giving you ideas about new things to make, cook, study or learn. Invite everyone to take a turn and share about a recent book or story.
Make reading material readily available
Studies show that children who have easy access to reading material are more likely to read for pleasure and for longer periods of time. Think of books and other quality reading material as healthy snacks for their growing minds. Have plenty of books in multiple areas of your home, in your car (I used to keep a basket with book, book lights and snacks in the car) and even in your purse or a bag you carry around as you take children from one activity to another or when they are running errands with you. Rotate titles in each location on a regular basis for young children, and encourage school-age children to replace the books with titles they would like to read next. While it may seem easier to hand a young child a device to watch a show or play a game, it is just as easy to have them select a book to read. An added benefit to taking books with you in public is that they are quiet and don’t have to be charged.
Create cozy reading spots
I remember feeling excited the day I walked into one of my 7th grade classrooms and saw a corner of the room sectioned off with low bookshelves. There was a shag carpet, bean bags and pillows in the area, creating a cozy space. My excitement grew when I heard my teacher announce that we could go to the reading area whenever we wanted to.
Cozy spaces at home can have the same affect on children. Design and create areas with input from your children. Remember, cozy spaces don’t have to be elaborate — a squishy pillow, soft blanket and basket of books can make an ideal spot.
Let children read what interests them
When I hear parents say their child does not like to read, I feel there is a strong chance they may just need to find books that are of interest — both topic and format. If your child likes funny stories, sports-related stories, history, science or mysteries, find books that are about those topics. Be open to different types of books. Some children may not want to admit they struggle with longer chapter books and would be more comfortable with shorter chapter books or other formats that better meet their current reading needs. Let children get comfortable with their reading material and master a particular format or level before moving to the next level.
Library cards and bookstore gift cards
Make a big deal out of the day you take your child to get his/her very own library card. I remember how excited my children were to get their library cards and how proud they were when they signed their name on it. I loved seeing the joy on their faces when they showed me the stack of books they wanted to check out each visit. New books are also a wonderful treat for children. I often purchased bookstore gift cards for $5 or $10 and had them available to be “earned” by doing things around the house. They loved going to the store to select a new book and pay for it with their cards.
Join or start a mother/daughter or mother/son book club
Mother/daughter and mother/son book clubs are a great way to spend quality time together while you help them develop a love of books. Discussing books and even enjoying activities related to books with their peers not only makes books more interesting, but it sends children the message that books are “cool.”
Create enhanced book experiences
Invite children to read books in fun, different environments. Why not encourage them to read while laying on a blanket under a tree on a pretty day? You could help them build a blanket fort between some chairs or under a table, add a few pillows and let them read with a flashlight. Read in a car line before school drop off or get a bath tray and let them read a book while luxuriating in a bubble bath — there are so many possibilities!
It is also fun to take children to see movies based on books, art exhibits that feature artwork or types of art featured in a book, or visit locales or spots mentioned in books. These places could be general like the mountains or beach, or specific like the Biltmore House, a monument or restaurant. Make meals mentioned in stories or bake desserts together that characters in a book love. Children may also enjoy acting out scenes from favorite books that are humorous like Amelia Bedelia books, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Fancy Nancy books or books by Mo Willems.
For a special treat, take children to events featuring authors of books they like or you are sure they would like. Seeing authors “in real life” and having a chance to hear them speak, read their books and even talk to them directly can have a positive impact on children and encourage them to read even more.
Enjoy sharing the lifelong gift of books and reading with your children!
Ellen Bryant Lloyd is a writer and mom of two children, one who has flown from the nest and the other is not far from it. She blogs about perspectives on life and parenting at mindfulmom.wordpress.com and tweets at @EllenBLloyd. She is the author of FRECKLES and FRECKLES and The Great Beach Rescue, a freelance writer and memoir ghostwriter. Ellen lives in Greensboro with her husband, her daughter, when she is home from college, and the sweetest dog ever. She looks forward to seeing her son, who is now living and working in a nearby metropolitan city, as often as possible.