We’ve all heard it said that when we learn to read, the whole world opens up to us. One of the best ways you can encourage your child in a lifetime of learning is by nurturing a love for reading well before the first phonics lesson. When your prereader is immersed in an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation toward books, he or she will naturally develop a love of reading when that wonderful time comes.
Here are five habits you can begin now to encourage lifelong readers.
Let your children see you read
I grew up with a mom who loved to read and consequently loved to learn new things. Her enthusiasm for books was contagious. I remember as a child that if I needed to know where my mom was, I looked in only two places: the kitchen (she was an at-home gourmet cook) or her favorite reading chair, where she would be curled up with a good book. Oftentimes the book was a cookbook. She’d read them from cover to cover like they were the best novel ever. I do that too and have for years.
I learned from my mother’s example that books are important and worthy of my time. I grew up in the mid ’60s and ’70s and was public schooled (Mom would have homeschooled us, she often told me, if she’d known it was possible and legal back then), but without her ever telling me with words that reading is important, she demonstrated it with her actions.
Many moms with little ones think it is selfish to read for pleasure when there are so many pressing things that need attention, but in addition to the richness reading gives your life personally, this habit is a rich heritage you can pass down to your own children just by your example. Make sure you take the time for yourself and let your children “catch” you reading. They’ll want to read too.
Adorn your home with books
In our home growing up, we had an extensive library of books on a variety of topics. Our library spanned several rooms, and I grew up literally surrounded by beautiful and lovely books. I remember that as a young child, I would gingerly touch the spines of the books, all lined up perfectly on the shelves, and imagine the stories they might contain. As I grew older, I’d set my sights on one based on the color alone and crack it open to sound out the words. Often these were classics that I’d later read for pleasure as a middle-schooler and young teen.
Books were a big part of the decorating of our home, but certainly they were for reading and not just for looking at in awe and wonderment. I’m convinced this is why I always made room for books in my own home—it just felt natural to have them everywhere. By the time my own children were of middle-school age, we’d collected so many books that they filled the entire large loft space upstairs where the bedrooms were in floor to ceiling bookshelves.
Don’t have extra space to devote entirely to books? No problem: just put a little bookshelf in every room, but especially in your children’s rooms. Even the tiniest of homes and coziest of shared children’s bedrooms can have a small shelf for beloved books. The point, of course, isn’t to collect books just to create a certain atmosphere, but to actually use these books as part of normal life. Make sure to include your favorites as well as those you’d like read someday.
Always make time to read to your children
Let your children grow up equating reading with quality time with you. There is nothing better to a small child than Mommy time, so use this special time to introduce your little ones to the wonderment of books. Start small, with short reading sessions, and only read as long as they are interested. Don’t be alarmed if they seem like they are not interested in the words or even if they just want to turn the pages back and forth, interrupting your reading flow. At this stage, you are not reading to impart information but rather to show the importance of books and create loving memories your children will take with them forever.
Don’t push your children to read with you, but make books available and ask them several times throughout their day if they’d like to climb up on your lap and read together. Accept no as an answer and be okay with it; there’s always next time. Reading should never feel forced. Unless you are doing something terribly important at the moment your child asks you to read, stop what you are doing and read together. Your children will soon catch on that reading has value to you, so it will have value to them too.
Encourage friendships with books
My second oldest daughter, now a freshman in college as a creative writing major, actually took books to bed with her like one would a special stuffed toy. She had favorites she’d drag around with her and would panic if she went somewhere without them. Encourage your children to develop book favorites and treat them with the same “respect” you do their cherished toy friends. When my children were young, we’d play pretend voices together for their stuffed toys and their books. Silly, I know, but to a young child books can and will hold a special place if we encourage this natural tendency. Now twenty-one, my daughter still cherishes the books she read over and over when she was younger and would not think of parting with them. She’ll pass them down to her own children someday. If you happen to have favorite books from your own childhood, all the better to introduce your children to your old friends.
Go shopping together for new books
Certainly give books as gifts and encourage family members to do the same, but shop together as well. Go out together with your young children just for the purpose of buying a new book for their budding collection. Let them go up to the books and touch them and look through them as they make their choice. You know your children best: if you know they will be overwhelmed with a large selection to choose from, pick out a few for them and narrow their choices ahead of time.
After your child has chosen the book, really talk up the excitement of bringing home another friend as you head to the cashier. I won’t laugh at you if you decide to introduce your new book friend to the old book friends back home. Yes, I did that. With habits like these, you and your children will be well on your way to grand adventures together between the covers of a good book.
Gail Heaton and her husband Randy live in Missoula, Montana. Their seven children, ages 25 to 16, have been home schooled from the start. Just when life starts to go smoothly with three in college and the teens now launching into young adulthood, along comes the toddler, grandbaby number one, reminding her how much excitement the early learning years can bring.
Gail Heaton and her husband Randy live in Missoula, Montana. Their seven children, ages 25 to 16, have been homeschooled from the start. Just when life starts to go smoothly with three in college and the teens now launching into young adulthood, along comes the toddler, grandbaby number one, reminding her how much excitement the early learning years can bring.