A Librarian’s Advice on How to Raise A Reader
It’s not difficult to see that students who enjoy reading also excel in school. What is more difficult, for parents, is knowing how to get your child to read and foster that love of literature. Too often it seems our well-meant efforts turn a beloved and advantageous pastime into a chore. Fortunately, it’s not as difficult as it may appear. Here are a few simple things you can do if you’re wondering how to raise a reader.
Talk to your child, even when he or she is too young to talk back.
I know this seems obvious, but talking to your child builds his contextual vocabulary, that is, the special words that apply to specific situations and places: For example, deposits and withdrawals are activities done at a bank; walking or running are activities done at a gym or on the street; bosses and deadlines and presentations are all part of work at an office. This vocabulary builds and expands your child’s world. Even if you are just narrating your day, or pointing out things you and your child see as you drive down the street, the more words and sounds you give your child, the more he will know when it is time to connect that knowledge with words printed on a page. Even if your child is too young to respond to you, he is never too young to listen and learn from what you say. A robust vocabulary is usually an excellent predictor of a child’s academic success. If that isn’t a reason to converse with your infant, I don’t know what is!
Read it again… and again… and again.
Are there any books that your child begs you to read again, and again, and again? Pat yourself on the back if you paste a fake grin on your face and suffer through Green Eggs and Ham for the 47th time! This may seem like your toddler’s preferred method of parent torture, but in reality, your child is building a reading skill called fluency. Fluency is normally used to describe spoken language, but in the context of reading, it means the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and expression. Fluent readers don’t need to pause at each word to think about the sounds the letters make or what each individual word means; this frees their brain to focus on the overall meaning of the text. Repeated readings help your child hear what smooth, expressive language should sound like, and when it is her turn to read, she will attempt to model your example. Even as students become independent readers, repeated reading builds familiarity with a text, increasing comprehension and vocabulary.
Let your child choose his or her own leisure reading.
There is no doubt that carefully selected literature is an essential teaching tool; however, there is a time and a place for everything. If your child chooses to spend his leisure time reading, he should be able to read something he will enjoy. According to a 2014 Scholastic survey, 91% of children between the ages 6-17 said their favourite books are the ones they have picked out themselves. Maybe this means that your shark-obsessed son will select another hammerhead book, or, maybe your daughter enjoys (gasp!) comic books and magazines. Don’t worry! Your child is learning that reading is fun. They are much more likely to make reading a lifelong habit if it’s an activity they enjoy.
There is another benefit to allowing your child to make his own leisure reading choices: Over time, he’ll be exposed to more topics and ideas. Studies have shown that not only do children who read in their leisure time do better in school than peers, but they also select and read a much wider variety of texts and formats.
Leave space in your child’s life for reading.
This doesn’t necessarily mean scheduling reading time or dedicating a special ‘reading only’ space. Rather, as Holbrook Jackson famously said, “The time to read is any time: no appointment of time and place is necessary. It is the only art which can be practiced at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading.” My daughter, Laura, never goes anywhere without a book under her arm. She uses those moments when the rest of us are stuck in traffic, sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, or checking our smartphones to sneak in a few pages or chapters. Another daughter, Emma, goes to bed early each night so she can read for an hour before sleeping. This is her sacred time that she has designated herself. She doesn’t let TV, text messages, or even her pesky little brother distract from her self-appointed rendezvous with her favorite book. These are strategies that work for our family; you’ll need to find out what works best for yours and tailor your time and space accordingly.
Set an example.
As parents and caregivers, we can lead by example. As important as it is to read to the children in our lives every day, we also have to “walk the talk.” Children who see the adults in their lives reading regularly will perceive that reading is a normal, pleasurable part of life. Don’t worry; this does not mean you must confine yourself to ‘improving’ literature. No need to run out and find the lengthiest, most scholarly text available. In his 2015 book, Raising Kids Who Read, Daniel T. Willingham assures parents that it does not matter whether you are reading non-fiction or comics; as long as you are enjoying yourself, it will impress upon your child the importance of this pastime. The fact that you make time in your busy schedule to squeeze in a few pages of your favorite novel will not go unnoticed.
In short, there is an important distinction between a child who is able to read, and a child who loves to read. Children who enjoy reading, who are able to read with fluency and draw from a robust vocabulary, are more likely to fill their spare minutes and leisure hours with words. They are the children reading the cereal box each morning as they munch breakfast, or reading the back of a fellow passenger’s newspaper on the train. They read street signs, T-shirt slogans, and restaurant menus. And as they are reading all of these words, big and small, from all of these sources, important and trivial, they are building a strong academic foundation that will support them in school, in their future careers, and in their lives as contributing members of our global community.