Since my childhood days of reading Richie Rich comic books and Nancy Drew mysteries, I’ve always been a voracious reader. As the family bookworm, I earned the nickname “Booka” from my dad, who was a big reader himself. And my mom played her part in fostering my obsession with the printed word by spending endless hours reading my favorite books to me as a child.
Now that I have my own family, I wanted to make sure I passed on my first true love to my two boys. From the time they were babies, I infused their lives with reading, library story times, and word games, buying and borrowing literally thousands of books during our 10 years of homeschooling together.
Sadly, plenty of research points to a downward trend in recreational reading, particularly among teens and young adults, such as the report by the National Endowment for the Arts. Most alarming, cites the report, is that “both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates.”
One way to stem the tide of this disturbing trend is to instill the love of reading in your kids from a very young age. But don’t rely on schools to do this. In fact, the same schools that teach your kids to read often destroy their love of reading, as noted in a recent article by clinical psychologist Erica Reischer in The Atlantic about the negative effects of forced reading logs.
“When motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake,” writes Reischer. “This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance.”
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to foster the love of reading in your own home. Let these ideas jumpstart your own family’s love affair with books.
Make sure your kids see you reading frequently, whether it’s the newspaper in the morning, a magazine while dinner is cooking, or your favorite novel before bed. Bring books with you everywhere you go – from a small paperback you stuff in your purse to a few magazines you stash in the car to a Kindle loaded with books for your next family vacation. Make books a habit in your own life first.
It’s like a daily vitamin for their brain. If you need some ideas for good, age-appropriate books, check out these notable book lists from the Association for Library Service to Children, Common Sense Media, Time Magazine, Goodreads, and New York Public Library.
Besides allowing you to borrow books for free, many libraries offer lots of child-centered programs, including story times, puppet shows, magic shows, arts-and-crafts workshops, chess clubs, summer reading programs, book clubs, teen councils, and more. Help your kids view the library as the place to go for fun.
Literally, put reading material in baskets and on shelves all over the house – in the living room, the family room, the bathroom, etc.
Sure, you want to applaud this milestone and encourage solo reading. But the many benefits of being read to continue to accrue, even as kids get old enough to read on their own. Plus, reading together creates a treasured bonding time for you and your kids.
Perhaps you’ve got a cozy window seat with great natural light streaming through. Or maybe you’ve got a beanbag chair you can place next to a basket of books. Even just one comfortable chair will work. Add soft pillows, a blanket to snuggle with, and good lighting for the perfect reading get away.
Think "Magic Tree House," "Judy Moody," and "Encyclopedia Brown" for younger readers; "Big Nate," "The 39 Clues," and "Harry Potter" for middle schoolers; and "Hunger Games," "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," and "Twilight" for older teens.
With the visual appeal of high-resolution graphics, sometimes it’s hard to turn kids on to a page full of words. Good comic books and graphic novels can be the gateway to good literature if kids equate reading with fun. I can trace some of my favorite childhood memories to reading comic books (Archie and the gang at Riverdale High, "Little Dot," "Wendy the Good Little Witch," "Little Lotta," "Casper the Friendly Ghost") and comic strip collections ("Calvin and Hobbes," "Peanuts," "Family Circle"). These days, you can even find manga Shakespeare and manga classics, like "Les Miserables" and "The Scarlet Letter."
Listening to a great audiobook without worrying about vocabulary or correct pronunciation offers a convenient and effortless way to get lost in a story. (My boys’ favorites were many classic titles like "King Arthur," "Arabian Knights," and "Rip Van Winkle" read by award-winning storyteller Jim Weiss.)
Many public libraries offer free CDs to borrow, as well as downloadable mp3s or streaming audio. Although you can purchase many audiobooks on iTunes and join paid subscription services like Audible, you can also take advantage of free audio books (with some children’s titles but mostly classics for older kids and adults) on websites such as Open Culture, Thought Audio, Lit2Go, and Podiobooks.
Some treat ideas: blueberry pie ("Blueberries for Sal"), orange slices ("Very Hungry Caterpillar"), homemade butter beer ("Harry Potter"), and peach cobbler ("James and the Giant Peach").
Some activity ideas: clue-finding mission ("Nancy Drew"), visit to a farm ("Charlotte’s Web"), DIY magic show ("Half Magic"), and salt-dough maps ("Scrambled States of America").
Use these ideas to nurture your family’s love affair with books, and you’ll increase the odds of hooking your kids on a lifetime reading habit.