A look at What Actually Worked for Me
Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on. Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student. Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture. However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.
It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition. While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers. Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.
- Visit the Library Often.
Libraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets. We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies. Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families. Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility. Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library. Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.
2. Allow them to Change Their Mind Often.
When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library. I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.” At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read. Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.
A few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming. We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out. I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.
3. Be their Personal Assistant.
Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them: like a coach, or a personal assistant. The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.
If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.
Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance. Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material. As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.
Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story. I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books. I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing. So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.
4. Read in Front of Them. And Talk about Your Books.
When I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it? What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do. My nose is always in a book”.
If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader. You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.
It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it. It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.
5. Use Audio Books
When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library. It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words. As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores. We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.
Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak. One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read. Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.
6. Do a Book Tasting.
Exposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers. I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things. I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book. The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).
7. Celebrate Success as a Family.
There are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles. I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others. It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success. It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.
Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next. Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying. Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.