Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How Do You Get Your Kids to Love Reading?

Yesterday I was asked that question elseweb. The true answer is "I don't know." It may be that I have done some things right, or I may have done everything wrong, and they just loved reading anyway. Who knows? When I was a kid I was small, and sickly with allergies and undiagnosed asthma, an Air Force brat who moved around a lot and spent a number of years living in the middle of nowhere. I taught myself to read early, and my parents were happy to keep me supplied with material.

My kids, however, are nothing like that.

So, here's what I did, which you may use, ignore, or argue about.

1) I got them each a library card when they were still babies. I used their cards to check out slews of board books, which I then read to them. I also read aloud to them from whatever I was enjoying at the time, so the first book Veronica ever heard was Good Omens when she was mere days old.

2) I take them to the library every week; library night usually includes a visit to a playground and/or dinner out at someplace they like to eat. When they were tiny we went for storytime, now we're also likely to show up for some Shakespeare, or maybe a movie. We know all the librarians, and they know us. Often we run into friends and acquaintances. We participate in the summer reading program every year. When the new library opened, my mother donated a brick with our names for the sidewalk. We're invested.

3) I read to them as much as they want, still, including snuggling and sometimes staying up a little later. they get on either side of me on the sofa, and these days they're likely to be making friendship bracelets while I read, but we're cozy and together.

4) While I usually won't join them in watching TV, I'm always happy to make room for someone to read next to me. We do this even more than the reading aloud. The girls will take turns on the computer, with the other one on the sofa with me and some cats. We all feel free to share something particularly amusing or cool.

5) No judgement. Reading for fun should be fun, which may include magazines, comic books, facts and trivia, blogs, romances, whatever. No concern about reading levels or age-appropriateness. Free rein. I've never insisted they (or me, when I'm reading aloud) have to finish anything that wasn't fun. I've always got lots of suggestions for something else to read. They see me reading pretty much everything: history, romance, cartoons, classics, picture books. It's all good.

6) When I'm not reading, I'm talking about books. My go-to conversational gambit is "read anything good lately?" It works for friends, family, strangers, young and old. And I've gotten some great suggestions. A while back friends married in a small informal ceremony. It was great. One of the things they did was make up name tags for everyone that identified our relationship to the bride or groom, and suggest topics of conversation. Yeah, mine mostly just said "books" and I wore it with pride.

7) I take them to book reading/signings and I buy them autographed books. I point them to authors they've liked who blog or Twitter. I tried to hook them on GoodReads but they declined. The point is, with a lot of this as I reflect, it's about how reading is a solitary activity, but "being a reader" is very social. They've both participated in the Battle of the Books, as part of a team answering questions about books and competing within the school.

So, this is how that all plays out in real life: Last night was library night. We picked out books for fun and for a school project. We all wrote and posted answers to the question on the teen room board ("Which book character would you least like to be trapped in an elevator with?"). We picked up bookmarks telling us how to download library books to the kindle (Curse you six publishers!Yes, I'm bitter) and we discussed how some publishers weren't participating with a librarian. We went out to dinner, talking about books all the way. And then, because we live in a part of the country that pays a lot of attention to college basketball, we talked about brackets and online sweet sixteen competitions. And then we each came up with a literary list for our own playoffs.

Really, I have no idea what makes them readers, nature, nurture, peer pressure. I'm just very lucky to share that with them.


Rooie said...

Good job!

We read to Rachel all the time...bought any book she asked for...took her to the library and participated (when she was young) in the summer reading program...talked about books and let her read anything in the house...

But then I much of it is genetics? We're all readers in my family and my husband's family. She'd have been awfully bored if she wasn't a reader!

Good to "see" you, Kaethe. How are those girls doing?

Kaethe said...

I think the key is that "she'd have been awfully bored if she wasn't a reader!"

There may be a genetic component, and if there is, my kids certainly got it.

Good to "see" you, too. The girls are doing great! Too busy to suit me, but we still have time to talk about books, so I guess that's okay.

How's Rax? (Tell her we still love the zombies!)