My children are avid readers. Okay, they’re grown and are not under my supervision any longer. I’m not actively promoting this addiction, ahem, I mean, worthy pursuit. But, the love of reading sprang out of childhood habits. I confess, when I’m asked how did I, as a mom, encourage reading, I’m tempted to shrug my shoulders.
I come from a family of readers, so this tendency of ours to plant our noses in a paperback is not so bizarre. But out of courtesy to those who are trying to install the same “need to read” in their kids, I’m going to take a stab at answering the question, “How do I get my child to read?”
The best way to answer that question is to ask others. Let’s look at four basic questions: who, when, where, why.
Who in your family reads?
Ideally the answer is everybody. But most families have at least one holdout who would rather dribble a basketball or paint her toenails or tinker in the garage. If lack of literacy is a concern for parents (and really, folks, thirst for knowledge or entertainment through print should be a crucial goal in every family), then both parents should exhibit a united front.
Mom and Dad must demonstrate an appreciation of reading by reading where kids can see them reading. And the adults need to express their enjoyment of the exercise. If you read the stock market reports, scream, and tear up the paper, your child may not be getting the proper picture of how much reading fulfills your needs and brings satisfaction. If you are reluctant to put down a good book, the same child will wonder what is so intriguing on those pages.
Strategy: Read a book. Enjoy the book. Do this where your child will observe your activity and your obvious pleasure. Think about Bob, played by Bill Murphey, in What About Bob? Remember his manifest delight in eating his hostess’s dinner. Yum, mmmm, smack, uhm, awww.
Get excited over going to the library. Display your stack of books with pride. And . . . vocally, dramatically reward yourself with a new book via an exuberant visit to a giant bookstore or a quaint, old bookshop. (“Breathe deeply, children. Do you smell the knowledge of a hundred years?”)
Okay, so you aren’t really going to be quite this hammy when you present reading as a preferred lifestyle choice. But you get the idea: be a role model of the dedicated reader.
When do the people in your family read?
This one is a bit tricky in our present culture. Busy schedules and interest in videos, computer games, and all that high-tech stuff robs us of hours of productive time. (Raising hand, here. I’m guilty of playing computer solitaire for hours.)
Strategy: Have an electricity-free night once or twice a week. The only thing the members of your family are allowed to turn on is a light bulb. It’s a read-to-yourself or be-read-to free-for-all. Make sure the fam arms itself appropriately, because you can’t pop popcorn after the “begin” signal, and no one can open the fridge to get a snack.
There’s also the old earn-time-on-the-computer or Nintendo™ strategy by reading. Five minutes of reading=five minutes of tech fun.
Have a goal chart of how many minutes read by the whole family. Accumulate enough points for a night out at the most motivating place you can afford. Or make it for ice cream at home. Whoever has the most points for the week gets to choose the flavor of the week.
Where do you read?
I love this question because I see ole Brer Rabbit hopping along a country road, singing, “Everybody’s got a laughing place.” Let’s stick a book under his arm and change laughing to reading. Choosing a reading place may be as simple as a reading lamp and a soft chair. But making tents, nests of pillows, or taking a flashlight into the closet may be more fun for the reluctant reader. However, put a limit on the amount of time spent on “settling.” There are some reluctant readers who will gladly spend hours constructing a three level tent.
Strategy: Brainstorm ideas about where to read, including what would be a safe place and what would be dangerous. If you choose to make a game of it, everyone hides in their reading place. (Mom or Dad knows where each reader is.) After a designated time, Mom or Dad chooses one reader to go find all the others. Sometimes you can rotate around the house into various reading spots. Take pictures. Have a contest: most comfortable, worst idea, most quiet place, least used, most used, smelliest . . .
And now we come to why.
Why do we read?
You’ve got to get beyond “Because I said so,” “Because it’s good for you,” and “Because you’ll learn something.”
Who in the world jumps into something because some authority figure makes this vague assertion that it’s good for you and you’ll learn something? Not me. Doctor says, dieting is good for you. I’m not buying that! My kids invite me to a rock concert because I’ll learn something. No way!
So how do you impress the whys and the wherefores on the younger generation? I’m afraid this goes back to our first example. You have to model why.
You look through a recipe book, reading to find a yummy new mealtime concoction. You study a gardening book to find the best flower for that shady spot next to the fence. Of course, reading is a significant part of your day. But are the kids aware? Make sure they make eye contact with the image of you, the parent, with book in hand.
Here comes the killer: you TALK about the fiction you read. Do you tell stories at the dinner table about things that have happened? Include the things that happened to the characters in the book you are reading.
“Mr. Miller came into work late today. He had a flat tire on the Trumbleridge overpass.” Yeah, that happened.
“George Mueller prayed for breakfast for his orphanage, and a milk wagon turned over practically at the front door” True, it happened. A long time ago, but just yesterday in the book the reader was enjoying.
“A ghost came into his bedroom and took him to a Christmas he’d experienced as a child.” Happened in a book, of course. But when you announce this “fact” at the dinner table with the same legitimacy as the account of Miller and Mueller, you validate the worth of fiction. You open a discussion.