This is my experience through the first five years. I haven’t technically achieved “raising readers” status yet in my house, so I’m writing from my gut, from my love of reading, and from a perspective that is evolving continually thanks to the different personalities of my own two little ones.
Stories have power. Reading gives people power. Power to choose. Power to believe. Or not. Power to ask questions; to consider different stories; to seek out different answers; to go back and forth between material to compare and contrast ideas; to go deeper, wider, further, farther, faster and wherever they want.
Here are some thoughts that have guided me so far.
- Set your expectations. Do you want to teach your child how to read or do you want to develop a child into a reader? You can do the first part with 20-minute reading assignments each day and a couple years in school. The second goal requires a bit more involvement, and straight-up patience, from you but will be more rewarding for both of you in the end. Decide now.
- Not liking a book is not the same as not liking to read. It’s okay to not like a book. Don’t discourage reading because a child doesn’t like a certain type of book. Talk about what they like or don’t like. Let them tell you. Assure them that it’s okay not to like a book and help them articulate why. Ask them how they would have told the story differently. Let them pick another one. They may not like the books that you like but, as long as you don’t find the content inappropriate, read them.
- The library is your friend. Going to the library serves at least two purposes. One: it gives children variety. If they don’t like the books from one week/month, they can find different books maybe even in different genres the next week/month. Two: it reinforces the idea that there are so many stories out there to read and take hold of and experience and absorb—more than they could possibly hope to read. And they have the power to choose.
- Being a reader does NOT mean that the only thing you like to do is read. Kids play. Let them play. Kids like TV. Let them watch TV. Kids like to play games. Let them play games. Reading needs to be part of this equation as well. Not an afterthought, not a forced chore, but something they consider as one of their opportunities for spending time during the day. Make it an obvious opportunity with books in as many places as you feel comfortable. Read in the car (if you’re not driving and it won’t make you sick). Read in the doctor’s office. Read.
- The oral tradition predates the written tradition. Tell stories. My eldest daughter for the first three years of her life was indifferent towards books. But she wanted me to tell her half-a-dozen stories a day. At one point we had the Disney Princesses visiting all of the Superhero hideouts and then the Superheroes visited the castles. Each visit was a story. At various time she requested stories about when I was growing up and when she was growing up, she requested Bible stories, and she requested purely imaginative stories. Her appetite for stories was insatiable. Powerful stories existed before books. And they exist outside of books. And you are one of them. Tell them. Help children see that stories are useful and fascinating and endless and boundless and magical and real.
- No one changed the world in twenty minutes. If a child learns to rely on quick sound-bytes for making decisions or only to learn about whatever comes on television they are limiting their present and future selves. They are abdicating their privilege of knowing how to pursue knowledge in favor of letting someone else tell them when and how and what to pursue. Not only does that severely limit their ability to investigate and analyze information it puts them at greater risk for accepting uncritically whatever someone tells them through any media source.
What would you add? What has been your experience with reading as a child or reading with your children?