5 Strategies for Creating Readers

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Studies abound on the benefits of reading.  Losing yourself in a novel improves brain connectivity and function Fiction improves our emotional intelligence and teaches us empathy. Reading is one of the mental activities that can help prevent dementia.

But beyond the research, how do we help our children become readers?

Obviously, there’s no magic pill, but here are my tips for promoting reading in our homes.

1.  Let them see YOU reading.

If your kids see you surfing the web in your free time, they’ll think that’s the thing to do.  Instead, let them see you pulling out a book. Make sure there are books for you (not just for the kids) in the library basket.  I always forget to order books for myself, but if I keep a list in my phone of books my friends recommend, it’s more likely to happen.

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2. Spend time at the library.

Libraries are like candy stores full of books.  Sure, there are DVDs there (and why are they always put at the front these days?) but we make those rare treats and spend most of our time browsing the book shelves.  It’s easier to sell reading time as a family activity when we have something new to offer.  And who can beat free?

Growing up, the librarians at our local branch library knew all my family members by name and with time, they knew our tastes as well.  They even pulled books they thought we might like and set them aside for our weekly Tuesday night library visit.

3. Turn off the TV.

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4. Read to your kids.

This one seems obvious, but when there’s a sink full of dishes and a list of phone calls to make, it’s easy to minimize the importance of it.  Little ones LOVE to sit on your lap and read. Even before they can understand a story, they love the sound of your voice.  Reach Out and Read has a great list of suggestions for choosing age appropriate books for young children.

Big kids still love to be read to, even when they can read independently.  Sharing books together builds a shared family lexicon and set of jokes.

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5. Use audio books.

Even if your children aren’t doing the reading themselves, they are building muscles of attention and imagination as they listen.  Those skills will help them accomplish all sort of other tasks not limited to reading.  Here are some of our family’s favorite audio books

6. Look for books with Large Print.

Some children find too many words on the page overwhelming.  Large print books (or adjusting the font on your e-reader) can solve this problem.
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7. Invest in a reading lamp.

When we went on vacation as a family growing up, my parents would pack their own light bulbs, because everywhere we stayed had 40w bulbs, which are too dim to read by.  Planting a light next to the comfy spot on the couch will make that a perfect spot for reading.  Another option: a flexible clip light (which makes a great stocking stuffer). Product Details

What did I miss?  Add your suggestions in the comments.

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A School-Reading Overhaul

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We were in a rut. Maybe that happens to you, too (please say it does!).  Around here, my children learn the drill and how to manipulate it to require the least amount of effort from them.  In the past, I’ve asked them to read by time (anywhere from 10 minutes to 60 minutes a day), or a book a week, or a number of pages. Once I created a summer reading program with rewards and prizes. All of those had the effect of encouraging the children to read, but not to read for content.

Here we are, waiting in the Guatemala City bus depot…
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When we were in Guatemala, we took several long bus trips on aged greyhound buses that served bologna sandwiches and showed 1980’s movies.  Two of the movies were inappropriate and terrible, but one of them was fantastic.  It was the story of Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon.  As inspiring as he was, his mother really impressed me and Sam, and in an effort to emulate her, we’ve made a few changes around here.

Here is a link to the Gifted Hands excerpt that impressed me most.  (The part to which I’m referring is from 0:40-1:38).  In short, Ben’s mother turned off the TV and insisted that her children read two books per week and give her written reports.  Ben Carson’s reading wasn’t just novels (inspiring or not) but also biographies and non-fiction.  In fact, one of the books he checked out was on obsidian, a rock we learned about in Guatemala.  It was a sign. (Cue suspenseful music.)

Sign or not, in January I implemented our new reading plan.  Each week, the children have to read at least 4 books: 2 biographies, a non-fiction book, and a “free” book, which is usually a novel.  Jonah obviously reads lots more, but 4 is just right for Owen and a bit of a stretch for Moriah.  Their daily writing assignment often comes from the previous week’s reading.  I have received narrations of biographies of Saint Patrick, Clara Barton, Henry Bergh, Dolly Madison, Joseph Chevalier de Saint-George, Betsy Ross, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Tubman, Brother Andrew, Rosa Parks, Philippe Petit, and Benjamin Franklin.  They have chosen to read about poisons and venoms, ice planets, tornadoes, Saturn, rocks and minerals, Saudi Arabia, basketball, ballet, architecture, fungus, and cheetahs.

It has worked best to go back to the library frequently. The children know where the biographies and NF books live, and the boys happily go to pick out their own books.  Moriah needs a little help, so I let her find her “free” book while I choose a selection of biographies and a few non-fiction books that might tickle her fancy.  Often these are the books the stuffed animals choose to read.
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I’m sure this won’t last forever, but right now it’s working and I’m happy with it.

What’s working (or not) for your learners?

Fostering Reading

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I come from a family that loves to read.  A good night for my family would be one in which we were all curled up in comfy chairs in the living room with a book.  The silence was punctuated by someone saying, “Can I read you this part?  It says…”  I want that for our family, but we’re not there yet.  So how do we get there?

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Here are a collection of suggestions to foster reading in our families.  Please add your suggestions in the comments!

  1. Turn off the screens.  Don’t let reading be the last thing you do at night– let it be the first thing.
  2. Invest in comfy chairs.  Nothing beats a squashy chair and a fuzzy blanket to promote getting lost in a book.
  3. Buy good lamps.  Sorry, but a can light in the ceiling isn’t good enough.  A lamp over your shoulder is the best thing for seeing your book. 100-watt bulbs. Failing that, a headlamp for reading under the covers will work.
  4. Go to the library. Frequently.  It took us a few trips to get familiar with where our favorites are at our local library, but now we know where the books are. (Hint: they are behind the prominently displayed DVDs.)
  5. Cultivate a librarian.  Growing up, we had 2 librarians who loved our family.  When a new book by one of my dad’s favorite authors came in, Wendy set it aside for him until he came in (every Monday and Thursday.)  They knew what I loved to read and were thrilled to share their favorites.  We are missing the librarian we just left at our old library: she was the one who introduced us to The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Here There Be Dragons.
  6. Read to your little ones.  Read the same book over and over and over to your baby.  She doesn’t care what the words are– she just wants to sit on your lap and hear your voice.  But your toddler wants to hear the same book over and over and over.  Don’t give up, even if you can’t. stand. to. read. it. one. more. time.
  7. Read to your preschoolers.  This is when we can branch out to longer books, more engaging stories.  Winnie the Pooh. Beatrix Potter.  Use silly voices.
  8. Keep reading to your elementary school children.  Sure, they need to read alone… but they still need to snuggle with you and soak in the good stories. (See #2.)  Recently I read where Charlotte Mason recommended against reading to older children “lest they get lazy.”  I disagree.
  9. Use books on CD.  Some of our favorite books are ones we listened to in the car.  It sure beats bickering about who’s looking out someone else’s window.
  10. Keep several books going yourself.  Books are like vegetables: if your children see your enjoyment of them, they will crave them as well.
  11. Read as a family.  The books we read together are like friends.  We talk about them often, referring to them like family.  “What you did then was just like Lucy, when she recognized Aslan.”  Don’t give your older kids an out– secretly they want to be included, even if they pretend to be too cool for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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But here is where I need you to weigh in: how long should someone be allowed to read independently at bedtime?

  • a) 20 minutes max
  • b) till the end of the chapter
  • c) till a fixed hour
  • d) till their headlamp batteries run out?