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10 Ways to Foster a Love of Reading

Thursday, January 31, 2013

 By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I have five children, all with different personalities and interests. They're each unique with special gifts and abilities. Over the years, I've wondered if it was too much to expect that each of my children would learn to love reading.

Shouldn't I be happy if one or two really loved it?

Whatever the case, I decided early on that regardless of the outcome, I would work hard to develop a house full of readers. I've wanted to believe that it's possible to foster a love of reading in anyone, no matter their interests, abilities, or personalities.

Of course my children are still fairly young, and the verdict is still out as to whether or not they'll really grow up to love reading. But here's the current status on each of them:

One of my twin teenage daughters gobbles up books, reading numerous every week. I've succeeded two hundred percent with her.

But my other twin daughter struggles with dyslexia, and so naturally reading doesn't come easy. She rarely finds books that hold her interest. Nevertheless, over the years I've encouraged her to read anyway. And although it might not be her favorite thing in the world to do, just last week when UPS delivered a package of books, she squealed because one of them was hers.

Rather than reading, my almost 16 year old son would rather be gaming, playing his guitar, hanging out with friends, or shooting hoops. But when he does pick up a riveting book, I have to pry it out of his fingers if I want him to do anything else. And if the book is in a series, he usually goes on to devour everything else available.

My youngest son (in fourth grade) showed absolutely no interest in reading in the past. Sure he liked the books we read together, but it's only been in the last year that he finally started reading in his free time. He recently finished the Magic Tree House series and loved them.

My second grade daughter would say that one of her favorite things to do is have "fruit snacks and stories with Grandma." She asks for a bedtime story every night and enjoys reading aloud out of her chapter books. I feel safe to say she'll be an avid reader some day.

Perhaps I haven't completely won each of my children over to true book-worm status. But I have been intentional about fostering a love of books and reading.

Here are just a few of the things I've done over the years to lay a solid foundation:

1. Have bookshelves in almost every room in the house, especially their bedrooms. Fill them to overflowing with a variety of kinds of books.

2. Get excited about and attend used book sales. I always made it a privilege to go and buy used books (held twice a year by our local library).

3. Listen to books on tape/CD. Because I'm so busy and need to multi-task, we have listened to countless books on tape/CD over the years. We almost always have a book we're listening to together.

4. Buy new books. For special occasions (i.e. Valentine's Day, birthdays, etc.) and just because. When all of my kids were younger, I ordered books through Scholastic. They loved picking out and getting the books every month. And trips to bookstores almost always resulted in a new book.

5. Go to the library a lot. Most weeks, we visit the library at least once. In the summer, we've always participated in the reading programs the library offers.

6. Get involved in book groups. We've done book groups with other families, getting together once a month to discuss books we're reading. And my kids have participated in book groups with other kids.

7. Read at all times of the day. Of course, when my children were just toddlers we got into the habit of reading bedtime stories, but we also read at many other times of the day as well.

8. Require a certain amount of reading time per day. Once my children were able to read independently, I always required a minimum of twenty minutes of reading per weekday. (Here's an infographic about how reading twenty minutes a day can help children become "A" students.)

9. Protect them from too much screen time. Yes, this has always been a battle with certain of my children. But I've persevered in setting limits so that they have plenty of non-screen time. Granted they don't always fill that time with reading, but at least they have the time for creative pursuits.

10. Model a love of reading and books. I think this is probably one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest. As the old saying goes, "More is caught than taught." If our loved ones don't see us with a book in hand, how can we expect them to hold one?

What about you? Do you think it's possible to foster a love of reading in any person no matter their interest, personality, or abilities? And what kinds of things have you done to foster a love of books and reading in your family? 

34 comments:

  1. I love your approach to teaching your children about reading. This is a wonderful article. Try as I might, I can't get my husband to read my books. If he reads anything apart from the newspaper, he will speed-read. In my opinin, this would negate all the hard work the author has done on getting each word right. ;-)

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  2. Oh, Jody, I've tried so hard to foster a love of reading using many of your same tactics: stuffing bookshelves, library sales, library trips, etc., but the verdict is still out with my 12 and 15 year old. When they were little, they looooved story time. Then they got to school (I know you homeschool so this isn't an issue for you) and had required reading plus AR tests, and I swear, that ruined it for them. It became more important for them to score well and read high-level books, and in return, I watched their love of storytelling slip away. :( However, my 15 year old daughter is coming around again, and with the variety of YA books available for girls, I think there is hope. But for my 12 year old computer-loving son, I'm not as optimistic. I just don't feel like the market for young boys (who aren't interested in fantasy or sports) is very good.

    Anyway, don't mean to turn this into a lament in the comments section, but I guess, to answer your question, I'm not sure if I will be successful, but I'll keep trying to RE-foster a love of reading in my kids. I'm looking forward to the comments today to see if I can pick up any tips from other parents.

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    1. Hi Barb, I can relate to what you're going through with your older kids. There comes a point in our children's education where they just don't have as much time for "pleasure" reading and have more "required" reading. I'm experiencing this more with my older kids who are in a co-op now (so a situation where they're partly in a class room with other teachers and still partly homeschooled. Their other classes and teachers require some tough books and tough reading. In fact, last year my oldest had to read Greek classics that made me cringe at the thought of reading. :-)

      All that to say, I can relate to what you're going through to a degree. I'm guessing our children will go through a stage where the required school readings may take up too much time and energy and leave them less time or desire for pleasure reading. But if we've laid that foundation, my hope is that perhaps some day when they get through the bulk of school, they may come back to that love of reading? I don't know. We shall see! :-)

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    1. Thank you, Francene! I appreciate it! :-)

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  4. I've done all the things you mentioned. Number ten carried the greatest weight with my son. My husband and I are avid readers and (if I'm not writing) we always have a book in hand. Now that he's nine, we have family reading time each night before bed, all three of us snuggled up with our books and each other. It's my favorite time of day.

    I've provided that child with hundreds of books over his short lifetime. The trick to getting him to actually WANT to read on his own was to find books that blew him away. For him, it was Captain Underpants. Not fine lit, but it was a start.

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    1. EXCELLENT point, Kerry Ann! I've done that too. I haven't pushed MY style of books onto my children or even books that I've thought met a certain "standard." Instead I've allowed them to read stories that captivate them. With my oldest that meant he read the entire STAR WARS series for youth all one zillion of them. :-) And it also meant he read every Hank the Cowdog too (although I have to admit, those are really cute). No they're not classics. But they got my son reading. And now, even though he doesn't make the time to read as much as I'd like, he will still read and enjoy it when he gets a book that grabs him.

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    2. I love Hank the Cowdog! I read it when I lived in Texas at about fourth grade, and I have a fond spot in my heart for the series. :)

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  5. One tip I saw just yesterday was to have a snug corner of the house devoted just to reading - have pillows and blankets and cushions there to make it comfortable, and keep it just for reading time, to help make reading feel like something special. I'm not sure how well that would work with older kids, but I tried it for my two, and the five-year-old promptly started reading to the three-year-old (five minutes later, they were mad at me because I wouldn't let them bring their toys in and start playing there, but hey. Even five minutes of unprompted reading time is a win at this stage).

    As they get older, I know one of the things that always thrilled me was when my mom pulled a book off HER shelves and said "Here, I think you're old enough to appreciate this now." Made me feel so mature, and always more willing to give that book a try even if it was out of my usual interest range!

    I also think it's important to keep reading to your kids even after they're old enough to read on their own. I know of some families who still read books aloud before bed with their teenagers, and I honestly think that's awesome, if you can make it work. Fosters both closeness between parent and kid, and a love for story!

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    1. LOVE your ideas, Louise. We've tried to have special "reading" places in our house too, comfy blankets, beanbags, special chairs in their rooms. And snuggling up and reading is a wonderful thing to keep doing!

      And I really like your idea of "saving" books for a certain age and making those a privilege. We do that with movies, and I like the idea of doing that with books too. Thanks for the idea.

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  6. I am a a reader. My husband is a reader. Two of my three kids--are not. My "kids" are 22 and 20, so I'm speaking from experience here. Oh, they read what they must for school, but never for pleasure. I did all I could, but it they don't enjoy reading as a leisure activity. It isn't their bent and I can't feel guilty over that. They are grown ups now, making their own choices. However, I do take hope in the fact that my sister was never a reader, either, until she was grown, married and had several children. Somewhere in all that chaos, she started to read and hasn't stopped! So mothers everywhere don't despair! Do what you can but don't push so that they hate it. Love them for who they are and the choices they make. Who knows, like my sister, they may eventually come around. I hope that happens with my two oldest, but if it doesn't, that's okay, too. :)

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    1. Hi Anne! Thank you so much for sharing from your experience! My kids are still so young that like I said, I don't know yet how they'll turn out. I wonder how they'll be in a few years when they're on their own. Do you think that part of it is that when they're in their early twenties they're just SO busy with life and work and school that they don't make the time? Perhaps when life settles down for them a bit, they may enjoy reading more? I don't know. Or maybe when they have their own kids they'll start to see the value of it again? Not sure, but you're right. However they turn out is perfectly okay! We can only do the best we can as parents. The rest is up to our kids to make their own choices.

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    2. No, I really don't think it's a time issue. They just don't choose reading, even when they have breaks from school. I'm hoping that will change as they get older, but maybe not. They are both very social. They are talkers and doers. Sitting and reading just isn't their style, in spite of how they were raised.

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  7. I come from a family of 4 kids and we are ALL readers. So are both of my parents. But my husband is not. Both of his parents are avid readers and while it may be something we can try to foster into our kids...kids are different. They aren't all going to love reading. I do believe doing all these things mentioned can go a LONG way though. But there are too many other things competing for kids attention these days. Most important is limit media time. This is spoon-fed entertainment. Reading takes a little more work...but oh so worth it!

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  8. Boy, can I relate to this post. I have 3 kids and we go across the spectrum. My oldest, a daughter, devours books like her mama. My next child, a son, would rather play computer games, but he's a great reader and recently found the Ranger's Apprentice series and is actually toning down the computer time to read more. Victory!

    My youngest, also a boy, has always struggled with reading. He had a lot of ear infections as a child, and his hearing was affected during those key stages of language development. It took him longer to learn his ABCs, he doesn't enunciate words very well, and reading is just a chore. He's in 5th grade and we're doing the AR thing in school, and I struggle to find books that will hold his attention. I never thought I'd be the mom that bought all the Fart books, but little boy humor is a win for him, so that's what I get. However, just yesterday, he finished reading one of those illustrated classics that are condensed and written at a younger reading level will lots of pictures. I wasn't sure how well he would get into The THree Muskateers with all the French terms. But he loved the action story. And when he finished, he came into the kitchen and said, "Mom, that was the worst ending EVER." Oh, no, I thought. "What happened," I asked. He looked at me and said, "It stopped." He was sad that the book was over. I nearly cried. My boy is starting to enjoy books!

    I do all I can to encourage without nagging. He and I will have reading time together where the two of us sit on my bed and read our respective books. He can ask me to help him with words he doesn't understand, and he gets the bonus of alone time with mom, which adds to the motivation. I also praise him a lot when he brings home good grades in reading or when he does well on an AR test. It's work, but as I learned last night, so worth it!

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    1. Hi Karen,

      Oh it's GREAT to hear your success story! It brought tears to my eyes! What a precious moment for you!

      Like Kerry Ann said above, we have to put books into their hands that really captivate them. And for each child that's going to be so different depending on their interest and personalities.

      Over the years we've collected every Box Car Children book out there because one of my daughters was into mysteries. But none of my others have liked them. And we have every Star Wars book out there too. And every Magic Tree House. And American Girl. All of my children have liked different things and that's okay.

      The point, is to keep trying until you find something that your child likes. I'm still working on that with my fourth grade son. Now that he's done with the Magic Tree House books, we're trying to find other books that he can latch onto.

      It's hard work to keep encouraging without nagging! But you're right, it's so worth it! :-)

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  9. Hey, Homeschooling Mama, have you read Donalyn Miller's THE BOOK WHISPERER yet? Though she writes about teaching in the classroom, I'm convinced you'll love it. It is a spectacular look at giving children choices when it comes to reading and to living the reading life alongside them.

    I cannot stop talking about it! Really and truly gorgeous.

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    1. Sounds like a fantastic book, Caroline! I'm going to have to check it out!! Thanks for the tip!:-)

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  10. My best friend has Dyslexia, but one of her friends and I both love reading. We wanted to share so we read out loud to her all through high school, watched foreign movies and read the subtitles for her (Taking turns so we could catch our breath!). Now she adores reading and often asks for recommendations. She's working on The Song of Fire and Ice series right now, and her mother in law reads out loud parts that stump her for her. A love of reading will push past obstacles, in my experience, so have hope. :)

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  11. Hi Jody!

    Great ideas to encourage reading. All of our four children (and all homeschool graduates) are readers, and I'm so thankful. There's nothing else that comes close to enriching your world than reading, is there?

    I despaired when my middle son was younger, though. He just didn't like to read - until he discovered non-fiction. He breezes through books that put me to sleep just reading the back cover! His favorite are military history and political science, but he'll pick up books about economics, too. Believe it or not, he reads these books for fun on top of his classwork as a poli sci major.

    You just can't predict what will capture their interest, can you?

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  12. Great ideas, Jody. When my oldest first started school, his teacher required him to read 30 minutes every day-he was just learning to read! It has paid off. The kid loves reading and has always done well in school because of it.

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  13. I'll put on my teacher hat now and echo your advice. As I was reading your list I thought you were going to miss one of the most important ones--read yourself and let your children see you reading--but you didn't! I used to tell my children at bedtime that they could go to sleep or they could read for a half hour and then go to sleep. Guess which they chose?
    I also suggest letting your children choose their reading material most of the time. I read comic books and Nancy Drew as a child as well as other, more 'suitable' material.

    It's important to get the reading level right. High interest-low vocabulary books are available so that a child at a lower reading level is not forced to read 'babyish' books. They usually recommend that the main characters be similar age to 2 years older than the target reader. On a final note, a lot of boys prefer non-fiction.

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  14. I love all the things you did about laying a solid foundation for reading!! I love to read and pray that my youngest son does too!

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  15. This is absolutely an interesting technique to let children read the books and make it a habit in the process. I am not married yet but I was thinking of my cousin sisters that I would really want them to have a habit on reading a book.
    Thank you Hedlund!
    Have a nice day!

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  16. Do I think it's possible to foster a love of reading in everyone? Nope. Some people just aren't into reading, for whatever reason. And really, that's their choice. Personally, I don't get it, but if we all loved the same thing, the world would be pretty boring.

    My daugther (who's 8), doesn't love reading. She can read anything you put in front of her, but she loses interest before getting too far through a book. I don't worry too much about it, to be honest. So long as she CAN read, whether she wants to or not is up to her. Currently, she reads for other purposes (to find something out, learn how to do something, or how to play a computer game etc), but not for pleasure. Who knows what the future will bring.

    We have lots of books in the house, and I constantly order new ones (which she gets excited about), she goes to book club at the library, and has an ebook reader on her ipad. Beyond providing books and reading materials if they're wanted (and loving them myself), that's all I can do. We don't require a certain amount of reading, or limit screen time (there's a lot of reading involved in using comptuers anyway). Given my daughter's personality, requring reading would be the surest way to make her hate it!

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  17. Jody - There's a really cute series my 5th grader has enjoyed but the reading level is foruth. The Dragonsbreath series by Ursula Vernon. We stumbled across these in a bookstore during the summer and he's read most of the series by now. They have losts of pictures and text bubbles that give it that comic book feel without being a true graphic novel. Lots of humor that little boys love. At least mine. Maybe your kiddo would like them.

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    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Karen! I'm always searching for books to put in his hands! Sounds like a good series! :-)

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    1. Sorry Jody, technical issues on my end are a beast today-

      I think differentiation between teaching practical reading and pleasure reading is key to helping the process along in a positive way.

      Like our writing, reading is a process, too, Jody.

      While we make strides to foster this passion in grade school and even at the middle school level, by high school onward, unless you were blessed with a progressive, ahead-of-their time English teacher, we treat the learning process like a graduation factory.

      As much as people joke or seriously commentate on the troubling student dropout rates in the U.S., and while I'm not denying or belittling the issue, treating kids and teens like soulless robots is not the answer.

      At best, we're just teaching them how to bare hardship (Academic or otherwise) but we're NOT teaching them to LIVE.

      I often fear we're turning our backs to kids and teens when we try to teach them the mechanics of reading, but not the joy from it. Especially when the books on the required reading list are not something, they'd enjoy or read by choice. While there are exceptions, we need to allow kids and teens to like the books they like, even if we have to include certain books in the school curriculum.

      For example, if the "Common Core" standards had been in effect when I was in primary/high school, I'd be forced to read a LOT of nonfiction, and that wasn't my preference as a kid, I preferred fiction, and still do today.

      But I now do have a growing library of nonfiction books I've read, re-read and love, but I wouldn't have developed that love if nonfiction had been force-fed to me like parents feeding "insert your child's most hated green vegetable here" in Victorian Suffragette fashion

      That said, whether they find the joy or not is ultimately up to them, as Rinelle pointed out above. We of course should make sure they could technically read what they need to. But give them the freedom to read for pleasure on their terms.

      It took me until 14, and it wasn't until 16 that I truly fell in love with books, never mind the decision to be a writer myself, and all before I was 20, it was the closest feeling I got to actually graduating, if you've any idea what I mean.

      Not trying to scare you, Jody, really, but sometimes it takes time. Just make sure your kids are exposed to the variety, not just what their friends or teachers recommend. A lot of the books I read in my teens were things others my age group would've found "kiddie."

      I had to keep my love of animal fantasy a secret for fear of the teasing I'd get if it ever got out. I was already being bullied for my high-pitched voice, emotional personality, and not being "manly" enough. I didn't need further torment for reading books aimed at younger kids, and not because I had problems reading technically, I'd just rather read MG novels more than the YA novels I found too scary or the snarky narrators annoyed me to no end.

      Now it doesn't bother me to talk about my life of those stories, and I do read other genres now, but Poppy, Despereaux and the like were my gateway to pleasure reading, the way Capt. Underpants, LOTR, and HP (Even Twilight) are for kids and teens today.

      Some of my favorite children's books (Especially picture books, that I'm not able to write well, at all!) are books I WISH I'd known about as a child, but I read and love them now anyway, I think that still counts for something. Wouldn't you agree?

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  20. I'm so happy to see my three adult children reading, and their children reading, too. No, they don't all devour books, but they enjoy spending time with them. One daughter is a book hoarder like I am, and a writer of YA novels; the other daughter is a teacher (at one time a school librarian) and an avid reader; and our son generally only reads during his vacations. When they were young I bought lots of good children's books to make sure they were available, but when it came to weekly library trips, I let my children choose their own books. They read a wide variety and eventually developed their own preferred genres. If you begin when children are young, I think reading aloud together is one of the best encouragers there is.

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  21. I am having some of the same struggles with my 8yo. After having four voracious (and very early )readers who would rather read than eat, my #5 child was a complete enigma. He, too, displays some dyslexic tendencies, so for now, I'm pretty much with him when he is reading. Honestly, the whole situation sort of threw me for a loop, and I've had to re-group 150% when coming up with strategies to help him learn to read successfully. Thankfully, I discovered the Orton-Gillingham method, and his reading fluency/comprehension has improved dramatically. Ironically, he has a phenomenal memory and has always loved books, and he would spend hours LOOKING at them--especially books about the Titanic and World War II. But he wouldn't try to read them. He would get so frustrated. Now, I am on a mission to find books on those kinds of topics that he can successfully read on his own. Not always easy! Great post and lots to ponder!

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    1. Hi Amy,

      I think the key is that we do the best we can. Each child is SO different in how they learn, their interests, etc. So while we may not be able to make avid bookworms of each of them, hopefully we can at least instill a love of learning and an appreciation of books! All that to say, I think 8 is still pretty young. My 9 yo is still just getting on track with reading. I was thrilled this week to hear him say how much he was enjoying his Star Wars book because it was like being right there with everything happening. I take hope in the small victories. :-)

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  22. Thanks, Jody. After re-reading my comment, I realized my 8yo is actually a 9yo now! Birthdays sneak up around here. :) But yes, taking hope in the small victories is what keeps us going. Absolutely!

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