This is Part 6 of a continuing series on encouraging young readers. These ideas were originally captured in a post that I did on my blog in 2007, 10 Tips for Growing Bookworms. Here at Booklights I'll be expanding upon and updating each idea, and adding links for more information.
Tip #6: Read yourself, and model an appreciation for reading. It's all very well to SAY that books and reading are important. But what kids notice is what you DO. If you turn on the TV during every free moment, and never have time to go to the library or the bookstore, your kids are unlikely to turn to books themselves. Terry just talked about this in her Dear Santa ... post last week. She said: "One of the easiest ways for us to get kids to see reading as just a regular part of their life is to catch us reading."
This especially important for male role models, because boys often think of reading as an activity that's primarily for women. Every time a boy sees his dad (or uncle, or grandfather) reading, whether it's a novel, a history book, a business plan, or the sports section, he absorbs a tiny message that reading is something that guys do. Those tiny messages accumulate over a lifetime, and create a strong base for literacy. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
So what do you do if you're not much of a reader yourself, but you want your kids to grow up as bookworms? One answer is: tell them the truth. "I didn't read much as a kid, and now reading is hard for me. Plus I feel like I missed out on a lot of great stuff. I want better for you." That's modeling an appreciation for reading. Cap that off by making sure that your child has plenty of books.
Also, remember that all kinds of reading count as reading, and make sure your kids notice whatever it is you're reading. Point out when you come across something interesting in the morning paper. Talk about how much you love a particular cookbook, or how much you learned from a how-to manual. Listen to audiobooks in the car on long trips, or on your regular commute, and tell your kids about what you're listening to. [Image credit: Microsoft ClipArt Gallery]
Another way of modeling an appreciation for reading is to have lots of printed material in your home, especially books and magazines. This shows that you think that reading is a valued activity. Subscribe to the local paper, instead of just reading the news online. If you're planning a family trip, bring home some guidebooks about your destination. If you're planning a household project, pick up some books or manuals about that. Fill your house with printed material, and take books and magazines with you everywhere you go.
There are always competing demands on our time. Laundry to fold, bills to pay, phone calls to make, shows to watch on the DVR. And, hopefully, books that we want to read. But here's the thing. If we always prioritize the other tasks, and we let the books get dusty on the shelves, how on earth can we expect our children to think that reading is a valuable way to spend their time? Pam has a great anecdote at MotherReader about an incident playing house with her young daughter one day. The daughter, as "the mommy", sat down on the couch with a book, and told "her child" to go play with her sister, and let "the mommy" read for a while. Pam is justly proud of this story.
Here's what I recommend. Over the holiday vacation, take some time out to read. I mean, how great is it that you can do something to help your kids, and have it be enjoyable for you at the same time? So, curl up in that armchair in front of the fire with your book, lose yourself in its world, and be a reading role model, all at the same time. Years from now, your children will thank you.