I grew up in a small town, but because of the books I read, my world was enormous. I spent time in the English countryside, the Swiss mountains, Appalachia, Mexico City—not only the fantasies, but the memories I have from every period of my life are colored by the books I was reading at the time. A week spent sick in bed in 6th grade lives in my memories as partly my attic bedroom and the endless cups of tea my mom brought me, but also as the lively world of Prince Edward Island at the turn of the century; that was the week I read Anne of Green Gables.
Even as an adult, this pattern remains. A trip to Washington, D.C. to apply for a visa at the Spanish embassy a few years ago is blended in my mind with 1950s Illinois—on that trip I was reading Philip Deaver’s story collection Silent Retreats.
So how can you get your kids away from their devices long enough to immerse themselves in a book, not for school, but for pleasure? Here are a few tips.
Take Turns Reading to Each Other
After your child starts to comprehend the basics of reading, take turns reading paragraphs or chapters when reading together. If they need help with words, sound it out together and offer praise when they figure it out. Little self-esteem boosts like this tend to encourage reading.
Even when your kids are older, through middle school and junior high, continuing to read aloud can keep the joy and bond over reading together alive. If your daughter finishes a book, ask her to read you her favorite passages to you.
Ask Questions and Start Conversations
Just because a book is written for children doesn’t mean your child is going to clearly understand everything. Take a break between chapters or after a few paragraphs to ask questions and encourage side conversations based on what they’ve read so far.
Again, this practice remains useful throughout your child’s schooling, even when you’re no longer concerned about him or her understanding. Showing an interest in your child’s reading can be a way of talking openly, without seeming to pry into his or her private life.
Track Progress and Chart Achievements
Kids love to see visual evidence of accomplishments, so why not extend that concept to reading? Make a wall chart that shows how many books your child has read. If you want to get a bit more creative with tracking progress, consider something like a “reading Olympics” where your kids get medals for their reading accomplishments. Make the requirements for each “medal” something that can be easily achieved, such as having to read a certain number of books.
Outside of what’s required for school, reading shouldn’t feel like a chore—even books that must be read can be turned into a fun experience with a little creativity, but that’s a topic for another time. While you may want your kid to read the same cute stories you loved growing up, they may share your passion for “Good Night Moon” or the rhyming madness of Dr. Seuss. Offer choices of two or three age-appropriate books or even a handful of favorite magazines.
Go Beyond Books
Reading opportunities are all around. In addition to books, encourage healthy reading habits with word-based board games and card games like Scrabble, Apples to Apples, and Boggle.
There are plenty of added incentives to making reading a part of your child’s life as soon as possible. Neurologically, children absorb information and learn at a much faster pace during their first six years of life, so developing a love of reading early on is likely to turn into a lifelong habit. There’s also research suggesting that kids who learn to appreciate reading have increased self-confidence, especially when encouraged to do so outside of what’s required for school. And there’s no better way to add texture and experience to life without having to leave your couch.