I love books and the worlds we enter through them. Books were a huge part of my family life as a child growing up. I remember the excitement of our weekly trip to the library and choosing new books. I remember cuddling into bed together reading stories with my parents and siblings. Sometimes I wonder at the joyful memories I have of books, when my own journey with learning to read was very different.
I have dyslexia. It was not diagnosed as a child, and I did not receive any formal assistance or intervention. This meant that my journey in learning to read was long, fraught with tears and frustrations. I felt shame at my inability to read and avoided reading out loud in class and other activities. However, my love of books remained.
I think this is testament to the passion for reading my family had and the focus on what reading brought you, not the task itself. Books were a portal to another universe, a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes, a way to learn about history, science, and anything you desired. Most importantly, books created moments of connection with my family: shared adventures, cuddles, and joint anticipation for what would happen in the next chapter.
I want to instil this same love of books and stories in my children. I hope when they grow up, they also have fond memories of being cuddled up in bed with their mum reading a book.
Here are my strategies to help children learn the magic of books:
Read to them
It doesn’t matter how old they are. Read to them. Even now as an adult, I love being read to. Don’t we all? Audiobooks and podcasts are popular for a reason. With younger kids this tends to happen more naturally as they cannot read for themselves. A lot of families have the wonderful bath-book-bed routine going. As children grow older and start to read for themselves, or seek more independence from their parents, this routine often fades away. With older primary school kids, try to pick an exciting novel that they will be into (a series is great) and make it a routine to read a chapter or two to them before bedtime (or in the morning, whatever time works for your family). If your kids are teenagers and this routine has been gone for a time, a way to re-engage in shared stories is to get an audiobook for a long car trip that you can listen to together. Gift them books, just because you thought they’d enjoy the book, not because it’s their birthday.
Let them see you read
As with everything in life, telling our kids to do something is only marginally successful at best. When we model the behaviour, kids see this and they naturally mirror us. So, read! With young children, let them know you’re going to read while they play for a period. Try to read a physical book as this is helps with the visibility of reading. If reading on a phone or tablet, however, let them see you choose your reading app and see the words and how to move to the next page when they inevitably come over to tell us their brother licked their foot or other important things. With older kids, try to read in a communal area, not hidden away in your bedroom. Let them see you reading newspaper articles, blogs, comics. Whatever reading you do, let it be visible. Invite them to come to the library with you, or offer to pick up a book for them.
Don’t force it
Don’t force or push reading. This is the fastest way to lose a child’s interest. Keep the routine of reading books at night, but don’t push them to stay. Let them walk in and out, or play with something else while they seem to be half listening. Let the time spent listening to you read be a positive time for them, not one full of terse words and rules. This goes for learning to read, too. I’ll write a whole other blog on this topic but, for now, if they are interested, you’ll know. They’ll ask you what a word is or point out words they know. Follow their lead, encourage them, but if they lose interest or resist, just drop it and resume reading to them. There’s a time for teaching reading, which is also really important, and a time to just enjoy reading together.
Talk about it
Make books and reading a talked about part of your daily lives. Talk about what you’ve read on your social pages or on news sites. Share exciting or interesting things you’re reading about over dinner or when driving in the car. When they ask you questions, if you don’t know the answer, turn to written words for the answer, even if that’s google. Read the answers together, talk about whether the answer was helpful or credible. With young children, explain what you’re doing: “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer, let’s look it up together. What shall I write as the question? Okay this site says the answer is….” Read the answer and let them know any possible gaps or concerns. When reading together, comment on what characters are doing and try to predict together what might happen next.
My aim is to create new memories; of being cuddled up in bed with my children, sharing imagination-filled pages of adventures to faraway places together. While on the surface this may seem to be just about the benefits of literature, it is also about the connections and relationship your child builds with you through it. I hope your family will also enjoy sharing the magic of a book together.