Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Creating a Culture of Reading

Part of helping kids learn to read is creating a culture of reading. Even though you read read read to them, if you, yourself, aren't much of a reader, chances are very good that your child will grow up to be someone who regards reading as something you do only when you have to.

This may seem very obvious, but the first step toward creating a culture of reading in your home is to have books. I know ---DUH. But do you have books for you? Do you have magazines you like to read? Do you ever turn off the TV at night and just read? Are there books on your nightstand or beside the bed? If your house has kid books and nothing else, eventually your kids may decide that reading isn't something grown ups do.

Do you have bookshelves full of lovely, color coordinated books? If not, call Nate Berkus and have him get you a set up like this one:

Pretty, no? But probably not used. If you pulled one out to read it, you'd mess up the arrangement. I will tell you a hard truth: people who aren't readers have cleaner houses than those of us who love books.

Get some shelves for your kids' books and then put them where the kids can reach them. Make books available whenever they want them. Make a rule that unless you're tying a tourniquet or landing the space shuttle you will drop what you're doing and read to your child when they ask you to at least once a day. Notice that I am not saying you have to do this all day long. The laundry, the cooking, these have to be done, but they're not so critical that they can't wait 10 minutes while you read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

Take your kids to the library or the used book store and make a big deal out of it -- act like you're going to Disneyland...or at least act like you're going to Starbucks. Anticipation is everything. Make sure you get some books for you, too. Take them to story time at your library, or at your local Barnes and Noble. Don't take them to story time at Pottery Barn Kids. Totally wrong message.

Let them catch you reading. Read a magazine while you drink coffee in the morning. Or read while you dry your hair. Turn off the TV and read in the evening (say whaaaaa?). Read a book in the afternoon just before they come home from school so they walk in and catch you reading. I often read when I'm waiting to pick up my youngest from preschool. I read in doctors' offices, I read in the bathtub, I read before bed. My kids know I read.

Pretend you're in a book club with your kids. Read the same books and talk about what you're reading. Talk about what you liked or didn't, what surprised you, what you predicted. Recommend books to each other -- kids love to do this and they love it even more when you take their suggestions. My kids are always tickled pink when they see me reading a book they recommended to me.

Make them read for information. This is something you can do when they get fairly competent: have them read recipes to you, or directions to a specific location or for a specific task, or the announcements from the church bulletin, or junk mail that looks interesting.

All these things underscore the message that reading is important in your house. If you can also convey that it's enjoyable, even desirable, you will keep your child pointed in the right direction.

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