When I taught elementary school, I loved helping kids find that book that sparked their interest. And the best time of day was after-recess read-aloud when sweaty kids, sprawled out across the classroom, would collectively lose themselves in a story. As a parent of two elementary-aged children, I find that same thrill in helping my kids build a positive relationship with books.
Raising readers requires regular tending — and sometimes a few creative hacks. If you are struggling to get your kids off screens and into books this summer, here are 10 ideas to nudge them toward the pleasures of reading.
- Family Read Aloud: Bedtime read aloud is a sacrosanct ritual. Even if evening tempers have been hot, we can end the day connected. Jim Trelease, the author of the Read Aloud Handbook, says that when parents read to their kids, it helps children associate reading with pleasure: “We read aloud to children for the same reasons we talk with them: to reassure, entertain, bond, inform, arouse curiosity, and inspire.”
- Take Your Pick: Choice helps kids invest in a book. At my house, picking the next family read-aloud is a (mostly) democratic affair. I bring in a stack of books and we read the first few pages of each before putting it to a vote — a weighted ballot. It’s a fun and messy process, not without sibling conflict. But we are arguing over books! And the losing titles almost always find their way to someone’s bedside table.
- Phone-a-friend: When my kid can’t seem to find the next right book — and are rejecting all my suggestions — I reach out to their friends’ parents. “What books have your kids enjoyed recently?” And that lets me say to my kids, “Hey, I hear so-and-so LOVED Real Friends and History Smashers.” Peer pressure at its finest.
- Remember that Audiobooks and Graphic Novels Count: I’m astounded every time I come across a post that denigrates audiobooks and/or graphic novels. Reading isn’t just decoding words on a page! It’s context-building. It’s responding emotionally to a character’s struggles. It’s building connections between literature and life. It’s forming pictures in your mind and reading pictures for context clues. Listen to books in the car. Let kids get hooked on that graphic novel series. These two forms of reading can be particularly helpful to kids with literacy struggles.
- Give a Gift: When my daughter lost her first molar recently, the tooth fairy left something a little extra — a homemade gift certificate “good for one book” at our local independent bookstore. I loved watching her browse the aisles, flipping through books, looking for that one she wanted to bring home. Reading is a sensory experience, literally and figuratively, and bookstores invite you to see, smell, and touch titles.
- Befriend the Children’s Librarian: I could be the president of the children’s librarian fan club. Story hour. Interactive programming. Seasonal and new book displays. If you aren’t in the habit of taking your kids to the library, you might not realize how much FREE (and, in the summer, AIR-CONDITIONED) entertainment can be found at your local branch. My kids love the officialness of having their own library card, and I am constantly in awe of the librarian’s ability to say, “Well if you liked that, you might also like these five books.”
- Shake up Place and Spaces: Let your kids build a blanket build a fort and take in snacks and books. Lay a picnic blanket under a tree for some after-lunch reading. Challenge them to create a “book corner” or “library” in a corner of the family room. Set up a tent in the backyard. Sometimes shaking up the physical space — in the name of reading — can inject a bit of excitement and delightful newness.
- Create Cousin (or Grandma) Book Club: My son became a reader during the first few months of the pandemic — and I give much of the credit to his reading Zooms with a similarly-aged cousin. A couple of times a week, they’d read books to each other over the screen. He hunted for titles he thought his cousin would like and practiced them in advance. I loved hearing them giggle over Mo William’s pigeon stories or Nat Geo Kids personality quizzes.
- Read to a Dog: Several bookstores and libraries will let you sign-up for a time to let your kids read to a trained comfort dog — an intervention technique designed to help readers build their confidence. Pets don’t correct you or judge you if you struggle to decode a word. If a real dog isn’t available, encourage young kids to read to a stuffed animal. As one educational therapist said, “The most important thing is to give the child some space so that they can read to their pet (even if it isn’t a real one) in privacy, which helps them to feel safe.”
- Let Them Choose YOUR Next Books: Can I share one more story? Last month, my daughter asked me what I wanted for my birthday. For years, I’ve told her: “Make me a card.” But I had just visited my favorite bookstore for the first time in months and was still feeling the rush. “I want books,” I said.
So the day before my birthday, my husband took the kids to a bookstore and set them loose to pick books for mom.
The next morning, they were so excited for me to open presents. “IT’S A BOOK ABOUT HUMMINGBIRDS BECAUSE YOU LOVE BIRDS!” my first grader shouted. “Can we read it together? Can we get a hummingbird feeder? Do you love it? Do you want to read it RIGHT NOW?”
When I opened two novels, my fourth-grader said, “You *always* read boring non-fiction stuff. These looked much more fun.” Their gifts were an insight into what they loved (hello animals) and into what they imagined I’d love. And it helped them view me as a reader — and not just of online articles — which research shows is key to raising readers.
For your next birthday, try asking your kids to get you a book. Your 3-year-old may present you with a Daniel Tiger board book, but the message will come through: reading is a *gift.*