When he was a toddler, I regularly had one of four Richard Scarry board books thrust into my hand with the accompanying sign - "book, book!" - one of the first signs that boy learned. I could read those things with my eyes closed (and often did, after particularly sleepless nights). I have vague recollections of hiding them once or twice, but they were his favourites and somehow they always worked their way back into our daily lives.
Kill me now.
We're still working on manners with this one. Instead of a polite sign, he just whacks the book against my hand until I give in and read it to him. I say "give in" because I can only cheerfully read so many books aloud in one day, and now I've got two of them constantly requesting that I read "just one more book, pleeeeease?"
Fortunately, the older one is well on his way to being able to read on his own. He has the desire and he's working on the technical aspects.
And yet I know that even when he learns to read, it won't - and shouldn't! - take away from the time I spend reading aloud to him. Reading aloud to children who are capable of reading on their own has numerous benefits, including bonding, building their attention spans, developing their listening skills, and encouraging imagination.
I joke about my kids' obsessive book requests, but truthfully I couldn't be more pleased. I love that they love books. I love books. Their daddy loves books. Maybe they never had a chance. But whatever the case may be, I want them to continue to love books. As such, these are the things we do in hopes of raising lifelong readers:
Surround them with books
In the bedroom, the living room, and the car, we surround our kids with books. They have bookshelves in their bedroom and baskets on the living room floor. We make regular trips to the library, and I can't imagine a Christmas or birthday without at least one gifted book. We want books to be an accessible and routine part of our day.
Go at their own pace
With babies, we don't try to read them books. We just look at the pictures, point things out, and let them flip forwards and backwards. When they're done, the book goes down.
As they grow, we follow their interests. Our trips to the library always begin with the question, "what do you want to read about this week?" Once we have an armful of interest-led non-fiction, we move on to the storybook section.
Expose them to variety
We encourage their interests, yes, but we also slip a few of our own selections into the stack of library books, introducing them to new ideas and whetting their appetite for more. In addition to a variety of subjects, we surround them with different types of books - picture books, chapter books, non-fiction selections, pop-up books, touch-and-feel books, and flap books.
We read aloud to our children everyday. It is one of our bonding times, snuggled together with a stack of good books. Our current habit is to read storybooks and non-fiction books during the day; at bedtime, they get one chapter from a longer book.
When reading aloud, we keep them engaged in the story by reading expressively. We use different voices for each character and adjust our tone, emotion and facial expression to match the storyline.
Read it again
Oh, I get so tired of reading the same books over and over (and over and over and over). But we do it anyway, because it has value for the child both in terms of enjoyment and development (memory, reading skills, etc).
Lead by example
Our own books are stacked around the house (who can stick to only one at a time?) and our children often see us reading. When my throat gets sore from reading aloud to the kids, I will pick up my own book and sit beside them as they continue to look at books on their own.
Limit screen time
Unlike reading, image-based screen time allows the brain to sit back passively. Too much of it will reduce a child's interest in the more demanding practice of reading. We have no television in our home, and movies are watched occasionally and enjoyed for what they are - an infrequent form of passive entertainment rather than a daily activity. A good foundation for reading can be set from the beginning by providing access to basic toys, such as a set of simple blocks, that encourage creativity and imagination, unlike their louder single-purpose electronic counterparts.
Well-developed reading skills will benefit our children throughout their lives. We want to lay the foundations by developing a strong love for reading right from the start. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some reading to do!
How do you encourage a love of reading in your home?