Raising a Reader

I was a reader as a child. My favorite afternoons were spent on rainy winter days, sitting on the floor heater while it rushed hot air up my back, totally engrossed in some huge book. I am the kind of reader that gets very affected by the story, actually placing myself in the main character’s shoes, and then living out the rest of my day feeling as if the main character’s plight were my own. If it were a sad story, I was quiet and forlorn. If the character was angry, I got into fights with my sisters or my parents. If the character was in love, I walked on air and twirled circles in the living room. I was the old man cutting his weathered hands on the fishing line as he held on to the lively marlin pulling his boat in The Old Man and the Sea. I shimmied my way through garden parties in stylish hats and short bobs in The Great Gatsby. I felt the jealousy and rage over an overly perfect sister who got everything I ever wanted in Jacob Have I Loved. I felt like an outcast and made friends with spirits living in the bodies of dolls in Behind the Attic Wall. And to this day, I am still alive in the story I am reading, taking it with me long after I have shut the cover on the written pages.

Is it healthy to be so engrossed this way? Absolutely! The stories I read were my first glimpses into feelings and situations I had never experienced before. And it helped me to sort out feelings that I was already experiencing and couldn’t quite put a finger on. Besides, to be that affected by the story meant that the book was so well written I could relate.

Both of my kids are readers. My daughter is consistently in the middle of a large novel, sometimes even reading a couple in the same period of time. My son will read if there are no electronics to play. He is not allowed video games during the week and only 1 ½ hours a day on the weekends. He has since taken to grabbing a book and sitting quietly while thumbing through it. His reading vastly improved over the summertime thanks to some misbehavior that got his video games taken away for the whole summer.

At the Back to School night I attended this last week at my son’s school, the teachers were going over homework expectations. For a third grader like mine, they are expected to be spending 30 minutes on homework and then 20 minutes on reading. The teacher mentioned that many kids begin to enjoy this time. I watched as two moms with raised eyebrows looked at each other and shook their heads. It was obvious that their kids did not fall into this bracket. The truth is, MOST kids won’t fall into this bracket.

So how can you make your kid a reader?

Read to your kids. If nothing else, this is the most important. Even a newborn baby responds to your voice as you read. And even a 7th grader will enjoy that window of time when it’s just the two of you venturing off in an adventure in a land far away. Pick a comfortable and quiet area to read each night, helping your child to associate reading with feeling secure, relaxed, and loved. And when you read, capture the story in your voice. When the pace picks up, let your voice show it. If the character is an elderly woman, get that little old lady voice out. Have you ever listened to a lecture where the speaker spoke in an even, monotone voice? How easy was it to stay awake? A story is only as interesting as the storyteller makes it.

Be patient with your new reader. Let him read at his own pace, as painful as it may feel to sit through it. He’s still learning. Refrain from offering help unless he asks for it or if he is absolutely stuck. If he is corrected too many times he is liable to lose confidence in his own ability. With regular practice your child will be reading pages without stuttering in no time at all!

Discuss the story. Help your child to not just hear words, but to actually think about what is going on inside of the story. This develops a tool they will need for the rest of their lives – in school and in real life. By asking them how they think the character feels, or what the character should do or what might happen next, you are helping to develop your child’s skills of intuition and understanding. And when they are listened to as they share their ideas about the story, they are becoming more confident and at ease with speaking their own ideas out loud. Imagine the effect this will have in the classroom!

Always carry your young child’s favorite books with you wherever you go, teaching them the habit of filling time by reading a few pages. Bring the book out when waiting in line at the bank, when they are sitting in the grocery cart while you shop, sprawled out in the dressing room while you try on clothes…. By substituting a book during times they could potentially be bored, you are helping them feel that reading during downtime can make everything more interesting.

Encourage trips to the library. When I was a kid, the library was a magical place. There were shelves upon shelves of books. I learned how to find books by using the computers in the center of the library. And I found books that I never even knew existed. The library is free, and has lots of special events that go on throughout the week such as Toddler Time, Preschool storytime, After Nap Wiggle time, and “Read to a Dog”. Check out September’s calendar for the days and times of these events and more at Santa Rosa’s Central Library.

The best way to raise a reader is to BE a reader. Be a role model to your child and curl up with a good book now and then. When your child sees how much you enjoy reading, they are bound to follow suit and read on their own.

Speaking of reading, Saturday Sept 19th marks the date for the annual Sonoma County Book Festival in Courthouse Square. What a great time for the whole family to stock up their library, meet authors and writers, and check out numerous displays celebrating the literary arts. I know I’ll be there. Will you?


Have you read any good books lately?  Give other moms a mini book review on the forums at SantaRosaMom.com!


3 thoughts on “Raising a Reader

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  1. What a fantastic article! My girl is only 5 and she has always used books as way to ‘center herself’ even when a baby. She would sit with a pile of books and systematically ‘read’ them. I am a big reader and she has definitely imitated my behaviour.

    i also wanted to write a reply because as you noted in your article, dogs are wonderful assistants in helping children who are learning to read or who may need a little help being turned on to books. I wrote an article about this recently on my blog.

    i am also hopeful that parents with dogs might allow their children to read my book, Beef Casserole for the Dog’s Soul, to their dog since it is dog-friendly, (as in written to be read aloud to dogs) and family-friendly. Children are likely to get an extra-good response from their dog reading it – fun head tilting etc. from their dog which in turn makes reading even more fun in an unusual way!

    Forgive me plugging my book in a comment! I do it with all good intentions and love.


  2. As someone who, yes, is a born bookworm…I want to give an internet high-five for this article…and also share a few comments/ideas of my own.
    I think that all parents should encourage their children to read…it’s a wonderful world of awesome. My mom read to me every night — and not JUST simple, kid-friendly books…Lord of the Rings, Ivanjoe, Treasure Island (I’ve always had a weakness for fantasy and adventure…) and I grew up loving reading. I ALSO grew up with a pretty darn good vocabulary and decent spelling skills.
    However…if reading is forced, it’s a chore and something that a child will grow up shunning.
    One of the most successful tactics in my experience is to find books the young reader is interested in — I know this isn’t brain surgery or anything, but letting the child choose the book (or hey…letting the book choose the child, I suppose) means that the reading is a) something THEY are choosing to do and b) something that is interesting to them.
    Also, if reading looks cool, they’ll want to do it. I love to read and have awesome purple hair and cool clothes…and seeing ME reading all the time convinced my neighbor’s 10 year old daughter that reading might not be so square after all. I loaned her the first books in a couple series–Warriors and Series of Unfortunate Events–and she fell in love with Warriors. Now her mom has to convince her to STOP reading at night to go to bed, and everyone who will hold still gets filled in on the latest plot developments.
    I will rent myself out for a reasonable hourly price. 😉

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