I don’t doubt that you can easily rattle off a few favorite book titles from your childhood, and what the words, characters, and adventures meant to you while growing up. And the joy is not lost on me that I now am able to revisit these long-lost friends through the eye of my children. Books are powerful, emotional tools that connect us, while also providing portals into entirely private worlds, ones that can be just right for your children to explore and, ultimately, grow from.
“Words are beautiful things. They hold meaning, they reveal meaning, and they give us the power to express meaning. Words are also keys that unlock the world. Every time we read a book to a child, we are holding out a new box of interesting and useful keys for them to collect…the variety of keys they find, by its very existence, hints at the wideness of possibility in the world.” Meghan Cox Gurdon’s book The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction is a treasure trove of encouragement. She gently nudges you to grasp the many benefits of reading to and with your children; I highly recommend. (Also, How To Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo offers easily digestible guidance broken down by age and reading stage, along with specific book titles they suggest.)
Remember, the end goal is not to force your child into becoming a voracious reader. But having a positive association with books—as opposed to seeing reading as boring and dull—is pivotal because so much of learning and knowledge stems from the written word. Here are a few easy ways you can incorporate reading into your daily practices, while also fostering the love of a good book in your children.
Model behavior. Just like with so many other aspects of parenting, your kids are more apt to buy-in if you are an eager and willing participant as well. Share the book you are currently reading. Hand over the tried-and-true tales you loved when you were their age. Carve out space to read on your own, and in front of your kids (yes, even moms deserve a brief couch-and-book respite at any hour in the day). Remember, enthusiasm is contagious.
Make book browsing a thing. Keeping books within reach at home, in the car, and anywhere kids are likely to spend idle time greatly increases the chance of actually reaching for said books. This also goes for leisurely time—spending an afternoon at your local library or independent bookstore opens up the freedom to explore new titles, previously loved series or characters, and topics kids want to explore. (I also love library book sales—it’s an inexpensive way to add to your home library while supporting community spaces.)
Empower readers, all ages and stages. JK Rowling said: “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” Reading shouldn’t be an exhaustive tally of how much, but rather a deep dive into what your child enjoys. If one book of a series sticks, head to the library and grab the next few titles. If you find yourself explaining tiger habitats over dinner, make a mental note and head to the big cats section next time, too. But this also means it’s more than ok to abandon a book that isn’t sitting right. Move on and grab the next best thing.
Talk about it. Chat with your children about what they found funny or scary or confusing in their latest book. “What’s so funny?” is a question kids usually love to answer. Talk about characters your child may have connected with and why. Discuss hard truths and decisions that needed to be made throughout the narrative. Books can be gateways to fantastic conversations and easy ways to get to know your child and his or her opinions on a different level.
Do it together. Make reading a habit. Try designating family leisure time together around the act of curling up with a good book (in lieu of movie night, perhaps). The emotional connection through spending uninterrupted time together is invaluable, whether you are reading aloud or side-by-side snuggled on the couch. Be attentive to each other, and curious about what they are engrossed in. It’s the gentle encouragement and curving out space that a child just may need.
And, bonus advice (which may be hardest to employ): Take a backseat (within reason). Ultimately, a love for the written word needs to come from a true place, so if your third grader only wants to read graphic novels, let him. If you kindergartener only wants Fancy Nancy books, fine. There will be plenty of time for guidance and suggestions about reading material from you, but for now, let them drive the literary bus.