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Raising a child who reads

I am a proud mother.  I will brag about my kids any chance I get. They make me smile daily.  They bring tears of joy to my eyes with every accomplishment.  When they are truly great at something, I’m going to shout it from the rooftops for the world to hear.  Yes, I’m THAT mother.

One thing I absolutely love to talk about is the fact that my oldest is a reader.  Not just a “when I have to” reader. I mean a true “reads for hours just for fun” reader.  At 8 years old, he is not only reading a few years above the “normal” level, he has also developed a true passion for reading.

My husband and I can’t take all the credit for his reading abilities.  Simply put, he has a natural talent for reading.  Just like some kids are really great at math or a particular sport.  Perhaps an ear for music or an eye for art.  I have seen this, talking with friends who have kids who struggle to read. Their strengths lie in other areas.  Still, they want to know “our secret”.  Because even someone who isn’t naturally great at soccer can still learn how to play quite well.  It just takes a little more time and energy.  We are learning this with our youngest, who has much less interest in learning to read than her brother did at this age.

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Below are my “secrets” or tips that I’ve gathered over the years.  I’m not an expert.  I’m simply a mom who has made some observations, used a lot of trial & error and corrected a few of her own mistakes.

1) ENGAGE THEM – Ok so I’m a busy mom and I know how life can get sometimes.  It’s easy to pick the short book at bedtime or tell the abridged version by skipping a few sentences here and there (I admit guilt on occasion).  However, I have learned that engagement is key and you are only going to promote that by reading together, patiently, slowly.  Even before they can read themselves, don’t fear the long story.  Just make sure you are in a comfortable position before you begin.  Engage them by asking questions not just at the end of the story but throughout.  “Do you think that was very nice”?  “Which mouse is YOUR favourite”? “What do you think is going to happen next”?  

2) LET YOUR CHILD READ WHAT THEY ENJOY – Comics are OK!!  Stories about commercialized characters are fine.  Even if you cringe at the site of these books, if your kid loves them, then you need to suck it up and let them read it (or read it to them).  My son has always been a huge fan of comics.  He loves Pokemon stories and LEGO Ninjago books.  He even enjoys Archie comics.  Allowing him to choose his reading material has huge advantages.  While you may think that it will lead to them never reading anything of substance, I think it’s the exact opposite.  My son rarely chooses these comic books over a novel anymore.  Yes, he still enjoys them but if he only has enough money to buy one book, he is going to choose the novel that will take longer to read.  Okay, I admit, usually he talks us into buying him both the book and the comic.  😉

3) TAKE IT ONE STEP AT A TIME – Learning to read and to love reading can’t happen overnight.  It takes time and steps and a lot of patience.  Learn what works.  Perhaps consistency is key.  Or maybe your child gets bored easily and needs you to mix it up.  With our daughter, we are learning that she needs to work in small spurts.  Sight words for example, we only do two at a time.  Any more than that, she seems to zone off and learns nothing at all.  If we take our time and learn two at a time, we have found that she is more likely to retain them.  As long as they are improving (even slowly), it’s a positive step.

4) SET AN EXAMPLE – It doesn’t take a genius to realize that kids who see their parents read are more likely to take on reading as a hobby themselves.  This is incredibly true with my son.  He looks up to his dad and wants to be just like him.  While we both enjoy reading, my husband really reads, A LOT.  So it makes sense that from a young age, our son has enjoy sitting next to him on the couch reading.  When we are on long car trips, my husband prefers that I drive and one of the reasons why is so he can read.  Guess what our son’s favourite activity in the car is now?

5) MAKE BOOKS EXCITING AND REWARD READING – Books are full of fun stories and adventures.  What better way to fuel a kid’s imagination?  Play up reading like it’s the best thing since sliced bred. Make a trip to the library or bookstore a reward for good behaviour.  If your kid really enjoyed a particular book, give them another book in same series as a gift.  Have them give books to friends and family for birthdays so they can see that others enjoy receiving books as well. The whole reason my son started the Harry Potter series was because he wanted to watch the movies.  We made him a deal – when he completed the first book, he could watch the first movie, then the second, the third… and so on.  He also learned an unexpected lesson in doing this – that sometimes the book is actually better than the movie!

Five ways you can make reading fun:

  • Plan a reading date with your child; build a fort, grab some flashlights and read together.
  • Write silly stories together, then call someone in your family and have the child read the story to them.  Don’t fret if they want to use “rude” words.  Farts, boogers and stinky socks are totally acceptable when you are just having fun at home.
  • Take your favourite stories and change up the characters inserting your child’s name, or write an alternate ending and let them decide which ending they prefer.
  • Choose a book that has also been made into a movie.  Plan a family movie night for when they complete the book, complete with popcorn and milk duds of course!
  • Family book club.  Mom, dad, child… buy (or borrow) multiple copies of the book and everyone has to read it.  When you are all done, have a family discussion.

Would you consider yourself a reader?  What do you remember most about reading as a child?  Any tips to add?

xo – J

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Jenn Perry

The author Jenn Perry

Entrepreneur, Child-Wrangler and Domestic-Goddess-Wannabe, Jenn is a married, mother of two. She is also the founder of That's So Social and Editor in Chief of Travel Mavens. Likes: travel, eggs benedict, yoga pants, dogs, and Netflix.