If you find yourself reading this post, chances are you and your family place a strong value on raising passionate readers. You understand that learning the mechanics of reading — identifying letter sounds and sounding out words — is the key to unlocking a whole new world of joy, adventure and knowledge. So how do you encourage your little ones to master the challenging skill of reading without losing the wonder and excitement that makes reading so delightful in the first place?
People ask me all the time how to raise passionate readers. I remind them that it has nothing to do with how many books a child can read in one sitting or how many words she can decode at age 4. A great reader is someone who delights in the sounds of new words, associates reading with pleasure and adventure and craves the joy of curling up in a cozy nook and losing herself in a story.
Any child can become a passionate reader when encouraged properly. Here are a few tips I've come up with over the years as a mother and an educator. I hope they will help your family.
Start reading to your child as early and often as possible. Look for opportunities to read together in the course of your daily routine. After all, stories aren't just for bedtime! Try a breakfast read-aloud or a rub-a-dub bathtub story, encourage big brother to read to little sister and so on.
Don't put away the picture books too soon. Many children who have just learned to read gravitate toward big-kid chapter books, but parents do well by their emerging readers when they keep bringing out those classic picture books. Often, the vocabulary and language encountered in a Maurice Sendak or Kevin Henkes story are far more sophisticated than what can be found in a chapter-book series.
Never pressure a child to read before she's ready. In our ultracompetitive world, we often want our children to do everything on the same schedule as the child next door. Children develop as readers at different paces, and it's important for parents to allow that development to take place in a safe, no-pressure setting. Encourage and praise, but never push. It doesn't work, and frustration is an enemy to reading.
Invite participation. Most young children are eager to participate. Ask questions about the characters, discuss how you think the book is going to end before you reach the conclusion and have the child describe what he sees in the illustrations.
Surprise your child with an occasional book for a gift or take a trip to the library. Sneak a book under your child's pillow or plan an after-school visit to the library — followed by ice cream with sprinkles, of course! This is a wonderful way to connect reading with joy.
Create a wonderful reading space for your child. Find a comfortable corner in your home that is warm, inviting and well lit. Have a shelf or container that allows your child to pick from a variety of books. Make sure it is accessible and easy to reach.
Take advantage of free story time. Bookstores and libraries often have free story time once or twice a week. If you don't have a local offering, why not create a story time with some fellow playgroup moms? You can include it as part of your normal weekly playgroup meetups, or you can create a separate day dedicated just to story time. You can take turns hosting story time at home, or you can get together at a park.
Note: The Learn with Homer app (available in the iTunes app store) is another great way to get your children excited about reading. The new Homer holiday pack will be released Dec. 6.