It all started with a bit of advice. When I was carrying the boys, my husband received a bit of advice from a colleague who shared his name Michael. Mike, I’ll call him, had raised three daughters with his wife who was a teacher in the Massachusetts Public School System. He told, my Michael, ” I have three things to share with you about raising kids. Read to them, read to them, read to them.” That was his advice. It seems so simple. Take the time each day to read to your kids. I think what he was saying is that it is more than that.
Read at anytime of the day. We read to our sons. Quite a lot actually. We read before nap-time, we read before bed. We always had books out and about and when they wanted a story, we read to them. We took books with us on errands. We read picture books, we read chapter books. We read books without pictures to them as early as 6 months old. When you read to your child your voice is soothing, is full of laughter, is engaging. They may not know words at that young an age, but they know you.
ABC’s. To raise a reader, they need to know their ABCs. We all remember reciting the ABC song. Kids memorize it all the time. What I noticed was that many kids sang the song quietly to themselves in order to identify a letter when asked. Interesting. Our sons had alphabet blocks, foam alphabet puzzles and lots of paper and crayons. We never really taught them the Alphabet song, we taught them the alphabet. We showed them what the letters were, individually. We showed them that you could put them together to make words. And we read to them. We didn’t push them to be something they weren’t, we just gave them the opportunities to learn. It must have worked. At 18 months, our son surprised us by pointing to the letters on my husbands shirt and saying them. P-A-C-K-E-R-S. Crap! he was right! By their two-year check-up both boys knew all their letters, shapes and sizes.
Where did we go from there? We just kept on reading to them. I started to keep a list of books that they really liked simply because other parents would ask. We lived in Edmond, Oklahoma by then and the public libraries had a wonderful inter-library loan online program, much like our library system here in Snohomish County, WA. I would take the boys to Barnes & Noble, they would find books they liked and we would write them down and then get them through the library. You don’t have to have a lot of money to raise readers, you just need to make use of your resources available. You also have to read to them.
- If your library has reading contests, most do in the summer, enroll your kids in the program. At our library, the kids were able to pick out a new book when they reached a certain level. They got excited about winning the prize, a book!
- Give books as gifts and treats instead of toys. We love our families, they were especially generous at birthdays and holidays, but our sons were born 6 weeks before Christmas. It was too much. After age 3, we asked that they give our sons smaller gifts and then if they insisted that they had to “keep things even between the grandkids,” we asked that they simply put the remaining money on gift cards to bookstores. Our sons loved that they could go to B&N, find books they wanted to keep and then “pay” for it themselves. We also gave books as gifts to other kids.
- Don’t look down your nose at trading cards like Pokemon. If your child loves Pokemon, but doesn’t like to “read” then why not encourage them by getting them a pack of the cards and teaching them to read the cards and what it says. Before you know it they want to read. If you teach them to battle, they learn math at the same time. Dang, that’s a win-win! Trolls, Princesses, Transformers, Legos….whatever they are focused on, use it to encourage them to learn to read and they won’t even realize you are doing it!
- When your child wants to hear yet another story about dinosaurs, don’t roll your eyes, read to them. When we went to the library we would let them pick out their own books to take home. We limited them to 10 books each. I would then also pick out 10 books I thought they would enjoy for us to read together. It was always interesting to see what they would pick out. Zach loved dinosaurs. So we read about dinosaurs. Josh loved learning. He would pick out entire sections of the small learning books based on a subject. So we read about each planet and the solar system or each individual body system. Life was not dull.
- Have a stubborn child or one who throws a tantrum when they don’t get their way? Been there, done that. Boy, could he get mad! However, he also loved to hear a story. I found that rather than fight the tantrum and throwing around consequences he wasn’t hearing, if I sat down with a book and started to read quietly, slowly turning the pages, he would eventually decide that whatever he had worked himself into a frenzy about wasn’t as important as hearing the story I was reading. Once the story was done, he was calm enough to talk about what had upset him.
- Reading a chapter book with no pictures? Bring out the Etch-A-Sketch or a pad of paper and crayons. Read something and have your child (or you) draw what they think that character or that place or that monster would look like. Julie Andrews Edwards book, “The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles”, is perfect for a first non-picture chapter book.
- Show them the joy of reading by example. Whether it is a paperback, hardcover, magazine, newspaper or your iPad, show them that you love to read as well.
Take the time to read to your children and encourage them to read back. When you do, you tell them that in this busy life, they mean more than that next Instagram post or Facebook update. They are only little for a short time. It goes so fast. Take it from this empty nest mama.
Suggested books? Click on this link for my Great Books for Kids list. It may be old, but who doesn’t love finding new authors? Want a few suggestions? Message me on Facebook or Instagram! Enjoy! great-books-for-kids
The story behind my photo at the top of the blog post. This is a photo of our twins. We were living in Iowa at this point in our lives. Iowa is full of butterflies, specifically monarch butterflies. Thus, one of our trips to the library included books on butterflies. We learned that the monarch butterfly eats and lays their eggs on milkweed plants. So we found a plant at the local nursery and planted it. We learned how to raise butterflies. We made enclosures for the caterpillars once they hatched and reached a certain size, we fed them and watched them form their chrysalis and eventually emerge as butterflies. We then learned about tagging butterflies and following their migration.
Don’t roll your eyes at me, did I forget to mention I was a biology major? What do you think I would do when becoming a stay-at-home mom, eat bonbons?
This photo is a picture of Josh reading to the eggs and little caterpillars on a milkweed plant in our front yard. He felt that they weren’t hatching and growing fast enough. To encourage them he is reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. How cute is he?!?