How to spark a love of reading

Many young children take to reading with eagerness, devouring each new tale of Junie B. Jones or those in Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events. However, some children – for a variety of reasons – are simply reluctant to pick up a book unless it’s required for school.

In this issue of Elementary Edition, we will look at some of the ways families can help spark a love of reading in their young children – setting them on the path to better learning in all of their subjects. These home-based ideas come from reading teachers and parents, just like you, who are working diligently to raise enthusiastic readers!

Read aloud, even when your children are able to read to themselves.

In The Read Aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease says reading with children is one of the most important activities families can do together. When reading aloud to your children, you introduce them to new vocabulary words and ideas – all while having fun. Many times, hearing a story will encourage children to read independently as a way of learning more about the subject. With more independent readers, you can take turns reading portions aloud to one another. Let everyone in the family take turns choosing the books to read together. This guarantees a good variety of stories and everyone will learn more about each other’s interests.

Create a home library with many different types of written materials.

Some children love curling up with a chapter book, while others (even more experienced readers) want their stories full of colorful pictures or illustrations. Regular trips to the local library can keep your home library stocked with a fresh (and free) source of each. Look for interesting children’s magazines while at the library or bookstore. Classroom book orders are also a great resource for quality, low-cost books. Instruction books for games and crafts, magazines, newspapers and age-appropriate graphic novels (link to for a good list) are a few ways to add variety to your home-based library.

Practice what you preach.

When you and the rest of your family read regularly – for enjoyment, for information or to perform a task (e.g., following a recipe or programming the DVD player from instructions) – you are a positive role model for your children and are showing them how reading relates to all areas of life.

Tap into your child’s interests.

One mother credits the Captain Underpants series, with its comic-book format and irreverent (e.g., bathroom) humor, with turning her third grader into an eager reader. Librarians and other parents and children are wonderful sources for suggestions on books your own child might like. Though many of the books children read are fiction, non-fiction books can also be a terrific way for them to learn what is meaningful to them. Books by Capstone Press, at www.capstone and at local bookstores and libraries, include titles like BMX Freestyle, Crafts from Papier-mâché and Forming a Band. Not only do these tap into what interests children most, but many of these books are also written for beginning readers – a plus when younger children want to learn but have yet to develop independent reading skills.

Informal book talks can be a great way to stay connected with older, independent readers.

Though they may not want to read with you, try reading the same book independently and discussing it as you go. Local libraries also offer book discussion groups geared toward young teens and their parents. Check with the local library for information about such offerings – or think about organizing one of your own!

Try movies, plays and books-on-tape.

Many books for children have been turned into movies (think Harry Potter) or recorded as books-on-tape – available at school and local libraries. Likewise, check out performances by high school or community theater groups. (Family event listings in the local paper often include information about these types of performances.) With reluctant readers, stories in these forms may be just what they need to spark an interest in picking up the book (or tackling the next in a series). This can also be a fun way for children who have already read the book to experience the story from a different perspective.

Fun ways to encourage reading:

  • Name their world. Help early readers build their vocabulary by creating signs/index cards together that identify toys or furniture like “bed,” “radio” “hamster,” etc.

  • Play cards and board games together. Kid-versions of Scrabble and Boggle are two that are particularly good at encouraging vocabulary and spelling.

  • Write messages for your children and ask them to write to you, too. Notes in lunchboxes, lists of responsibilities and posting important activities and events encourage your children to read for meaning. Writing back to you or other family and friends gives them real-life ways to use all the new words they are learning.

  • Learn a new craft or hobby. Encourage kids to learn more about their passions by reading instructions in do-it-yourself kits, from the Web or in related books.

  • Get cooking. Some kid-friendly cookbooks to look to for inspiration include the Magic Spoon Cookbook by Suzanne Gooding and Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 & Up by Mollie Katzen.

How reading is taught during the elementary years: the school link

Most of children’s formal reading education takes place during the primary elementary years-kindergarten through second grade. Here children are taught to recognize many of the sight or frequency words (“and,” “but,” “school,” “mom,” “dad”) that they’ll need to become independent readers. They are also taught phonics skills, such as sounding words out, breaking words down into recognizable chunks (as with compound words like carwash and daytime) and using clues from pictures to help them figure out what a story is all about. Students in grades K-2 will have lots of exposure to different types of writing, like poetry and non-fiction (real-life or true accounts) and fiction books in both the picture and chapter forms.

They’ll also learn about the many reasons people learn to read – for pleasure (“I can’t wait for the next Spiderwick book!”), to help understand what needs to be done (most homework directions are written), how to stay safe (exit and street crossing signs) and to learn new and personally important things (“Yea! The Yankees won last night’s game!”)

By the time they reach third grade, most children have become competent readers. However, this doesn’t mean the process of learning to read stops here. Instead, the focus during the upper elementary grades tends to shift from learning to read to reading to learn. Students use their reading skills to conduct research, to tackle longer and more challenging books (to support learning and also for pleasure) and to read other types of written materials to help expand their vocabularies and hone their grammar skills.