Getting Kids to Read

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I have always loved books. I love the way books feel in my hands as I’m reading, how light reflects off their slick covers. I love the smell of old books in quaint shops and the smell of new books in modern bookstores. I love libraries and even the paperback racks in supermarkets and drugstores.

Good books make lasting impressions. They create memories that enhance our experiences of being alive, memories that can’t be evoked by watching TV or browsing the Web.

Through books I’ve solved mysteries with Nancy Drew, drifted down the Mississippi with Tom and Huck, and journeyed to California with the Joad family.

I’ve lived in Victorian England in the pages of David Copperfield and in St. Petersburg, Russia before the revolution with Anna Karenina.

The greatest avenue to learning about others, ourselves, and our world is in reading books.

But how do you figure out which books are best for your children and begin building a library? First, start with your own memories and recall which books you read, or had read to you, as a child. Next, enlist help from your local children’s librarian.

In choosing books for children, keep in mind they must be fun to read. Fun books may touch our hearts because they address the concerns many children share, or fun books may be whimsical, scary, full of fantasy and adventure.

Here are some tips to help you start your child on the path to becoming a life-long reader.

  • Make reading a priority. The best readers are children who love to read. They are also those who read for at least 30 minutes every day. Decrease the competition for your child’s book time by setting firm limits on TV and computer viewing.
  • Keep a variety of books, magazines, and newspapers around. For young children, choose pop-up, pattern, plastic, and cloth books.
  • Attend story time, puppet shows, or talks from book characters at your local library or bookstore. Once children can write their whole names, let them get their own library cards.
  • Memorize poems. Kids love rhymes from the time they hear their first Mother Goose. Try writing a family poem about a recent vacation (tell them it’s a rap song).
  • Make sure children have a comfortable spot for reading, as well as a designated place to store their own books.
  • Link books to activities. If you are reading about butterflies, for instance, see if your child can find some in the backyard.
  • Keep reading aloud. Even when children are reading on their own, don’t stop reading to them. It enriches their vocabulary and develops listening skills.

Encourage writing by keeping paper, pencils, pens, and crayons in a special drawer where kids can find them. Writing reinforces the connection between words and their meanings. It is also the best way for kids to learn letters and spelling. Help them sound out words as they write thank-you notes, party invitations, letters to grandparents, and original stories. Don’t forget to praise those funny-looking squiggles and invented spellings.

For reluctant readers (you know the kinds–young, restless, and loaded with energy), help them choose books that start quickly, promise excitement, humor, or mystery. Also, stick with a series. Titles in a series have consistent characters and consistent reading levels. Reluctant readers are more willing to read another book when they are already familiar with an author’s plot lines and vocabulary.

Teaching children to love books will open their minds and eyes to all the possibilities in the world. President John Adams encouraged his son, John Quincy, to always carry a book of poetry. “You’ll never be alone,” he said, “with a poet in your pocket.”

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