Avid readers rarely come out of the womb clutching A Tale of Two Cities. Nope, more often than not, they come from homes where their parents “did very specific things to nurture a love of reading in their children.” This is what reading specialist Mary Leonhardt argues in her book, 99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading. We think Leonhard’s reading strategies are worth talking about.
It’s a dramatic example, but it does seem rather unlikely that someone like Mozart would have realized his potential had circumstances been different. Sure, he had a natural, perhaps even genetic, predisposition towards music, but it didn’t hurt that he was privileged enough to have a keyboard in the house; it didn’t hurt that his father was an experienced teacher and semi-accomplished composer either. The point we’re getting at is that readers, like musicians, are made—they’re not born.
Teachers can do a lot to nurture a love of reading in their students, but we certainly can’t do it all. So while this article is for teachers, it’s also for parents. Here are 5 simple reading strategies Mary Leonhard’s suggests that parents (and teachers) use to transform their children into avid readers:
5 Reading Strategies for Parents and Teachers
Make a love of reading the primary educational goal
If children hate reading—or worse yet, can’t read—the caliber of the school and teacher matters very little. Poor readers fall behind; they get lost and discouraged. And when they struggle long enough, they begin to see education as a malevolent, rather than exhilarating experience.
But as Leonhard argues, adroit readers have “a more complex sense of language. They speak better, write better, and deal better with complex ideas”—which means that they’re going to be more likely to succeed wherever they are, regardless of the school, regardless of the class, regardless of the teacher.
Show rather than tell your kids that reading is valuable
Our kids are excellent and intuitive mimickers. If we told our kids to keep their room clean or wash their dirty dishes, but left our own dishes in the sink and our own room in shambles, we’d be awfully naïve to expect clean rooms and “dishless” sinks out of them.
This is one of the most basic reading strategies: Read. Reward them with books. Buy them. Order them for a penny on Amazon.com. Go to the library. Go to the book store. Stop telling them to read and read, read, read yourself!
“Low-brow” books are better than no books
“Educated” (notice the quotation marks?) readers tend to impose their high-brow tastes on certain books and genres. But just because it’s a “classic” doesn’t mean that your kids have to like it right now—or ever for that matter.
True, it’s easy to scoff at the Twilight series, but go easy on your kids: let them read what they want on their own time. When I was a kid, I voraciously devoured Choose Your Own Adventure and cheesy R.L. Stein horror books. They were rather unsophisticated by many standards, but I couldn’t get enough of them. I prized them and no one insulted my taste for it. As a result, I read every Choose Your Own Adventure and R.L. Stein book in the library and had to ask the librarian to order new ones from other local libraries.
Don’t feel that you need to schedule time for your kids to read
Forcing your kids to read won’t make them love it. Kids claim that they “don’t have time” to take out the trash or clean their rooms, but when was the last time they didn’t have time to talk on the phone or play roller hockey with the neighborhood kids? Exactly.
Our kids will find time to read—especially when they see that reading is an indispensable part of your daily routine, not just theirs.
Find books that your kids will like
You know your kids pretty well, right? You do a fine job of picking out Christmas and birthday gifts for them. And when you don’t know what to get them, you’re probably not going to have to twist any arms to get a long list of the things they want. If we want our kids to read, we need to get them the kinds of books they’ll like—not the kinds of books we like. Find out what interests them and surprise them with a variety of reading materials—comic books, fiction, non-fiction—relating to the subject.