I am a writer, and my husband is a librarian, so you might assume we had an edge when planning how to turn our children into readers. You’d be wrong. We felt woefully unprepared.
While we both grew up reading plenty, we both came from families with busy parents, went to mostly public schools, and by the time our children came along we’d been immersed in higher academic reading for year and years, and had very few memories of what we read as kids.
I had also begun to realize that there was a difference in the quality of literature I was exposed to compared to my private school and home-schooled peers at college, and I was interested in being intentional about both reading more and raising readers who loved really good books. But where to begin??
This isn’t the only area of parenting that I felt inadequate. One revelation came after another – I had no clue how to breastfeed. I didn’t know any lullabies. Making dinner at home was beyond me (I wrote an entire book about that)! The learning curve was steep!
Now, eleven years into parenting, friends come to me for advice about all of the above. The reality is, no matter our background we’re going to be blind-sided by parenting time and again. So, if raising a reader has you stumped, don’t despair! I believe in you, and I want to offer you all the tips I've received.
Strategies for Raising Readers:
Ask for help – I’m going to give you the very best advice right off the bat. When in doubt – reach out! We need each other desperately, mamas! Use whatever excuses you can think of to ask the women around you for their advice, and you’ll gain both wisdom and new friends.
Nearly every book I’ve read my children came recommended by a friend or a person I trust. There are SO MANY books out there, and you have to start somewhere – might as well be with opinions from people who have actually read them! Next time you are hanging out at a mom-friend’s house, ask about the books she’s enjoyed reading to/with her kids lately!
Book Lists, and Books about Books – Similarly, you can find great recommendations online and in print from people you may not know in person, but who have a solid reputation for choosing good literature. Two of my favorite book people are Sarah Mackenzie and Jamie Martin. You can find wonderful lists for all kids of ages and occasions/seasons on their blogs (click their names), AND both of these beautiful women have written books about books and reading that also contain book lists! You won’t go wrong getting your recommendations from either The Read Aloud Family by Sarah, or Give Your Child the World by Jamie. Another book about books that I really like is Honey for a Child’s Heart. That author has companion books for teens and women, too!
Have a Book Shower or Party – If you are expecting a new baby, or have a young one to throw a birthday party for, consider specifically requesting books! If you are in need of other items and have a registry full of non-negotiables, then make a request that each attendee include the title of their #1 favorite children’s book in their card. Then you’ll have a customized book list to pull from while building your home library.
I found this to be the perfect fit for a shower to welcome our third baby. We had the necessities by then, but not much margin in our budget for books and toys. My friends really enjoyed choosing books for us, and even included a note for each book on a sweet little bookplate. Here’s some inspiration that includes free printables.
Prepare the Atmosphere – A home without books is a home without readers. Even though I’ve come to have pretty high standards for what I consider to be a “good” book, this one thing is more important that anyone’s ideals:
Thankfully, money is not an obstacle if you are a little creative. There are cheap books to be had in thrift stores and garage sales, for sure, but there are also numerous resources for completely FREE children’s book! The Dolly Parton Imagination Library will even mail picture books right to your door if the program is available in your area!
One obvious place for free books is your local library! It’s completely okay to have a shelf full of books that you will need to return eventually. A rotating collection – it works for fancy museums! And for books that can stay with you as long as you’d like, check out the nearest Little Free Library!
Make it a Ritual – Show your children that new books are something to cherish and look forward to by making them central to fun family outings and celebrations. Maybe your kiddo can get a brand new book all wrapped in pretty paper every time he gets a good report during parent-teacher conferences. Or maybe you can plan to make a family visit to the library on the first weekend of every month. What about printing a map of all the Little Free Libraries in your city and visiting one each weekend of Summer break? You have the power as a parent to create a family culture that includes reading and learning. Your kids don’t even have to know it’s on purpose!
Yes, it’s true that being a reader yourself has a place in this list. Some of you already are, and your children will learn organically that reading has a positive place in their lives. However, I want to encourage those of you who haven’t cultivated the habit of setting aside time for individual reading, too. Choosing just one thing on this list will start you on a path of growth. I’m willing to bet that you will enjoy the journey so much that in the end you will love books just as much as those readers you are raising!
Anjanette Barr is wife to a librarian, homeschooling mom to four, and ENFP enthusiastic pursuer of all hobbies (until she finds a new one). She currently lives on a micro-homestead in Juneau Alaska where she babies her ducks, chickens, wild roses, garden, Siamese cat, and worm farm in addition to her family. You can find out more about her and her published books at: http://www.anjanettebarr.com