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Tuesdays with Jane: Ways to Nurture Lifelong Readers

Reading is truly mandatory if children are to succeed, yet forcing children to read can make them hate it even more. Further, incentives backfire in the long run (unless the incentive is being able to purchase more books to read when they finish the ones they have!) Here are a few ways to keep reading fun if your children haven’t yet caught the Bookworm Bug.

  • Read side by side. My daughter really struggled to sit still while reading and started complaining around 4th grade, “I hate to read.” Being an English major myself, and the daughter of a librarian, I worked hard to change her complaint to, “It’s hard to sit still and I am very particular about the books I like.” That we could solve. For years, each night we each picked out a book we liked and would sit or sprawl on a bed or the floor, reading side by side while I rubbed her back. Even now when she’s home from college on break, she’ll ask, “Mom, can we read together?”
  • Use audio books in the car. Through most public libraries, you can now download audio books to your portable music players. As a family, listen to Eric Idle read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Jim Dahl perform Peter and the Starcatchers or Harry Potter with dozens of voices. Encourage your kids sometimes to follow along in a print copy.
  • Make library and bookstore trips as significant as pizza or ice cream or the football game or… In The Book Whisperer, master 6th grade teacher Donalyn Miller describes how she talks up library day until, by October, her students view heading to the school library as a treat as big as a field trip. Also, check schedules of libraries and bookstores for kid-oriented events: story times, book clubs, writing contests, author appearances, etc. Many authors are gifted at getting children more excited about reading!
  • Approach censorship cautiously. This is tough because some books are definitely better than others, but if your real goal is having your child become a lifelong reader, ideally they’d be tackling so many books each week that you wouldn’t be able to keep up! We took the approach of reading aloud high-quality, high-enjoyment books as models of great books. When our kids brought home less desirable titles, we asked what they liked and disliked but almost never took it away. The result? Both of them gravitated toward the best. They learned to discern for themselves—and often broke off in the middle of some dumb book their classmates were raving about, saying, “This is just plain stupid…”

And of course, lose yourself in your own book, right in front of your children, whenever you can!