The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading. ~ Charlotte Mason
The most important thing we can do for our children is to instill the habit of reading within them. Reading is the foundation on which their entire education is built. From a young age, we need to not only teach them how to read, but how to LOVE to read. There is a world of words out there, just waiting to be discovered. We just need to show our children how to find it.
How do you build a habit of reading?
This starts at infancy. From birth, we can read to our children. Treat books with respect, make space in your home for them to live. Fill your home with quality books, and take time each day to read them with your child. If you’re new to reading aloud, start with 20 minutes a day. Read 2 or 3 picture books at bedtime. Later, add in another read aloud time during the day, maybe after lunch.
When your child has learned to read to themselves, it’s easy to want to drop that read aloud time. Don’t! Reading aloud is such an important part of their education. It shouldn’t stop just because they are capable of reading on their own. Continue your regular read aloud times, but add in another “quiet reading” time for them to read on their own. During this quiet reading time, both you and your child should be reading something. In order to build the habit of reading in our children, we have to first build the habit of reading in ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you are reading Charles Dickens or James Patterson, just read something. Let them see that you think reading is important and worthy of your time. If you treat reading as a chore – something that must be gotten through – your child will come to regard reading as something to check off the to-do list. It’s a sad fact that many people grow up despising reading, and never reading another book once they’re finished with school.
“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham
What if your child already sees reading as a tedious chore?
Sometimes, despite our good intentions, our children just don’t enjoy reading. Maybe they’ve been in school and had dull books forced on them, or their teachers pushed literary analysis too early. Maybe you did everything right and they still just don’t enjoy it. What then?
Choose the most interesting, fun, exciting books you can find. I spent a year reading aloud all of the Harry Potter books with my twins. I could have made them read them on their own – they are capable. But, they would have rather just watched the movies and been done with it. I convinced them that the books were a much better experience, so we read them together. It was the first time they ever begged me to keep reading, and I relished it.
Talk to your child and find out what their passions are. What do they get excited about? Find books to match their interests. If they’re interested in video games, get them a subscription to a gamer magazine. Find them game manuals to read. Introduce them to comics, mythology, and fantasy.
Make regular trips to your local library. Don’t force them to check out anything specific. Just let them browse. I like to play a game with my daughter when she gets stuck. We go in the middle of an aisle, she closes her eyes and spins around 3 times, then puts out her hand. Whatever book she touches, she has to check out. Sometimes it’s a dud, sometimes it’s a books she’s already read, but occasionally, she finds something wonderful. If they’ve been thinking about a topic or immersed in a particular subject lately, guide them to the section of the library where they might find more information. One of my children spent one summer reading every single book about dinosaurs he could find in our library.
Make reading times special. Once you’ve chosen books to read, make reading them a special experience. Bake cookies, make some hot chocolate, snuggle up together and enjoy the story. Create an atmosphere in which reading becomes a memorable part of your day. Something you all look forward to when you wake up in the morning.
The one thing you absolutely should not do, especially if your child already dislikes reading, is make reading into school work. Do not give them writing assignments, ask too many questions, or require anything but their attention. There is time for all of that later. If they want to write about a book, that’s fantastic. But making your reluctant reader write about a book is a sure fire way to kill the love of reading. Never make it work. Just read and enjoy. Talk about what you like about the story, talk about the choices the characters are making, talk about what you think might happen next, but that’s all. Keep it fun and casual. Anything more is overkill.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.” ~ George R.R. Martin
If you can instill the habit of reading in your child, they can, and will, succeed in life. They’ll be able to learn anything their heart desires, because they’ll know how to find the information. Reading will open doors and worlds and inspire them to join into the Great Conversation and lead to a lifetime of learning.