by contributor Laurie CrockerMy son loudly professed to me the other day that “books are boring.” I nearly fell on the floor. I mean, I’m not only a mom but also a freakin’ elementary school teacher. I immediately launched into imagining my son’s future without a love of books. Reading logs would be a nightmare. I couldn’t even think about book reports. Would he ever want to read about the adventures of Ms. Frizzle’s science class? Would he ever climb into a treehouse and magically teleport to another time and place? Would he ever solve a mystery with Nancy Drew? Don’t even get me started on missing out on the fantastical journey of a particular hobbit.
And then I took a deep breath and almost laughed. Despite my thirty-second deep-dive into my son’s completely-imagined bleak future, I knew I needed to give myself the same advice I had given countless parents.
It goes something like this: your child might be a reluctant reader – someone who would prefer to do just about anything else other than pick up a book and read – but he is a reader. We’re all readers. Just because your child hasn’t found a book that speaks to him yet, it does not mean that he is not a reader. Your child is a reader. I promise.
It takes time and patience, but there are many ways parents can help nurture a love of reading in their child. Here are some of my best tips on how to help your child to open up a book – and maybe even enjoy it.
Make it a habit.
Include 15-20 minutes of reading every night – even on the weekends! Habits take a few weeks to establish, but once they are, it’ll become second nature to your child to wind down each night with a book.
Create a visual.
Print off a blank calendar and let your child color in every day they’ve read. Keep a crayon nearby and as soon as they are done reading, let them color in a new box. By the end of the month, they’ll be proud to look at their colorful calendar and all that they’ve read.
At first, don’t worry about how big the book is or how many chapters it has – what’s important is that your child feels confident about their ability to finish a book. If your child already isn’t excited about reading, staring at a 300-pager is going to be overwhelming and intimidating, furthering the reluctance your child feels. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes along with finishing a book. A child who feels accomplished will pick up another book to experience that feeling again.
A parent showing a genuine interest in the book their child is reading boosts their interest in it too. Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. If your child wants to show you a funny picture or silly sentence, laugh along with them! Get super excited when your child shows you a newly-learned vocabulary word. Or, look up a new word together! Show your interest and they’ll get interested too.
Create a family book club.
Grab a copy of the same book your child is reading and follow along! Give your child the independence of reading alone, but meet every few chapters to discuss momentous parts of the book.
Set a timer.
This sounds so simple, but setting a timer for 20 minutes to spend undivided attention to a book with no other distractions does wonders. Twenty quality minutes of reading is infinitely better than an hour of distracting half-reading. This also provides an end point for your child. If a reluctant reader can see the finish line, the task won’t feel as daunting.
Be an example.
When’s the last time your child saw you reading a book? We often think about being good role models for our children when it comes to good manners and how to be kind and caring human beings, but what about being a good reading role model? Talk about your excitement over a new book and cozy up on the couch with it. Your child watching your positive attitude toward books will have an everlasting and profound effect on how he feels about reading. Your Child is a Reader. I promise!
Try, try again.
Try a variety of genres to pique your child’s interest. In my classroom, the wide range of genres they love varies drastically from student to student, just like their personalities. If mystery isn’t their thing, try adventure. Not into fantasy? Try realistic fiction. Ask your child’s teacher for help or visit your local library if you’re not sure where to start.
So as I sat there and let my son’s words settle in my mind, I realized that no matter how he says he feels about books and reading, there’s a plethora of ways to help guide him to be the reader I know he can be.
And, if you’re wondering what I said back to him, I said very matter-of-factly, “Books are absolutely not boring.” And we launched into a Dr. Seuss reading bonanza. He smiled and laughed and asked questions and read along. And in that moment I knew that he would travel on Ms. Frizzle’s magic bus and travel alongside Bilbo. I also knew he would have adventures I couldn’t even imagine. Because that’s the magic of books – some adventures our kids will take aren’t even written yet.
So, remember: no matter what, your child is a reader. I promise.