As a former English teacher, I firmly believe reading is one of the most important skills a child acquires in life. Reading is an important part of learning. Reading is also a great way to escape to faraway places and worlds, even those that don't really exist. Creating a culture where literacy is nurtured in the home helps children learn to enjoy reading, opening up future opportunities for learning and growth. If you want to develop a culture of literacy in your home, here are eight ideas to get everyone in your home excited about reading.
Fill your home with books
I grew up with lots of books. My parents gave books as gifts for birthdays and holidays. I was fortunate to have books all around me. From the time your children are infants, provide them with books. If you have a small budget, look for books at garage sales and fundraising events. Libraries often have book sales where books are sold at very low prices.
There are amazing books available for babies now. Author Kaaren Pixton has designed a line of baby books called Indestructibles. These tear and drool-proof books have wonderful illustrations and can even be washed in the dishwasher. Children up to age 2 enjoy sturdy board books, and love books with tactile features like lift-the-flap and texture.
As your children grow, add to your family library. Picture books are adored by preschool children (and often their older siblings). Easy readers get the kindergarten set off on a good start, and then chapter books begin thrilling young grade-schoolers on up. Your family library can also include reference books like a student dictionary and atlas. It is the digital age, so consider your desire for eBooks, but I believe traditional books still have a place in homes.
Read to your children
Don't let all those books go unread. Make time to read to your children of all ages. I used nap time and bedtime as reading time with my babies and toddlers. I have several classic baby books memorized. By about age 6 my children have become independent readers. I still enjoy reading to them, though, so I still read to younger children at bedtime, and once or twice a year old and young pick a book to read aloud together.
Visit the library
If your community has a library, take advantage of this valuable resource. Kids enjoy choosing their own books. Don't be too particular about what they choose. Graphic novels and comic books are still good reads. Libraries also have programs to promote literacy, story times and other fun activities. Consider allowing older children to have their own library cards. They'll like the responsibility and the freedom of checking out and caring for books. My children also utilize my library's audiobook and eBook lending systems, which are online.
I have one or two subscriptions to kids' magazines each year. My children look forward to the monthly delivery of a periodical just for them. Many of these magazines are science-minded and non-fiction. Kids need to be able to read and comprehend a variety of reading materials. We take the local newspaper on weekends only. I still smile when I find my son reading the sports page. My daughter always checks the classifieds for puppies for sale.
Talk about what you read
Discussing what family members are reading will help you know what your kids are reading and what they might like to read. I like to talk about what I'm learning from books and articles I read, showing my kids that reading is fun and interesting. My children often give recommendations on books they've read to their siblings, and even to mom and dad.
Start a family book club
If you have time and interest, a family book club is a fun way to promote literacy. Choose a book that fits several family members' reading levels. Read it together or separately, then meet to discuss the book. Choose a treat that is related to the book. For example, my son and I just read a great book called “Pie,” by Sarah Weeks. If we were having a book club, I would use one of the recipes in the book and make a pie. Family book club can be very casual. Summer months might offer more time for reading.
Make reading a priority
I often add, "Read for 20 minutes," onto my children's chore lists. Of course they always choose to read over cleaning the bathroom. "Go read a book," is also one of my standard answers to the ubiquitous question, "What should I do?" Reading can relax both children and adults. Make sure it's a priority in your home.
One of my favorite family memories is of sitting on the deck on a summer evening, reading together as a family. The kids made a reading fort and we ate popcorn and lemonade while enjoying our books. Literacy can become part of your family culture too. Grab a book and start reading.
For more ideas on strengthening your family's love of literature, click here.
Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.