Share the love of reading with your children

You are probably the type of person who cannot avoid reading something every day. A book, magazine, billboard, or even the bottle of shampoo catches your eye, forcing you to give it a few minutes of attention. There are books or magazines all over your house; there might even be one or two in the bathroom. Though you are given strange looks and rude comments for it, you still read at the dinner table, even if you happen to be at a five-star restaurant. You cannot help but read, so you want to pass this on to children, grandchildren, or perhaps potential bibliophiles in your neighborhood.

The good news is that it is easy to give this gift to children. It requires time and effort, but there is plenty of reading involved; the best news you have heard all day!

The best and most effective way to help children see that reading is great is to do it with them. Whether or not they are able to read, you should set a story hour. It can be bedtime, morning, or afternoon. You can have it anywhere from the city park to your kitchen table. Set aside this time every day for a story, usually of the child’s choosing, and watch the imagination unlock itself.

Part of this reading time can be used to make trips to the library or bookstore. Letting children pick out their own books or other reading materials – yes, even comic books – will encourage them to be part of what the family is doing. If you do not allow them to have a say in the reading material, it will seem too much like just another assigned reading, much like the ones at school. This is supposed to be fun for everybody, not a chore.

Getting everybody to participate in reading time can be a difficult task with the distractions of television, games and other entertainment. If this proves to be the case, start a “family reading night.” Make sure that everything else, from the stereo to the computer, is left alone for the hour or so that you will read. Encourage your family to record their favourite shows, or schedule a time when there’s nothing good on TV anyway. This will encourage the family to focus on the story instead of thinking of what could be happening on TV at that moment.

Remember: putting down other activities is not going to help children appreciate reading. Instead of “Oh, video games are stupid – you can play them any time!” talk about how similar tonight’s story is to one of their favourite games. “Hey, you like that pirate game, right? Here’s a story about a kid who becomes a pirate for a week!” is virtually guaranteed to attract their attention.

Tip: look at games, TV programs and websites that your children like and try to find books with similar themes, stories or interests. If your child is particularly fond of football, find his or her favourite player’s autobiography or perhaps an interview with him in a sports magazine. The reading material should vary because not every child’s interests are the same. While one child might adore video-game magazines, another will fall in love with juvenile fiction. Try to match interests with materials; a great way to make this work is to let the child pick what to read.

There is no such thing as “starting too early.” Many mothers-to-be read aloud to their children as early as the day they discover the pregnancy! It might not seem like it is doing any good for the unborn child, but it develops your habit: by the time the child is born, you – and any other adult involved – will be accustomed to reading aloud every day. This is one of the best things that you can do for a child, so push aside any “Oh, this is stupid!” thoughts and read on.

If there are several children involved, have them take turns picking stories. Should you find that you have young readers in your midst, give them the occasional, or even frequent, chance to read out loud. Let them pick the books, and make sure that you are an attentive listener. Some children might feel strange or uncomfortable reading aloud, especially if they are not particularly good at it: this is when your encouragement comes in. Do not allow the other children to make fun of the reader; instead, remind them that it will be their turn soon enough!

Ask a few questions about the story after you have finished. Many children use their imaginations as you read, but having them think things through helps engage the active parts of their brains. This is not a college-English exercise, so do not ask deep questions about the significance of the red shoes (unless, of course, there is a very good and obvious reason for them to be red). Instead, try to help the listeners jump into the story with questions like, “How do you think you would have reacted if you had been in that situation?” or “Do you think [name of character] did the right thing?” Remember: there is no wrong answer to these types of questions, so always encourage everyone to share their own responses.

Tip: for particularly engaging stories, encourage the child to help you act them out in a short play. You can use anything around your home as props, have the child help create the “scripted version,” and take pictures or make a video of the performance. This will definitely engage your young reader as well as help the story come alive, both of which are vital to the imagination. It also adds to the fun of things, especially if you can get the other children in the house or community to help with it.

If the opportunity arises, take your child to a book signing or other event with one of his or her favourite authors. Sometimes putting your reader in touch with the person behind the pages is the perfect way to ignite the imagination and make the stories even more exciting.

These tips work for children who are already mildly interested in reading, but you might encounter somebody who is staunchly opposed to the written word. There is usually a very good reason for this; it’s up to you to figure that out and, hopefully, solve the problem.

Some children simply do not like reading, as some do not like doing math problems, finger painting or riding horses. If it is honestly a matter of personal preference, have the child read aloud occasionally to ensure that he or she is on an appropriate level. You might never convince that child that books are cool, but you will know that he or she is capable of reading and comprehending when necessary.

If it seems like the child is trying but just cannot quite get it, have him or her tested for learning disabilities. If this is the case, there are alternate methods that can be used to help him or her grasp the concepts and improve reading skills.

Do not hesitate to give the child reading material that you might otherwise consider “garbage.” Movie tie-ins, comic books, music magazines and even joke books can be used to encourage reading. It could be that the child has simply not found anything interesting before. If this is the case, offering enticing materials will usually help. It will improve the child’s reading skills and show him or her that not all reading material is boring.

Consult child-learning specialists or your child’s guidance counsellor if you are out of solutions. These professionals can either offer advice or refer you to people who can help. If this happens, you should have a serious discussion with your child about it to let him or her know that it is not a bad or embarrassing thing. It should not be something that you discuss at open meetings, but you should ensure that your child knows it is okay to get help in some areas of life.

No matter what happens, do not quit. Your child might not want to read every spare minute of the day, but you will have confidence in the knowledge that he or she is aware of the joy in it.

by Sarah Borroum