A whole lot of us get this completely and utterly wrong. Schools do it. Teachers do it. Moms do it. Well-meaning adults make an epic mistake in the education of our children: we make teaching a child to read our top priority.
When it comes to our kids and books, our top priority is not to teach our children to read. It’s not to help them decode words on a page, learn their phonics, or bolster their reading comprehension.
It’s none of those things.
This post is a bonus episode of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.
Mark Twain says “a man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read,” and the same thing can be said for children.
Our first and foremost job in the education of our children, then, is to nurture a love for reading. We can pretty much shelf everything else until we’re nailing that.
If you focus primarily on teaching your kids HOW to read, you will likely have kids who do, indeed, know how to read.
But do you want kids who read because they can? Or kids who read because they love to? Kids who read because they can’t imagine life without stories?
A child who has been bribed, cajoled, or pressured to read does not delight in it. When he’s forced to read a book and answer comprehension questions about it, take a quiz on it, or write a book report about it… he learns something very, very clearly:
He learns that reading is something you have to do for school.
Reading is something you need to get out of the way. Check it off your list. Get it done with, already.
So even if he can read, because someone has taught him, he won’t do it for fun. He won’t delight in it. He won’t see books as one of life’s sweetest delights.
When you focus on nurturing your child’s love of stories first and foremost, you get a child who can read, and a child who loves to read.
You get both
You may not get the first part on your timetable, but you’ll get it on your child’s unique timetable, and he’ll have an insatiable appetite for stories, as well, which is worth its weight in gold.
A child with an insatiable appetite for stories will learn to read (although that may not happen this week… be patient), but he or she will learn to read. And he or she WILL read, then, even if it doesn’t come as a mandate from mom or the teacher.
Especially because it doesn’t.
When it comes to the language arts, everything follows nurturing that initial love. First, we want kids who LOVE stories. Everything else- phonics, comprehension, analysis, even writing… follows that.
A great loss
I find it terribly tragic when I hear that a child has been reading excellent books in school– the best classics, poets, and novelists of all time— if that child doesn’t also leave school with an overpowering love of books.
That love is the greater need. Prioritize your child’s love of literature above everything else- even if it means your kids aren’t reading the same impressive books your friends’ kids are, or even if it means they read less, and have less to show for it.
In his 1965 anthology, A Father Reads to His Children, Orville Prescott said, “Few children learn to love books by themselves, Someone has to lure them into the wonderful written word; someone has to lead the way.”
So how do we do that?
How do we help our children fall head-over-heels for the wonderful written word?
Here are 3 quick ideas you can put into practice right away to do just that.
1. Schedule time, not titles
Dictate less of what your child reads. Instead, just give them the time and space they need to read. You can do this by blocking off a half hour or hour in the day when the only option is to rest on their beds or to read. And then let them read what they want.
Don’t grimace when you find them reading an entire stack of Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield, or even those dreadful Disney fairy books or something else that gets on your nerves. As long as it fits into your normal moral guidelines, then just let them read what they want during that time of day.
Kids who love to read, read more. Good taste in books takes time to develop and mature, so let that happen without forcing it to happen too quickly. Help your child figure out that reading hour is the best hour of the day- because it is, right?
You do that by scheduling the time, but not the titles for your child.
2. Dig out a childhood favorite and read that aloud.
So often we feel like we need to read the best books to our kids, right? So we pick up classics or whatever we just saw someone post on their Instagram feed.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but if your kids haven’t seen you light up with complete and utter delight while reading yet, then you need to pick something that will indeed completely light you up, and read that.
What did you love reading as a child? Read that. I’ve got a list of books for you to choose from, and you can pretty much pick anything off the list and have a good chance of enjoying it.
Just shoot for 10 minutes day. Ten minutes is completely manageable for just about all of us, and it adds up to a tremendous amount of reading over time.
You can read a book in short order by tackling it in 10 minute chunks.
3. Consider giving your kids a book allowance
I saw this idea first in the comments of the Read-Aloud Revival Facebook page and I was immediately taken with it.
We demonstrate that things have value when we spend our money on them, right? So what better way to help our kids get into the habit of valuing books thinly adding to their personal libraries?
We are just now enforcing this idea brand new in our home, and my kids went nuts for it- they don’t really need to love books any ore than they already do, but I loved this idea too much not to implement it.
So our kids are going to get a $15 monthly book allowance that they can spend on whatever books they like.
You could even just give your kids $5 and then take them to a used bookshop or even $3 and take them to thrift stores, if you’d like.
I kind of hate taking my toddler twins out to stores of any kind, so we made ours $15 a month and we’re doing our book shopping online.
If this idea appeals to you, get creative with how you could fit it into your budget.
All three of these ideas- scheduling time, not titles; digging out a childhood favorite and demonstrating utter delight, and even possibly setting up a book allowance- they’re all ways that we become the literary matchmakers for our own kids.
If you try any of these and post about it to social media, use the #readaloudrevival hashtag, because I want to hear about it.
Let’s all do this. Let’s inspire our kids to fall in love withe books.
Every other problem we could possibly run into regarding books and reading would be made easier if we did this first- if we nurtured a deep and abiding love of the reading life in each of our kids.