Helping your children enjoy reading is one of the most important things you can do as a parent and it’s well worth the investment of your time and energy. Kids will learn reading skills in school, but often they come to associate reading with work, not pleasure. As a result, they lose their desire to read. And it is that desire—the curiosity and interest—that is the cornerstone to using reading and related skills successfully.
By far the most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them, and the earlier you start, the better. Even a baby of a few months can see pictures, listen to your voice, and turn cardboard pages. Make this time together a special time when you hold your kids and share the pleasure of a story without the distractions of TV or telephones. You may be surprised to find that a well-written children’s book is often as big a delight to you as it is to the kids.
And don’t stop taking the time to read aloud once your children have learned to read for themselves. At this stage, encourage them to read to you some of the time. This shared enjoyment will continue to strengthen your children’s interest and appreciation. Simply having books, magazines, and newspapers around your home will help children view them as part of daily life. And your example of reading frequently and enjoying it will reinforce that view.
While your children are still very small, it’s a good idea to start a home library for them, even if it’s just a shelf or two. Be sure to keep some books for little children to handle freely. Include specially made, extra-durable books for infants, and pick paperbacks and plastic covers for kids who are older but still not quite ready for expensive hardbacks. Allowing little children to touch, smell, and even taste books will help them develop strong attachments.
How you handle books will eventually influence how your kids treat them. Children imitate, so if they see that you enjoy reading and treat books gently and with respect, it is likely that they will do the same. When you read aloud together, choose books that you both like. If a book seems dull, put it down and find one that is appealing. There are, however, so many children’s books in print that making the best selections may seem a formidable task.
One approach is to look for award-winning books. There are two famous awards for children’s literature made each year by the American Library Association that are good indicators of quality work: the Caldecott Medal for illustration and the Newbery Medal for writing. But these are given to only two of the approximately 2,500 new children’s books published each year. Fortunately, there is a lot of other good help available. For instance, there are lists of books recommended by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress, as well as some excellent books to guide parents in making selections.
The best help of all, though, is at your neighborhood library. If you are not familiar with the library, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The children’s librarian is trained to help you locate specific books, books that are good for reading aloud, and books on a particular subject recommended for a particular age group. The library also has many book lists, including ones like those mentioned above and probably some published by the library itself.
In addition, your library will have several journals that regularly review children’s books, including the Horn Book and Booklist. These will give you an idea of what’s new and worth pursuing. And there’s nothing like just browsing through the many books available at your library until you find ones that appeal to you and your kids.
If your children are school-aged, keep in mind that the school library is an excellent source for a wide variety of materials and the school librarian is knowledgeable about children’s literature. Encourage your kids to bring home books from their school library for pleasure as well as for their studies.