Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Raising children who love to read

I have known for years that helping my children learn to read is one of my most important jobs as a parent. I read books to them almost every night and supervise their reading homework.

But it hasn't always been easy. I hate to admit it, but when the kids were little, I didn't read to them as often as I thought I should. Our farm schedule was crazy, their attention spans were short, and I always seemed to have something more important to do. Thankfully, that has changed and we all look forward to bedtime stories now.

Dan started bringing AR (Accelerated Reader) books home in Kindergarten, with directions from his teacher to read them as a team. For the first couple months, those books about killed me. Dan had no interest in reading, so each page was a fight. My dream of raising children who love to read was about dashed.

child reading a book

You see, more than almost anything else, I want my kids to love reading. Not just because literacy is important to learning and citizenship and success and all that. But because reading opens the door to imagination in a way nothing else can. And because reading was my way to escape as a child and teen. During those years when social struggles made school a nightmare, I'd just bury my nose in a book on the 90-minute bus ride home and escape for awhile. (A girl can really whip through a lot of pages in 90 minutes!)

Reading is still a way for me to escape. Even if I don't pick up a book all that often anymore. The last book I read, for my own pleasure, was Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. I bought the book for a Christmas gift, but didn't end up giving it. So, one day shortly after Christmas, I decided I was going to read the book myself.

I've read most of the Harry Potter books already, so it was a quick, enjoyable read. I read mostly at night while I was sitting with Daphne, but I managed to sneak in a few chapters here and there during the day while the kids were playing. Dan saw me reading and asked me to read the book out loud to him, but I decided against it.

Something happened while I was reading that book – something I didn't expect.

One morning when I came in from the barn, I found Dan sitting in the recliner, reading the chapter book Santa Claus put in his stocking. I think Santa thought he wasn't quite ready to read that book – Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House #1) – but there he was, plowing through the chapters. He read the entire book from start to finish, taking only a short break to eat breakfast.

My heart just about exploded with pride! There was my little boy, reading a chapter book because he wanted to, not because he had to.

After that, Dan started bringing chapter books home for his weekly AR reading. At first, he would read them out loud to me or Monika or Daphne. Now he reads them to himself. And when his book order came in at school, he finished one of the books on the bus ride home. The next morning, he stuck another book in his backpack to read on the bus. The other day, he told me, "I love to read, Mom!" My heart beamed again!

The new focus on reading in our house had a trickle down effect, as well. Monika asked when she would be able to start reading chapter books. And then she started reading (reciting, actually) her picture books to anyone who would listen. She can now recite some of the books verbatim. 

child reading a book

I had no idea I was setting an example when I decided to sit down and read a book myself. But I sure am glad I did. And I'm sure I'll be picking up another book to read, sooner rather than later.

What was the last book you read? When was the last time your children saw you reading a book, not just the newspaper or a magazine? 

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