In an age of smart phones, MP3 players, tablets, computers, TVs, video games, apps, and other electronic media, it’s important to be intentional about not letting reading take a back seat as we raise our children.
- Fill your home with books. Many of history’s most prolific readers, writers, and leaders were raised in homes stuffed with books. . . .
- Read to your kids. . . . We all begin as readers who require aided discovery, that is, initially we need parents, pastors, classrooms, and teachers to help us to learn from books. . . .
- Don’t stop reading to your kids. . . . Parents should read aloud to their children from birth until college, the point in their lives when literacy plays the most important role in their educational success.
- Read your books in front of your kids. Young children prize what they see their parents prize. . . . Let it be obvious to them that books are cherished in your own life.
- Teach young children to read. . . . Every child will learn to read at a different pace, but try to teach your children to read early. . . .
- Push entertainment into the background. . . . It is not impossible to enjoy reading and entertainment, but your priorities must be settled first. In our home, reading is the priority over video games and television and movies. This is modeled in how we talk about books and how we limit electronic media. . . .
- Listen to audio books in the car. Over the years we have logged many miles on the road for family vacations. We have grown to anticipate these road trips and the opportunity they present for the entire family to enjoy audio books. . . .
- Hunt for the best books. . . . Take time to plan books by season, by personal interest, and even by school studies. Talk with other parents in your church to find reliable recommendations. . . .
- Anticipate new books. My wife and I seek to connect our children’s reading interest with specific authors. Once we discover an author that our child really enjoys, we watch local book signings and new book releases. . . . .
- Celebrate the classics. . . . Find ways to get significant dates from your favorite books, and the birthdays of your favorite authors, into your calendar so you can celebrate.
- Cultivate your child’s moral imagination. . . . Find books that picture moral lessons in the imagination, and savor those books with your children.
- Help interpret worldviews as you read to your children. . . . Reading literature together allows parents to read about sin and evil and goodness and beauty—and to pause and help the child interpret those realities in light of Scripture . . . . Ultimately we can use books to show our children where a biblical worldview and real life connect or clash.
- Read your favorite excerpts to your children. . . . This simple exercise shows my children a love of reading, and it serves them a sweet dessert of prose.
- Invite your children to read to the family. . . . I will buy [my son] as many books as he can read, so long as he agrees to mark his five favorite pages in each book, bring those marked pages to the dinner table, explain the context, and read them to the family. . . .
- Challenge your children to improve books. When the time is appropriate, encourage your kids to disagree with a book. . . .
- Most importantly, read the Bible together as a family. Books are a big part of our home, but the Bible is the supreme Book. Parents model the primacy of Scripture by reading the Bible together as a family on a regular basis. . . .
Lest you feel overwhelmed with the thought of trying to implement all 16 of these into your home, Tony cautions,
Each of these ideas was used at some point in our home, but not necessarily all at once. So please don’t weary yourself trying to do all these things. Choose a few of the ideas—or just one—and work them into your home. Do what it takes to ignite in the green branches of your children a burning love of reading.
We currently try to do numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14, and 16. I’m looking forward to trying several of Tony’s other suggestions, especially when our children get a little older.
On number 5, here are a few things that helped us turn our three-year-old daughter into an early reader:
- We used Your Baby Can Read. We started her on the Your Baby Can Read program when she was 6 months old. By one she was recognizing dozens of words. A couple months later she was reading words she’d never seen before. She has a reading vocabulary of hundreds of words (probably even 1,000+) and can sound out new words with a high degree of accuracy. We’re not sure how much to attribute to the videos and flashcards and how much to attribute to the way God wired her, but we’re thankful we have such a talented reader.
- We pointed at each word when we read to her. When she was first learning to read, we’d point at each word as we said it. She regularly stopped us and asked us to see a particular word again—sometimes so often that we could hardly get through a story! But I think that really helped those words to stick.
- We explain new words we use in conversation. We use adult words with her, and she’s constantly asking us what unfamiliar words mean. We try to take the time to carefully explain each new word we use so she can identify it more easily when she first encounters it in books.
- We tell her bedtime stories. About six months ago, we started telling Elleana a bedtime story almost every night. I created a fictional character named Susie, and Elleana looks forward with eager anticipation to finding out what happens next in the life of Susie. These stories have really helped her use her imagination. She’s always asking what color everything is in the story. She’s obviously picturing it all in her mind. It’s also given her a love for stories in general.
- We turned learning into a game. As part of our family Bible time, we would often write words down with a stylus on the iPad (using an app like Paper) and use it as a time to teach her biblical vocabulary. We’d use different colors, let her erase them, and see if she could figure them out before I finished writing. She loved it. When she was two, she was reading words like Trinity, justification, sanctification, righteousness, holiness, propitiation, and many more.
- We regularly praise her success. Since her early days of learning her first words, we’ve consistently praised her when she gets a word right. This praise has a noticeable affect on her excitement about reading, making her want to learn and read more. We’ve applied this philosophy of exuberant praise to other areas as well, and we’ve seen it really influence her attitude toward things she might otherwise not enjoy.
What do you do to encourage reading in your family? Which of Tony’s ideas do you like best?
See also “6 Tips to Help You Read More This Year.”