How to raise enthusiastic readers

There is something magical about the first time your child picks up a book and sits down to read it alone. At first it’s just to enjoy the pictures of a familiar story, one read so often they can recite it off by heart. Later on, it’s because they have enough words on board to decipher it themselves. This happens around the same time they start reading signs everywhere (including all the adult-orientated ones they then ask you to explain!)

Once your child is ready to read independently, you have an easy entertainment supply anywhere you go. It’s cheap, fun and quiet. Pretty much perfect really. Children are not drawn to reading naturally. It’s not part of their ‘normal’ development in the same way walking is. It’s our job to help them see a need to read, and to show our own enjoyment in it.

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How to help your children love reading

1. Start them early

Use board books with babies and toddlers. Read to them every day. A child who has had 1000 books read to them before five, is likely to find learning to read a simpler task once they get to five. That’s only one book a day over three years.

2. Use the library

It’s free! We were lucky to often get books given to us. But the library was a weekly visit when I had preschoolers. We’d often find books that were tatty and a little bedraggled for sale there for a dollar or less. We’d also pick up books at fairs, and secondhand shops. The idea is to have books easily accessible.

3. Make some books extra special

These books, which are for special settling times, or to be used for special cuddles, are put up high and are only to be shared with you. It helps children learn to honour and treasure books, and time with you. Other books should be accessible all the time.

4. Help children associate cuddles with books

I call it ‘catching the intimate moment’. This is your chief snuggling time, rather than in front of DVDs. They will request books so they can get snuggle time.

5. Make books with your children

They don’t need to be fancy or typed. Just write stories that record special trips, favourite stories about when you were a child, or about your family. One of our favourites is a book we made using a small photo album and photos of extended family. It paid off when my daughter met aunts and uncles for the first time and greeted them all by name!

6. Be prepared to read some favourites again and again (but feel free to say no to books you really hate)

This is contrary to much advice out there. The reasoning behind it is that our children will pick up on our disinterest towards a particular book (I used to have a strong aversion to some of the badly written fairy tale books out there!). If they really want it, they can either read it to themselves quietly or let you also read a book you really like (which means they get two). If a child is showing extreme disinterest, let them walk away.

7. Bring stories into your play

Talk about Goldilocks when making porridge, Cinderella when going out somewhere nice, and trolls while crossing over bridges.

8. Make costumes and props for book characters out of what you have on hand

Instead of buying ready made costumes, work with children to create simple costumes of their favourite characters. Get them to sit alongside you while you google some options (showing that we need reading to search for information).

9. Create a family cookbook of recipes together with your child

It can have recipes you’ve cooked together. Even just rifling through recipe books with children is a fun pastime.

10. If you’ve got a ‘I can fix it’ child, provide them with plenty of how to craft and DIY books

Work through them together. Often they have step by step instructions alongside great photographs. They can “read” the photos and you can read the written instructions. This helps teach our children that they can use the pictures to help work out the words later on.

11. Use the language in books to help children learn about letters, punctuation and words

We used capital E’s in a book to teach my youngest Emily the beginning of her name. We used to go on E hunts, or get books out of the library with stories about Emilys. I wrote stories about the other two and read them. I found exclamation marks and asked them to count how many there were in a favourite book. Or I found the word ‘the’ and ask them to see if they could find me another one.

12. Model, model, model

Read as much as you can, anywhere you can when your children are around. Think of it as license to chill out with a magazine or a book while your children are up and around. The more they see you reading, the more they’ll expect it’s a normal part of their future too.

The more we talk to our children about the world, and give them real life experiences, the more we set them up to become a successful reader. If a child has never seen a swede and touched it, it’s hard to fully understand that word in a book. The simple act of selecting a fruit or vegetable they’ve never tried before, bringing it home and showing it to them uncooked, letting them touch it, help cook it if necessary then taste it creates a pile of learning experiences that prepares them for a life with books. Talking and relating to our children can be the single most powerful early reading activity we ever do with our preschoolers.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

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