I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
February 26, 2013
When I was a kid, I loved to read.
‘Loved’ really isn’t a strong enough word. I was obsessed with reading. It was all I wanted to do. I carried a book with me everywhere I went, and read whenever I could find a spare moment. I read on the way to school. I read on the bus home from school. I tried to finish my homework each day during school so that I could come home and read uninterrupted until dinner. I read after dinner until my mom made me go to bed. I could not stop reading, and it literally changed my life.
Reading made me a much smarter kid, I’m convinced. It improved my vocabulary and gave me a much wider range of knowledge and understanding of the human experience. Reading also made me a writer, which means that I have reading to thank for my career. How cool is that?!
When I had children, I had two major goals I wanted to accomplish as their mother. I wanted to give them a strong faith foundation and I wanted to inspire in them a love for reading. I believed in my heart that these two things had the capacity to improve their the quality of their lives in a tremendous, life changing way.
I’m in the middle of this grand experiment right now- Punky is eight, Bruiser is a new reader at five- but so far it seems to be working. Punky now walks everywhere with a book held in front of her nose, and reads at almost every waking moment, or plays out stories based on what she’s reading, or writes books of her own. Bruiser is a brand new reader and is right where Punky was at his age (except that he prefers non-fiction books about things like spiders and fungus- FUNGUS!- and spaceships). People see them reading now and ask me how I got them to love it so much, and I decided to share it with you, since there are very specific things I’ve done that seemed to work really well.
First off, I have always read to my children, which as we all know, is a great idea. But once Punky reached kindergarten, I really intensified it. We started reading together for about an hour each day after school. This sounds like a lot of work- and it was- but I had high hopes it would pay off- and it did. I chose a combination of books that she could read along with me and more complex books that I read to her. I always pointed at each word as I read it (which drove me insane, but has paid off). At night, I often read a chapter in a longer book, like the Raggedy Ann stories or the Pooh stories or Charlotte’s Web. Sometimes, I got so sick of reading aloud that I wanted to stab myself, but I knew that the day would eventually come when she’d be reading on her own and would never need me to read to her again. That day has now come. And the days of picture books and cuddle time have passed. And that makes me sad.
When Punky was a new reader (and now with Bruiser), I also found activities online to go along with the books we were reading. Bruiser and I just finished a huge pile of snow and winter books, and continuing the theme, we made lots of snow crafts, winter cookies, and decorated the house with snowflakes. There are LOTS of activity ideas and templates online to coincide with popular children’s books, and they can really enhance the experience for a young reader.
To keep reading time from getting boring, I have done all kinds of things to make it extra special. Sometimes we go to Starbucks and read for an hour with hot chocolate and a cookie. Sometimes, we go to the botanical gardens with a bag of books and a blanket to spread under a tree. Sometimes we go to the local park and sit in our favorite porch swing, reading books together. Any time I can think of a new and different way to incorporate books into our activities, I try to make it happen.
Another part of keeping reading fresh is constantly having new books to enjoy. We go to the library at least once a week to pick up books we’ve reserved in advance and to browse for new ones. We also regularly make trips to the used book store, where we trade for books we haven’t yet read. It’s one of our favorite places.
Last summer, I interviewed a mother who said to me, “Growing up, we were very poor, but my parents always bought me as many books as I could read. And that changed everything.” I loved that idea, and since that time I’ve never felt guilty about lavishing my children with books. We can’t afford to go to Barnes & Noble and buy out the store, but we’ve made quite a dent at the used bookstore. If all of those books are read, it’s money well spent in my opinion. Both children have bookshelves overflowing with books, and looking at all of them is a regular pastime for them.
The bottom line is that I wanted reading to become an integral part of my children’s lives. I also wanted to make reading so much fun that it always seemed like a special treat. That’s been my reasoning behind all of these plans. I worried when Punky was small and I was putting so much effort into it that it would all be for nothing– but now that she’s a bookworm, I’m encouraged to keep doing these things with Bruiser.
Don’t be fooled- All this effort put into reading means other things have fallen by the wayside. My kids definitely don’t do as many after school activities as some of their friends. I’ve also let homework go undone LOTS of times, because I felt like the reading we were doing together was better for them than additional worksheets (don’t hate me, teachers!!!).
But if you have children, and if reading is as important to you as it has been to me, maybe you can use some of these ideas as inspiration.
Got more tips? Share them in the comments. I’m always looking for more!
Image vis Brandi Jordan/Flickr
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Thanks for sharing Lindsay! I have a 10-month old who refuses to sit still and not try to tear the pages out of the books. Did you read to both of yours from birth? Or waited until they were a bit older?
I say just wait on that, or only use board books right now. At that age, my kids really only liked books that had puppets or mirrors or fuzzy things in them. Bruiser didn’t like being read to until he was about 3 or 4, and I think before that time, the point of reading to kids is really just getting them used to the idea of books being around and “desirable.” The really important age for both of my kids, when the wheels started turning and they picked up reading skills quickly, was age five. At that point, the more I read to them and with them, the more their reading ability improved.
I have nothing to add to this except to just say how much I agree with you. 🙂
Years ago you also wrote about being read to a lot as a child with your mother running her finger under each word as she read. You said you believe it helped you read early. When I read your blog post about that I started doing the same with our son. And, it was AMAZING. He was reading on his own right after he turned five in both English and French (he’s in French Immersion). Thank you for that tip! It worked and we’re doing it with our youngest as well.
Awesome! I heard recently that several years ago, they were advising teachers to NOT read with a finger under each word, and I was like WHAT?! It’s sort of annoying to have to do it, but it totally works!
Great post! My grandmother made me a reader when I was 6- taking me to the library and making me read aloud two books a day. From that time to now I have been a voracious reader- and it made me a writer as well! Books took me anywhere I wanted to go, and helped me rise from unhappy times into a different world. I can’t wait until my kiddos read in their own- it’s an amazing world.
Yes! I have always loved being able to escape into other towns and times and lives and experiences. My life is so much richer because I read. How could we NOT want that for our kids? 🙂
My mom wasn’t necessarily the type to sit down and read to us, but she constantly had a stack of books on her nightstand, and was reading any time she could. Even with just that modeling, both my sister and I developed a love for books.
I *adore* that you’ve made this so intentional with your kids. If Punky is into chapter books, it may be time to put a kindle on her list for this coming Christmas :)…the perfect way to never be without a book!
I have heard that it is very important to read in front of your kids as well so that they see you enjoying it too. The modeling behavior is as important as reading to them.
I love your blog and have read it for years. My kids are the same age as yours and sometimes, your posts mirror exactly what is happening in our house that week ! I also was a huge bookworm and also attribute many of my successes to having learned about so many different worlds, families, and people through books. So, I also had my own little science experiment with getting my third grader to fall in love with reading… here are some things I did… I created spots in their bedrooms that were reading corners and hung fun curtains, placed cushy chairs & encouraged them to go in and hang out in their reading spots. I also filled the car seat pockets with books and switched them out regularly. My mom also said to let your kids ‘overhear’ you bragging about them when you are on the phone… so I gush about how proud I am and they get to think it’s a secret they are in on. We also go to the park and read on a blanket like you mentioned… and I praise them for carrying books around with them. Kudos to you for all your dedication and hard work… a smart mom told me once that if we think of our kids and our intentional parenting as a little garden, we can’t plant every flower & plant ( or, every single character lesson, personality trait, habit) – so we should pick a few to focus on when they are little and tend those ‘plants’ or traits well. Other than reading, my other big one is to practice random acts of kindness… as a daily habit. We love to do this together and my favorite is to print a bunh of 50% off coupons for Michaels and we go pass them out around the store while we are in there.
Perfect! Reading has changed me as well. I remember the first time reading “The Outsiders” as a 7th grader, finishing the book, and instantly starting it over. I was stuck in that “world” for days!! Unfortunately, none of my friends at that time were readers and I had to “hide” it. so sad! One thing that got my siblings and me intoreading was visiting the library as kids in the summer. My mom was an avid reader and the rule was we could check out as many as we could carry. We would spend all day at the library in the summer, partly because we didn’t have central air and the library had ac!! That is something I want to instill in my kids. To take the time to READ! Watching the movie might be quicker, sure…but you do not get lost in the “world” of a movie like a book. I think I am a much more creative thinker and problem solver because I read so much. Good for you and your bookworms!!
Bad mother guilt abounding here. I haven’t done enough of what you describe and my son, Punky’s age, does not love to read. I know it’s not too late, but I’m loathe to think about the work it is going to take to reverse what I could have been doing these last 3 years. Sad, guilty, sad, tired, and recovering from a 2 week bout with the latest stomach bug from Sydney Australia.
Two words, Kathy. Harry Potter. If you can get him hooked on the series, he’ll be reading and will never look back. I read the first book to Punky and now she’s reading book 4. The deal is that she can only watch the movies after she’s read the corresponding book. She’s OBSESSED with Harry Potter now, and is even studying various random subjects, wanting to be “just like Hermione.”
In other words, you’re doing a GREAT job- I know because I’ve seen your sleep chart- and it’s never too late to hook him on reading. Punky’s just now at the age where she can actually read books that are GOOD! 😉
You are very nice. I tried reading Harry Potter to Jacob when he was six and he didn’t like it. It is time to try again. I AM a genius at getting my children to sleep through the night. But reading is just as important!!!!!
I read all the time to my son and he started to read himself when he was three. He is 9 now and an advanced reader. So it definitely works. The other thing I did was turn the subtitles on when he was watching a movie. It can be annoying at times but it’s meant he could see the words as they were being spoken. Also – audiobooks!
Hope this didn’t come across as “woo hoo, I’m so great because my son read early”!! I just meant that the constant exposure works.
Great tips! I did many of those with my boys as well. Now that they are a little older(12 & 9) we have one family book that we take turns reading out loud at night. Also, during the summers when they are home with me, we have a quiet time set aside each day to read. After we’re done, we all share what’s going on in our books. It’s fun to hear them talk about their books with excitement and it’s great for their comprehension, too.
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For those of you who mention your child does not love reading, you can turn closed captioning on the television when they watch videos, etc. Research shows the exposure to words (even on television) helps develop reading skills.
Not that it replaces all the other things you mention.
I have been an English teacher for many years (do I have to say how many?!) and after class after class passed through my room, each always with a handful of struggling readers, I started to ask one consistent question: how often did mom or dad read to you growing up? Almost UNIVERSALLY the answer was some form of very little for my strugglers. It can’t be stressed enough how important it is for kids to have had access to literature of all sorts. I allow my students to come into my room during their lunch now and listen to a read-aloud of classic literature (they’re in 7th grade) and while many are hesitant at first, they adore it now. Even kiddos who hadn’t been read to and claimed early on to hate reading. I’ve got little guys requesting Great Gatsby by name! But, point being, I tip my hat to you for making such an investment in your children’s futures. My dad read to me nearly non-stop and not only am I an avid reader still today, he and I have such a special bond. Good for you!!
We’ve employed a lot of the same methods with our children (8 and 4) and are ardent supporters of our public library. We’ve also shared our love of reading (and our books) with our neighborhood by erecting one of these book exchanges and its been a great experience!
I wish I knew how I did all of this with BOTH of my daughters and have one bookworm/advanced reader/writer and one that does what she has to in order to get by but has never chosen to read for fun. Honestly, my oldest was probably read to much more by virtue of being the only child and first grandbaby, yet she is the one that doesn’t like to read at all.
Replying to myself to clarify that my oldest was the only child for 2.5 years, until her little sister was born! I didn’t word that as well as I could have.
Every child is different, that’s for sure!
I think people choose to read “for fun” just like people choose to build model airplanes, or decorate doll houses, or anything else that relaxes them or takes them away in their free time. Or video games or computers…
I think for some that is true, but for others, it’s a part of life just like eating or sleeping.
I feel certain you probably already do this but I’ll mention it just in case. Whenever the opportunity arises for your children to meet authors, don’t pass it by. As much as they treasure books, they will cherish those signed by authors especially after having met them. You have a wonderful opportunity in Nashville with the Southern Festival of Books and if you haven’t been before, you should investigate attending the storytelling festival in east TN. I haven’t had the pleasure of attending it myself but have heard such favorable reviews that is on the bucket list.
Storytelling festival? I’m in! I feel the same way about the international puppet festival, which will be at the downtown library again this summer. It is AMAZING, and we always go to see as many of the shows as possible. All are free. 🙂
There have never been bigger readers in the history of the world than my mother and me and my 2 sisters. Read we did (do!). All day long we’d read, books, magazines, fighting over the cereal box (never thought about bringing a book to the breakfast table), the toothpaste box while sitting on the toilet (you get my point!). Anything we could get our hands on at home and from the public library.
When I had my son I read to him, we looked at picture books (Richard Scarry’s word book-loved it!), we listened to books on tape, we went to the public library, he went to the school library and……
My son hates to read.
As he got older (he’s 22 now), he would read exactly the amount he needed to in school – whatever was required he read all of it. I would buy books for Christmas I thought he would like and they would sit there. We both read the first 3 books of Harry Potter and honestly, neither one of us could get through the 4th (even finally listening to it on tape!). He’ll read magazines here and there (SI, GameInformer). We nearly fell over when he came home from a vacation at the Cape with a BOOK in his hand – Scar Tissue – memoir of Anthony Kedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers. He DEVOURED it.
My feeling on this is – knowing how much I love to read, knowing my husband didn’t really begin to enjoy reading until he was in his 40s – reading is free time ACTIVITY. Reading is something we do in our spare time. Reading is done (mainly) for our personal enjoyment. I don’t think you can “create” a reader. I think you can put books in front of them, show the enjoyment you yourself get from books, share with them information you get out of books.
I admit, I was bummed when my son didn’t share my love of reading but maybe like my husband he will find books of interest as he gets older (or sitting on the beach during the summer!)
I see your point, and I’m sure there are just as many stories of kids who were never read to when they were small and are now voracious readers.
No, you can’t “create” a reader- but I believe that you can absolutely increase the chances that your child will love to read. Looking back, I can say that for both of my children, it didn’t “just happen.” Especially now, when so many other things are competing for our kids’ attention (Netflix! Cable! Internet! Nintendo DS! XBox! Etc!), I think we’ve got to be intentional about making reading a part of our kids’ lives, in the hopes that it will pay off.
And Nancy, I’ve been where you are in other areas with my older girls. There were a number things I tried with them that didn’t seem to take AT ALL- although I still have hope for the future! 🙂
As do I for my son!
I asked him last night why he didn’t enjoy reading. He said he can’t imagine things in his mind that he’s reading – such as the Harry Potter books. But like I said upthread, I provided him with plenty of non-fiction books about “real” people and he devoured the book he bought this past summer.
In addition (obviously I’ve been thinking about this topic alot!), I LOVE to read – but have suffered with math since long division in 3rd grade. My son is a math wizard. He left me in the dust in elementary school.
Our town as a whole is working on a project called “Wallingford 100” – working towards a 100% graduation rate for our high school students. We’re reading a book called “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It discusses Fixed Growth over growth mindset. Even though my son is grown, I have a “little brother” whose 11 and in the same school system and I want him to feel he can succeed in whatever he wants to do. I think if we all have a growth mindset (mine obviously was fixed after feeling like a failure in math) and continue to help our kids succeed – they will!
Lindsay, love this post. My husband and I are voracious readers and have raised two voracious readers (girl 14, boy 12). Just wanted to add that, in addition to reading to your kids and having them see YOU enjoy reading your own books, I think there’s a lot to be said to casually leaving around books, magazines, newspapers, etc. that you’d like your kids to read — my kids would often pick up some reading material just because it was out, and I think they liked “discovering” it themselves.