First, read to your child. From the first months on through the teen years, as long as they will welcome you reading to them. One of my children lost interest in reading for a brief time in middle school and I began once again to read to him every night before bed. We began with the amazing LionBoy series by Zizou Corder, and ended after two years with 1776 by David McCullough. By that time, he was back in love with reading, and wanted to read on his own. The hardest part of our nightly reading sessions was keeping my promise to him that I would not read ahead while he slept but would wait for the next evening to pick up where we had left off.
Second, fill your home with books. Every room should have books of all types. Make books and reading as natural and easy as breathing and eating. Secondhand books, library books, brand new books (every birthday and holiday can be celebrated with the gift of a book — or a gift card to choose a book — see below). Have books always available in the car, along with audio books.
In October, bring out the Halloween books, and return them to a closet for the rest of the year: your children will look forward to seeing them again, year after year. Every holiday can have its own special collection of books, stored away for 11 months of the year and returning annually, dusted up and ready for re-reading.
Third, let your child pick the books he or she wants to read. You can advise on choices but do not dictate. If your child is still reading picture books at age ten, or only wants to read The Babysitter’s Club series, or is obsessed by graphic novels, don’t worry. All that matters is the enjoyment discovered in that reading. It is the pleasure found in books that will ensure reading becomes a daily part of your children’s lives.
Fourth, go to the library on a weekly, scheduled date. My best memories from childhood are of our Saturday morning visits to the branch library in Evanston, Illinois, during which I could choose as many as four books for the week. And my very earliest memory is of waiting for the summer book mobile to arrive just two blocks from my home, and climbing up the stairs into a book-filled, heavenly-scented (gasoline and musty pages) cave of treasure waiting to be discovered.
Fifth, as well as encouraging bedtime reading, allow special times for reading. Allow one reading meal a week, when everyone gets to read while eating. When the once-a-year holiday books come out of storage, let everyone stay up late re-reading old favorites. Reading will be understood to be what it is: a treat, a privilege, a joy!
It is never too late to raise a reader. Even if your child is already in high school, start implementing these simple steps. People who read are more empathetic, curious, engaging, ambitious, compassionate, and resilient. And don’t we all want that for our children, at any age?
The final step in raising readers is to read a lot yourself. Even if you cannot read all day, you can make time every day to read. Great good comes from reading, and the best way to raise a good reader is to be one yourself. And not only for your children, but for yourself. Books provide companionship, guidance, comfort, escape, and pleasure. So much to be gained, and all by simply opening a book and starting to read.