I hear it a lot: my child hates to read, what can I do? Most parents want their children to grow up to love books and value reading. We all recognize the importance of being able to read well and the impact on our child’s success in school and life if they cannot read. But, let’s take this a step further. Don’t we all want more than a child who can read? Don’t we want to raise a child who loves to read? Who chooses books over video games and who understands the value of literacy?
I’ve not met a parent yet who has thumbed their nose at the idea of raising a child who loves to read. I have, however, met many parents who have given up on this dream because their child either struggles with reading, hates reading, or both. The good news is those problems are preventable, but it all starts when your child is a baby — so don’t hesitate — start developing these four habits now!
When it comes to raising a lifelong reader, start with foundational habits that will carry your child through all the stages of reading development. Your goal is to create an atmosphere of joy surrounding books and reading, so start establishing these habits early on — but no matter what age your child is you can begin.
Developing good reading habits will help your child become a strong, independent reader, but it can be overwhelming and daunting to know what habits to focus on. My advice is to keep it simple and focus on the big things that are going to have the greatest impact.
Reading Habit 1: Children need read-aloud time
The read-aloud is the cornerstone of literacy instruction and should always maintain its place in your routine. If you have time for nothing else on a busy day, squeeze in a few minutes to read aloud to your child. Many articles and books have been written on the importance of reading aloud to your child, so check out the links in this article, but please understand there is a reason I list this one first: it’s the most important (and easiest to implement) activity that you can do to raise a lifelong reader!
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Reading Habit 2: Children need time to read “easy” books
We need to provide children the free time to get lost in a good book. This is unstructured time when children can pick books they enjoy that are easy-reads for them. Too often in our zeal to teach children to read we overwhelm them with flashcards, worksheets, and phonics practice (none of which is bad when used the correct way) and squeeze out all the time for real reading.
Children cannot associate these isolated skills and practice with the act of reading real books unless we give them ample to time to practice the skills and strategies they are learning.
Allow your child to choose some favorites they read over and over or new books if they are ready. This independent reading time allows them to develop as independent, confident, and engaged readers, gives them ownership and choice over what they read, and sets the foundation for becoming a lifelong reader for pleasure.
Reading Habit 3: Children need time for writing
Even if it is the very early foundation of writing for a preschooler, writing is also important to raising a lifelong reader. When young children are exposed to free writing time they will not develop the fear of writing we see in many school-age children and even in adults.
Don’t wait until your child is elementary age to introduce them to the skill and creative pleasure of writing. It’s been said that reading is breathing in and writing is breathing out. Allow children to draw pictures about what you read together, create their own stories either independently or with your help using interactive writing, and encourage them to read these stories to others, thereby creating an awareness of themselves as storytellers and writers.
Reading Habit 4: Children need daily guided reading time
Guided reading time is when you model a new book or the next level of reading for your child and then read the selection together. Even if you are not homeschooling your child, every time you interact with a book with your child, you are modeling important skills and strategies. Don’t let this overwhelm you, let it empower you! You have thousands and thousands of opportunities as a parent or caregiver to set your child up for reading success even before they step one foot through a classroom door.
And remember, your influence doesn’t stop once they are off to school. Continue to implement these habits, guard against busyness and technology from usurping this time, and your child will blossom and grow and into a lifelong reader!