Get your Family into the Reading Habit

By Tina Chovanec

Reading for just 15 minutes each day can have a lasting, profound impact on your child’s development. Adding yet another task to the daily grind can seem daunting, but starting a reading habit doesn’t have to be boring and prescriptive!

Reading together is all about bonding over shared experiences and discovering complex language, expressive emotions and fantastic stories. Try a few of these ideas to see what works for your family!

Connect Reading with Real-World Adventures

Follow your child’s interests by connecting books with hands on activities and local field trips. Do you know any young detectives, artists, inventors or builders? Or children fascinated by dinosaurs, planes, bugs, birds, the moon and stars or music?

Make regular visits to the library to find books, magazines and movies on the topic your child is interested in. Look for related fiction and nonfiction.

Ask questions as you read together or when your independent reader finishes a book. Ask your child to tell you something new or surprising they learned, or to read a section that was full of interesting words.

Follow up on what you’ve read and learned together with an experiment, activity or adventure. Start a building project, take a nature walk, or visit a children’s museum, farmer’s market or construction site.

Keep a record of what you learn together—it’s a great way to engage young learners, provide writing practice, and help kids retain new knowledge. Start a journal, create a scrapbook or send a handmade postcard to family or friends.

Invite your child to talk with family and friends about their new interest. Maybe your child never knew that grandpa collects rocks too, and has a wonderful collection and stories to share.

Looking for resources to connect reading with hands-on activities and real-world explorations? Check out Start with a Book, where you’ll find 24 kid-friendly topics with recommended books, activities and educational apps.

Reading Nooks and Places for My Books

Make sure there are inviting, well-lit places to read in your home. For independent readers who need quiet to read, you might want to provide a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

For kids who need to move, a rocking chair or a stationary bike can make a welcome reading spot. You can also offer spaces that make reading feel like a special adventure.

Set up a blanket fort or pitch a tent indoors—or build a reading castle out of a recycled cardboard box. Then add pillows, a lantern, a string of holiday lights (for the magic) and a basket of books.

Creating a special “library” space for your child says that you value books and reading. Children feel pride in creating a collection that is personal to them.

The Magic of Reading Aloud

Reading aloud is an excellent way to create a sea of calm in your busy life. When you read with your kids every day, they can count on having time to talk with you.

Whether it’s reading the morning news and weather, puzzling over the directions to a new board game, listening to an audio book or diving into a long chapter book rich in adventures and quirky characters, you can share a common pleasure and expand world views together.

Don’t be afraid to stop as you read to ask questions or answer your child’s questions.Kids love to learn new words (especially BIGones), and books are one of the best ways to discover new vocabulary to add to your child’s growing “word bank.”

Remember that sometimes kids have to move around to be comfortable. Keep things moving by switching places, shifting to new reading spots, or having kids act out parts of the story or imitate a character as you read.

Fun Family Traditions

Sharing books together is just one way to strengthen language, literacy and critical thinking skills. If you want to mix things up a bit, try starting a new weekend tradition centered around family games. Rediscover classics like Memory, Scattergories or Scrabble, or explore something new.

The website Parents’ Choice always has a fresh new list of games of memory, matching, strategy and scavenging.

You can also put on a family poetry jam. Sharing poetry with kids is a great way to highlight language. Poems offer humor, interesting words, tongue twisters, alliteration and opportunities for choral reading (reading together). Start with playful, rhyming poetry about topics that are familiar to your child like animals, food and bedtime.

Nursery rhymes and Mother Goose collections are early favorites. Take turns reading the lines of a poem out loud. Read with drama and emphasize the sound of the words and the rhymes. Most importantly, just have fun with the colorful language and word play.

Kids’ Book Clubs

Many children like to share their thoughts about a book they just read, especially if the discussion is relaxed and low-key. Let the kids choose the books and how they want to talk about what they’ve read. Here are some ideas for a lively club meeting:

  • Invent a unique rating system for your book club
  • Record impromptu video book trailers
  • Perform favorite scenes from the story
  • Create a comic book version of the story
  • Cook up a recipe inspired by the book

Be a Role Model

Let your kids see you reading, too—poetry, graphic novels, history and biography, nature guides, how-to magazines, maps, cookbooks. You’re modeling how we read to learn about all kinds of things and for the pure enjoyment of it!

To learn more about how to create a literacy-rich home, browse Reading Rocket’s website for Growing Young Readers tip sheets for parents (available in Spanish, too).When you start a reading habit in your family, you really do open up a world of discovery for children.

Tina Chovanec is the director of Reading Rockets, an online source for information about teaching young children to read and helping those who struggle. Reading Rockets is hosted by WETA, a public broadcasting station in the Washington, DC area.

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