My seventh and eighth-grade students come into my classroom. They are used to the routine now. Many of the students come from a class that is more uproarious than English and we have to take the time to recenter and calm down. Like the last kernels of popcorn, there is a pop here and there about how someone doesn’t like reading and then someone shushes them, hoping to get into their book without distraction. Then all is silent and it is glorious and I know not to throw a pebble into the still waters of their thinking.
Soon everyone is lost in a book. Or, if they are not lost in a book, they are lost in their thoughts soon to seek distraction even from that. So don’t be put off when your kids ask if they really HAVE to read. I helped my husband as he coached a middle school cross country team and there were still kids who asked EVERY DAY if we had to run.
At some point, if you are consistent, the protests will stop and they will adjust. In fact, they will thrive. I don’t mind telling you, dear reader, that I didn’t enjoy literature until I was in the seventh grade. Before that, I hated reading and I was so upset when, as a younger child, I had to go from picture books to chapter books. Then, when I was a little older, I wrote book reports based on what I could find on the back cover and within five minutes of flipping through a few chapters at breakneck speed. Obviously I have turned this negative attitude towards books around.
However, Don’t Just Ask the English Teacher
Did I mention that I am an English teacher? Well, that does not make me a reading teacher. A reading teacher has a whole different set of courses and evaluations and certifications that one has to endure to become a licensed reading teacher. So you don’t have to take my advice as gospel. What I’m offering comes from my personal history of being a reluctant reader. My advice also comes from being a mother of two kids, ages six and four.
How to Create A Culture of Reading
Be a Model Reader
I think that books are the most wonderful, relaxing things and my kids know how I feel because they will often find me reading a book. They will get up at night and need to use the potty and they will walk by my room where I am in bed reading a book. They come to wake me in the morning and my face will be plastered to a book. They sometimes even bring themselves and their little books in bed with me.
Make Books Accessible
My children take books to bed. I don’t care if they stay up reading. I leave the little light on for them. If you are worried about the effects on their sleep cycle, plug the lamp into a timer.
We also go to the library every couple of weeks and get more books than we need. The kids are so excited about their choices that they read them all the way home, not once asking for an iPad (you may laugh but you know it’s a win). I also pick up some books for reading together that have different creatures, genres, and messages than the ones they would have chosen themselves. Most of the smart kids I knew growing up were surrounded by books. They were the ones reading V.C. Andrews in fifth grade while the rest of us were struggling through James and the Giant Peach.
Also, reading apps can be part of your plan, just don’t make them the plan. We use a couple different ones in our home but I have one favorite: Homer. Homer has many popular stories which the program reads aloud and there are books with content knowledge questions at the end. The app is also good at building pathways that help kids along all the way from the learning ABCs to reading Harold and the Purple Crayon. This is probably my favorite app to date. It’s free for teachers and many schools have their kids set up with an account. If not, there are subscription options that will cost you far less than buying a book a month. Homer currently has two products: Reading and Stories.
Make Reading Part of the Family Culture
Both of my parents read frequently and in great volumes and they would occasionally read us stories in bed, but we were not a reading family. So what changed? When I was in the seventh grade, my mom—bless her heart—instituted a half hour reading time where ALL the family members had to spend 30 minutes reading in the living room together. We could bring whatever book we wanted but we had to sit our keisters down and we weren’t allowed to get up for ANYTHING for 30 minutes. I was pissed. Nothing about this sounded good. I had to sit. I had to read. I couldn’t use all my usual distractions.
You don’t have to force your children into a classroom-like setting, however. Read to them and with them. Take turns on paragraphs or pages.
I managed to fake it for most of that half hour. I soon began to enjoy the time I had to daydream. My mom would inevitably notice that I was not turning a page and then she would snap me back to reality with a dirty look, only to lose me again.
Well, one day I looked up from my two-hundred-page book of Ramona Quimby adventures and saw that my dad was reading his medical journal, my mom was reading The Pelican Brief, my younger brother was reading something equally as insipid as my text, and my older brother was reading something with dragons on it.
Which Brings Me to the Final Bit of Advice: Let Them Choose
Dragons! He gets to read about dragons? I was suffering through some book on how being a kid sometimes sucked, which I already knew, and he was reading about dragons? I wanted an escape. I examined the book from a distance. It was a thick tome that seemed twice as thick as my mom’s book (I found out later it was a trilogy in one book). Yet, that didn’t put me off. I wanted an escape and I found it in those books. It didn’t matter if they were above level or if they didn’t have any pictures past the world map, I was going to read about hunting dragons. So I did.
I’d rather like to do that now actually. I’m halfway through The Witcher books. This reminds me of another little nugget:
Bonus: Using Television and Movies to Motivate Reading
There are a million series and movies out there based on books. Don’t skip ahead and watch the show first. Read the book, dive in together, and make a date to watch the movie. Build a family tradition of discussing how stories are altered from and added to when depicted in film.
What recommendations would you make to help bring up a little reader in the family? Tell us below!