Growing up, my parents, in subtle ways, fostered a love of reading in me. I can remember watching my mother make the grocery list and trying to copy it. I remember asking my parents questions about maps and signs that were always patiently answered, allowing my curiosity to continue to blossom. Memories of visiting the local library in my tiny town and cherishing my time with those books will never fade. Neither will the childhood books that my brother and I inherited from cousins, which in time, fell apart because we read them innumerable times. There were babysitters who played word games with us, cousins with whom we played school, and places we visited abounding with words that we “just had to know”. Looking back on my own childhood, along with my experiences as a teacher, I find that raising a reader truly is a multi-faceted adventure that has no exact prescription, but a mélange of elements of indefinable proportions.
One key element of nourishing young readers is cultivating patience. To truly raise a reader, one has to understand that reading is more than just words. It’s highly influenced by time, attitude, and effort. Consider a time when you were first learning something, such as playing an instrument. Once you got that piece of equipment in your hands, it felt like you struck gold, only to find out that you didn’t really know what to do with it (I speak for myself here back in middle school). It takes effort along with lots of practice to slowly but surely grow as a musician. The same goes for readers. Building a strong foundation for literacy is key to growing a successful reader. Know that making mistakes is not only acceptable, but a MUST, and they should be treated as blessings.
Another important element in raising a reader is positivity. We lead by example. I cannot stress the importance of children seeing their parents reading at home and sharing the joy and love of reading with their family. Growing up, my mother always read romance novels and my father hunting and fishing magazines. Their example drove a desire to be like them, to get pure enjoyment from reading as they did. With advancement in technology, many of us are glued to our phones for most of our reading (guilty as charged!). Children love their technology and seem to be more adept at using it than many adults. Instilling a LOVE of reading through use of electronic devices is vital to raising readers of the 21st century. It is all too easy for kids to get hooked on games and spend endless hours playing them. Imagine setting aside time for “e-reading” where children can see their devices as not only toys, but more importantly as positive tools for learning.
Raising a reader also includes tons of play that helps build a strong reading foundation. Kids are kids, and they enjoy just about any kind of game you present them, especially at a young age. Ways of playing with letters and words include singing of the ABCs, rhyming games, and word guessing games, to name a few. Children are naturally drawn to music, so make the most of it! Sing nursery rhymes, silly songs, and church hymns with your children so they can have fun building a literacy foundation. I can remember being in church at a very young age, wanting to follow along with the hymns. I truly believe that I grew to be a fluent reader because of my unrelenting desire to follow along and see what I was singing. Encourage your children to do the same! Their natural curiosity will reinforce the desire to read along with your support.
Reading would not be complete without a little persistence. It’s important to set aside time each day for reading, especially for elementary grades that are still developing the foundations of reading. Just twenty minutes of reading per day exposes children to 1,800,000 words per year. With this astounding number of words read, children tend to have a broader vocabulary and score higher on standardized tests. Keep shelves at home full of books that kids find interesting, and reread favorite ones over and over! Talk with your children about their reading to uplift and advance their understanding of the books as well as the world around them. Promote conversations with your children outside of reading, too! This grows their vocabulary, builds confidence in speaking and listening skills, and reinforces their curiosity.
Remember that there isn’t a magical formula for the perfect literacy upbringing. One can rest assured that being positive, patient, playful, and persistent will surely grow your little readers over time. In the end, not only are we aiming to set up success for our children by growing them as readers, but we are also striving to instill a LOVE for reading.