Cultivate a family reading habit and you’ll find entire universes open up for all of you, together.
by Anjali Shastry and Laura Santos
Happy 2019! We could not be more enthused about the state of children’s literature right now — we can travel across the galaxy, meet new friends, go on adventures, learn about ourselves and more, all through the pages of a book. This year, go on some of those literary adventures as a family. Cultivate a family reading habit and you’ll find entire universes open up for all of you, together.
No matter what ages your children are, here are nine ways to be engaged in the reading process as a family.
1. Start early
It’s never too early to start reading to your kiddos! When you’ve got little ones who can’t even keep their heads up, you can still read to them. Read them your favorite cookbook, magazine, periodical, or novel. Babies are teeny-tiny sponges and absorb everything, from your voice to your facial expressions to your personality. When they hear your voice directed at them, they will slowly develop language and get familiar with the people close to them.
As your children continue to grow, give them board books to hold, flip through, or even put in their mouths! They will get used to holding them in their hands and looking at the pictures. Eventually, you can both get into the book by acting out the characters, doing voices, singing or using props!
2. Establish routines
Reading isn’t just for bedtime — books are a great idea any time of the day. Make a point of reading time; put away your phones, turn off the TV, and sit together for some literary adventures. Babies and toddlers are masters at multitasking — they seem easily distracted, but they’re really paying attention to every single thing in the world, all at once. When reading, create a calm environment that allows them to focus on the book and on your togetherness.
3. Share the books you grew up with
Lean into the nostalgia and introduce your little ones to your favorite books growing up! Are there any books that remind you of loved ones? Are they tied to precious memories? What’s a story you’ve remembered even into adulthood? There’s nothing like sharing those memories with your kids and and learning more about each other.
4. Let kids lead the way
When children are very young, you are the curator of their libraries. But as they grow and express interest in certain types of books, make book selection a family activity where everyone participates. Take them to the library or book store and let them lead you to what they want. Do they like picture books? Do they like books about outer space, or dinosaurs, or trucks?
If they get a vote in what they read, they will cultivate the enthusiasm for reading that will serve them well as lifelong readers. Be your child’s guide and check for appropriate content, but let them make the decisions based on their interests.
As your little readers master the alphabet and grow their vocabularies, turn the tables and let them read to you!
5. Encourage kids to make up their own stories
Children love repetition — they need it to learn and process what they’re reading. But for parents, reading the same book a hundred times a week is exhausting and boring. As a family, find ways to recreate your favorite stories and breathe new life into them. Act out the stories, dress up, or even borrow the book’s characters or plot to make up stories of your own.
Making up stories will help children comprehend the stories they’ve already read, develop language skills, understand story structures, delve into character motivations, learn empathy, and more. It also gives them an opportunity to flex their creative muscles!
6. Explore new genres
Discover new types of books together! There is a whole world out there of diverse children’s books for all ages and stages. Format doesn’t matter; explore picture books, comics and graphic novels, and nonfiction on a variety of topics. If something is a hit, that’s great! Find more books about it. If it isn’t, talk about what didn’t resonate and what might have improved it. Together, you can develop your little one’s vocabulary to express complex thoughts.
7. Ask questions
It’s easy to be sucked into a good book and keep flipping the pages without stopping, but take the time to ask and answer questions. When your child stops the story to ask a question, it means they are engaged and want to deepen their understanding of what’s happening. Be sure to ask questions of your own, like “What do you think is happening in this picture?” or “Why do you think the character feels this way?”
This helps children take a beat to comprehend the book better, and their answers may surprise you! It’s a fun way to learn more about your child, their burgeoning personalities, and what they are learning and observing.
8. Model reading for kids
Don’t think you’re off the hook here! Family reading includes modeling good reading habits for your kids. It’s okay if you haven’t kept up with your to-read lists— now’s as good a time as any to start again. Pick up a newspaper, magazine, find an Oprah recommendation, discover a new book at the library or reread one of your old favorites. Getting back in the habit of reading will help you inspire your little one.
9. Make reading family time
Family reading doesn’t necessarily mean that you all have to read together every time. Especially as your child gets older, you can read your own books, but together. Organize family leisure time around books and read alongside one another.
As your little reader becomes more independent, you may feel divorced from the process. Reading near each other allows you to see and hear their reactions to books, and serves as a conversation starter.
Thanks to Cecilia Clark.