February 5, 2014

How to get your kids to READ!

We had our three biological children all in the short span of three and a half years. Our oldest two are just over 16 months apart and our second child was a bit….difficult. Or, a lot difficult. I often wondered how someone so small could conspire to so perfectly interrupt my sleep the very minute after I drifted off. I honestly don't even remember much about her childhood because I was a total zombie for the first 18 months of it. Then magically, at 18 months, she started sleeping. All night. Every night.

And right about then, I found out I was pregnant. 

Needless to say, there were lots of things I didn't get accomplished during those years. One of them, one of my biggest regrets as a parent, is that I didn't read them more books. Don't get me wrong, we did read books, but it was all too often interrupted by a diaper that needed to be changed, a toddler who was hungry, or me falling asleep because I hadn't slept more than 2 hours in a row for months. I remember my mom reading piles and piles of books to us as kids, but that just didn't seem to happen much for my children.

I honestly thought I was doomed to have kids who hate to read.

When our oldest, in second grade, showed pretty much zero interest in reading, we decided we needed to take some action. And now, he's a crazy, reading machine!

Here's what worked for us:

1. Find the right books
I listed this one first because I think it's the most important. Just like adults, kids don't want to read about something they aren't interested in. We started out with shorter books - mostly about animals they liked. Luckily, our library has a pretty good collection of animal books and you usually find a book about specific ones. When they get a little older and move on to chapter books they read on their own, we search online for a series about topics they're interested in, or ask our local children's librarian, who has given me some great suggestions.

Once we find a book or a series we like, we often visit this site:

You can enter which books you like and it will make suggestions for other good reads!

2. Make reading time special
We tried to make reading time a "treat" by allowing our kids to read instead of going to bed. It's a great way for them to wind down for the evening and gives us more quiet time as well. We set them up with good reading lights by their beds and they will happily go to bed by 8:00 if it means they can stay up reading until 9:00. (You don't have to tell them that you adjust their bedtime to account for the hour of reading ;) )

3. Create the right environment
Homes that constantly have a TV on will constantly have kids watching it. We have fought the battle and waged a major war against the screens! I will be the first to stay that it doesn't work all the time, but significant progress has been made. We could not stay on top of who had how many minutes of screen time on which device and whose got taken away as punishment and so and so was playing the iPad but so and so was just watching, and can I play this? can I play that? We were DONE. We now have no screens on in our house Monday - Thursday. None. No TV, no computer, iPad, iPod, DS, whatever. When they know it's not an option, they gravitate toward other things - like their books.

We also don't allow them to watch endless movies in car trips. They alternate between movies and listening to a book on CD. It's not exactly like reading, but it does get their imaginations going.

4. Set a good example
You knew this was coming, didn't you? Mom's and Dad's who have their faces buried in their smartphones all day can't expect their kids not to want to do the same. If I'm honest with myself, I have to admit this is probably the hardest one to do. But just do it. Just put the iPhone down!

This is a little bit harder if you read on your tablet. But kids are pretty smart - let them see what you're doing - they'll quickly figure out the difference between reading a good book and thumbing around on Facebook. Or, just go old-school like me and use the ones made from real paper.

Our current reads: mine are the paperbacks, Jon's is the digital (written by a high school classmate of his!)

5. Make it fun
There are a lot of ways this could be accomplished, but for us, the AR (accelerated reader) system they use at school has been perfectly adequate. Our kids LOVE trying to rack up AR points and hit their next goal, get their next prize, or help earn the next classroom party. Reward charts at home would make an easy substitute if your child isn't inspired by the AR program, just cater the rewards to your individual child.

Honestly, writing a parenting post is a little out of my element. I have teacher friends and super-mom friends who are WAY more qualified to suggest tips than I am. But, this is one thing that has actually worked for us, so take that for what's it's worth and get those kiddos reading!


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