Let's Make Wide Reading Part of Family Life

Helping our kids love to read and read widely gives them the very best start in life.
By Susan Stephenson
Jan 10, 2014



Let's Make Wide Reading Part of Family Life

Jan 10, 2014

Wide reading helps our kids develop important language skills they need for school and for life. By reading widely, our children develop general knowledge and imagination. Reading widely in fiction is just as important as reading widely in non-fiction -- fiction helps kids develop empathy for and understanding of others. The link between reading and writing is well-known -- kids who read widely and thoughtfully become better writers.

But how do we get our kids to read widely? What do we do if our little ones are stuck in a groove, only wanting to read pink glittery books or choose books about trucks? Or how about those older kids who find a series they like and won't budge out of it? Clever parents find ways to NUDGE kids towards wider reading. Whoa Nelly!  I'm not suggesting we tell our kids what books to read! I passionately believe in children choosing the books they themselves WANT to read. This gives them power over their own reading and leads to real reading enjoyment.  But that doesn't stop parents from being sneaky and finding other ways to include reading at home.

One idea is to include different kinds of books or different genres in family read-alouds. If we think our 10-year-old might enjoy something hilarious like The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, say, we can read a chapter aloud each night. When my son was young, I would read aloud four picture books of his choice so long as I got to choose one book I loved. My conscience about kids choosing their own books seemed elastic enough to let that one through. Besides, something had to get me through the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phase!

There are many different ways to read nowadays. Print books are wonderful but there's certainly room in children's lives for e-books, audio books, magazines, home-made books, and reading online. Being able to access reading material for our kids on a phone or iPad is really handy for parents. I suggest we download ones our kids ask for and a couple more for us. While audio books should never replace real one-to-one sharing of books with our kids, they're a great addition to a parent's toolbox. If we consciously look for opportunities to share a range of "ways" to read, our children will benefit. That kind of incidental reading might seem small, but the minutes add up to hours very well-spent.  

When kids are intrigued by something, that's the perfect time to help them discover resources about their interests. Our local libraries make a perfect port-of-call, or we can go high-tech and search a library's online database before we visit. There are so many wonderful non-fiction books nowadays! Kids will enjoy amazing photography, a range of different formats, and writing styles tailor-made to suit enquiring young minds. They'll also encounter lots of different text types they'll meet more formally at school -- for example, cooking together is a great way to introduce children to "procedures" found in recipe books. Pairing a fiction book with a non-fiction book on the same fascinating topic can be another way to nudge our kids to wider reading.

Our kids tend to do what we do, so we must make sure they see US reading. Sharing with them what we love about specific books, whether for adults or children, is a great idea. Enthusiasm is contagious, and a love of reading is something we definitely want our kids to catch. Reading WITH our kids online, and visiting cool websites together like National Geographic or How Stuff Works means we get the chance to discuss both the delights and the dangers of the Internet in a natural way while helping our kids to read widely.

When kids LOVE reading, it becomes something they want to do more and more. Books actually become friends and open up new worlds for children. Reading great books helps kids learn to love words and what we can do with them. This in turn fuels their writing, and all their communication skills. Helping our kids love to read and read widely gives them the very best start in life.

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