Monday, August 3, 2009

Parenting 101: Teaching Your Children to Love Reading

I thought that since I'm a perfect mother and all, that I'd share some of my wisdom with all of my lovely friends.
Yes, we all know I'm practically perfect in every way.
Always have been, always will be.
*Ahem, right.*
The truth is 99% of the time I have no clue how to parent effectively.
I hope I'm doing the best I can and really I just want to be with my kids and to have fun with them. I am always asking my parenting mentors (my sisters and sisters-in-law and a few amazing friends) what they did when their kids were young. Even then most of the time I am simply guessing.
A while ago I made a comment on face book about how my children and I have quiet time and they sit nicely and read during the afternoon when Baby is napping.
One of my friends later asked me how on earth I get my children to sit still and read (or look at pictures in books for the little boys).
I got to thinking about how the process began and I thought I'd share what has worked for me.
Keep in mind I am not a professional, merely an amateur at this parenting stuff. I did not get this out of a book, I just wanted to read with my kids and this is what worked for us. Maybe it will help some of you to have the blessed quiet hour with your kids even after they outgrow naps.
Let me tell ya, it is heaven when they are all quiet and learning and happy.
Makes this mommy very content.
  • Start reading to them when they are very, very small. The smaller the better. Even if it's just tiny books to start with. For babies, books with lots of colorful pictures of wildlife are perfect. You can point to animals all day long and mimic their sounds.
  • Have a goal. My goal was to continue quiet time beyonds naps (for my sanity) and to develop in my children a deep and lasting love of reading and learning and a love for the classics.
  • As your children grow, expand your reading as appropriate. I started reading chapter books like Winnie the Pooh and The Velveteen Rabbit (that one makes my cry every time) when Doodle was 3, Beano was 2 and Dubs was just a baby.
  • Start the chapter books slowly. Don't make them listen for hours on end. At that age I read in 5-10 minute intervals 2-3 times a day.
  • Be consistent. If you have a day when no one is listening and they are all wriggly, don't give up. Try again the next day, and the next, and the next. I promise they'll get better, and so will you.
  • End with a cliff hanger and talk about what you think might happen next. Get into it and make it exciting, so they are begging you to read more so they can find out what will happen next.
  • Give them something to occupy their hands. Doodle loved doing those lace up games and Beano loved pushing toy cars around. As long as they were quiet I was happy. You would be surprised how much they really are listening even when it seems they are not.
  • Set ground rules for reading time. My biggest rule is that they must be quiet while I read. If Beano's car started making noise he had to take it up stairs. He did not want to be upstairs, he wanted to be with us, so it only took a few times of sending him away before he got it.
  • Have designated reading time set. Plan it like you would meals and bed time. We have 3 designated reading times every day. I read aloud to them during our school day (which has not happen much this summer), we have quiet reading time after lunch when Baby is napping, then I read aloud to them again before bed. School reading is something school related, usually a library book about some topic they are interested in learning about that week. Nap time reading is their choice. Bed time reading is a novel we read together as a family. Right now we are reading The Secret Garden. It's Doodle favorite. We listened to it once on audio and she loved it so much she had to buy it and now we are reading it together before bed. Dubs usually falls asleep before we're even half way through a chapter, but that's cool with me.
  • Make reading the better choice. I don't force them to read. During nap time they can chose to either read or look at books or take a nap or sit silently and stare at the ceiling. There are no other options. If they whail out that they don't want to read, fine by me, they have 2 other options to chose from. 99 out of 100 times, they chose books. We also have started letting them take books to bed with them. We pushed bed time up by half an hour and they can have lights on for 30 minutes to look at books. If they chose not to look at books that does not mean they can stay up 1/2 hour later to play, they may chose to go straight to sleep however, which they sometimes do.
  • Read above their level and they'll rise to it. We stop frequently during our reading so we can talk about vocabulary or concepts or moral lessons being taught. This is the only way to learn. We have learned so much from the characters we have read about, I would not trade these lessons for all the gold in the world, they are priceless. They may not get everything happening in the story the first time they hear it, but they will learn to love it. They have the rest of their little lives to reread the classics and to continue to learn from them.
  • Let them see you reading. I read during quiet time every day with my kids. They see me laugh at the funny parts and they're dying to know what's so funny. They see me cry when it's tragic or touching. Then they want to know what's wrong. Share with them the things you read. Let them know you truly, deeply love books, and they will too. Let them see, in you, the magic that happens to your soul when you are touched by the magic of a book.
  • Listen to audio books. Check them out at your local library. We almost always have one going in the car. Sometimes we'll get home from our trips and sit in the car for 10 more minutes until the chapter ends, we just cant get enough. Another great source is librivox. Many books that are in the public domain are in audio on librivox and available for free download. Did you hear that people, FREE! Mr Bird puts them on my ipod and we listen to them in the car. There are nearly 400 children books to chose from with many more listed as works in progress.
  • If you really want to be fanatical, like me, ditch the T.V. all together and limit video games. We no longer have t.v. It is no longer an option to go watch the boob tube when we're bored. We pick up books. I don't know how many times I find Doodle sitting quietly on her bed reading even when it's not nap time. She constantly has a line of 3-4 books she is reading at one time. That makes me so happy! We do watch the occasional movie on the computer and Mr Bird plays video games with the boys a couple of times a weeks, but we don't rely on those mediums for the bulk of our entertainment. Trust me, it's hard to give it up at first, but after a while you'll wonder how on earth you ever thought it was OK to waste that much time everyday. It's one of those things that you'll never say, "Gee, I really wish I had watched more T.V. when my kids were small!"


Anonymous said...

You posted this on Monday, and here I am on Wed still thinking about it. Unusual because I read so much stuff that it's hard to keep it all straight sometimes. Anyway, I loved this post. I think it's my favorite so far on your blog. It was intelligent, humble, and provided helpful information. I'm not ready to give up my TV yet, but I remember reading for hours as a kid, and it makes me remember all the fun and the hours I spent reading Nancy Drew or whatever had caught my eye. I remember my mom reading to your hubs and I, just like you do with your kids. It seems so inconsequential, but what a difference it has made to me and on my life choices. Ask your hubs if he remembers reading The Cay.

Brad Mack said...

You may as well be the perfect mom... hahaha... I love reading what you write! If you were writing for only me wouldn't it be worth it?! But luckily, you're writing for many others... thanks!


The Lazy Organizer said...

What a wonderful post! I think you said it all. Most people just don't realize how important it is to read to children. Sometimes we get off track but my favorite time to read is at night. I sit in the hall and read to all the children while they lay in bed.