Note: I wrote this for a different blog in August 2019. It was one of my most popular posts, I decided to post it here so it wouldn’t be lost.
I’m two weeks into the new school year, and we have completed loads of activities with my students to assess what needs to be done to make sure that those trusted to my classroom grow at acceptable levels. One startling reality I face each year is this: an increasing number of students insist they don’t read.
Each fall I search for better ways to encourage reading, and each fall I find one or two strategies that reach a few extra students. I’m faced with the reality, however, that the best way to encourage reading is by changing what children see and do in their own homes. So, I ask myself, what can I do to encourage reading is an activity that is encouraged and honored in the homes my students return to after a day at school?
“To learn to read is to light a fire” — Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
I can’t control what happens in other people’s homes, but I can share what my parents did to develop a love of reading.
- Parents read to their children
My earliest memories include my parents reading to me. My mother always read a story before we went to bed each night, and my siblings and I looked forward to that activity. She would let each one of the children select their favorite book to read, and I often picked my favorite, Lyle, Lyle, the Crocodile.
I won’t discuss the data now, but research proves parents who read to their infant and toddler children build cognitive and vocabulary advantages in their children over those whose parents don’t do the same. If you are reading this and just starting a family, read to your children; give them that early advantage.
- Parents let their children see them read
My city had two daily newspapers, and both were delivered at various times to our home. The afternoon newspaper was delivered on weekdays and the morning paper on the weekends. My father would read the afternoon paper before our family had dinner and wake up early on the weekends to stay caught up on current events. We saw him reading every day.
I feel like the most important thing my father did, however, is turn reading into a family activity. While we were young, he would read the comic strips out loud to us. As we got older and learned how to read on our own, Dad would hand out different sections of the newspaper so that we could each have something to read. We would trade sections as we completed our reading.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer homes have traditional newspapers delivered on a daily basis. I’ll admit, I have converted to reading local and national newspapers online. Parents could share that love of reading on a computer, but it doesn’t match the connection the touch and the smell of newsprint brought to my family when I was young.
- Parents take their children to the library
My parents took our family to the local public library once every two weeks. It was exciting to see all of the books that could be borrowed and taken home for my own reading pleasure. I knew that I was finally a big kid when I got my own library card and the privilege to check out books on my own.
I was embarrassed and disappointed when I didn’t return a book by its due date. I think I owed 35¢, and I had to pay it out of my own pocket. That was a lesson in personal responsibility that I will never forget; thank goodness I never lost or damaged a library book.
Helping students become confident independent readers is key for increased success at school, and parents are the main influence in developing confident young readers. I’m sure I will revisit this topic again and share other ways my parents raised six children who all love to read. In the meantime, please drop a comment about your own experiences reading in the home.