Cultivating a Love of Reading

If there is one thing you can find in nearly every room in our house, it’s a book.  Living room – books.  Bedrooms – books.  Basement – books.  Sun Room – books.  Bathroom – books.  The laundry room is about the only room in the house that doesn’t have reading material of some kind or another.

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We’ve always been really committed to reading to our children.  Most days, we read to them multiple times.  Some nights, we devote an hour to reading to them before bed time.  We read everything from The Adventures of Tintin series to Where’s Spot.  Dr. Seuss, Eric Carle, Richard Scarry, Mo Willems, and Julia Donaldson are our signature go-to authors. We always stock the car with books.  We potty train with books — meaning, we put them on the potty with a book — (it makes the success rate so much higher)!  We make sure that their bedroom only has stuffed animals and books.  We go to the library at least once a week.  And we try and hit up every story time (whether it be at one of the nature centers, Smithsonians, or local libraries) that we can.

Our devotion to providing such access to literature has really cultivated a love of reading in our nearly five-year old son, Logan.  He loves to be read to and will stop virtually anything that he is doing to listen to a story.  He is also beginning to read on his own, which, is such an exciting thing to watch as a parent.  Our nearly three-year old daughter, Katelyn, on the other hand, hasn’t been as enthusiastic of a reader – or so we thought.  She seems to rarely pay attention when we read (unless the book is moderately Frozen-related), and when she does take interest, it’s usually only for a few pages.  While we read, she often busies herself with her doctor’s kit or other toys.  Sometimes she’ll pick up a book or two and begin reading her own rendition of the story, which is fun to watch.  Other times, she’ll pick out a book for us to read to her, but she rarely stays around to listen to the whole story – or even more than a few pages.  My husband and I have always been puzzled by why Kate hasn’t quite developed the love of reading Logan has, but we realize that children are individuals and their interests will differ.

And then, after we had put everyone to bed the other night, I heard a little voice reading in the hallway.  It wasn’t Logan – he was fast asleep.  Instead, it was Katelyn, who had snuck out of her room (which she shares with Logan) with one of his books, nonetheless.  Not wanting to ruin the moment, I stayed at the bottom of the stairway and recorded her precious voice reading The Magic Treehouse – Tigers at Twilight.  It was her rendition of the story, of course, but it amazed me how on par her reading of the book was with what we usually read in The Magic Treehouse series (“Jack pulled out his notebook,” etc.)  It made me realize that all this time we thought Katelyn was busy doing other things, she was listening, and processing.  I was so encouraged by this.  Her love of reading might not be as obvious as Logan’s at first glance, but it exists.  She does pay attention.  She is interested.  And, as we’ve recently discovered, she’s a pretty rad storyteller.  Reading to our children is paying off.

So if you’re in a similar place with your child, don’t give up.  Even if they seem not to be paying any attention at all, their little mind is absorbing the stories and taking note of your actions and commitment to reading.  Reading is a gift at every age.  Continue to cultivate their love of reading, and hopefully one day they will thank you for it.

Here are some tips and tricks that we’ve used to allow literature to permeate our daily routine:

1. Library, library, library.  Get a library card and hit up your local libraries to check out new books weekly.  Mix it up by visiting different libraries from time to time.  Let the kids do the check-out scanning and book return – it makes the whole process so much more fun and interactive.  Hang the library story time schedule on your fridge.  Library story times usually feature more than just reading — often, librarians incorporate songs, rhymes, and educational games to teach letters, colors and/or numbers each week.

2. Put books in every room of the house.  Easy access to books = more frequent reading.

3. Instead of outfitting your car with entertainment systems or iPads, stock it with books.  In the absence of any other form of entertainment, books will hold their attention – and what a great thing that is!

4. If they are learning to use the potty, give them a book.  Not only will it relax them and perhaps (and almost always in our case) allow them to do their business, they’ll be reading.

5. Make the bedroom a read and sleep-only zone. We just started this about eight months ago and it has been awesome to see the kids reaching for books first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

6. Find story times near you.  The library isn’t the only jam for story time.  Book stores have weekly story times, nature centres hold story times, playseums hold story times, museums (even some of the Smithsonians in Washington, D.C.) hold story times.  So seek them out!  There are so many fun venues where you can hear stories.  For all of you shopping moms out there, even Pottery Barn hosts story times!

7. Listen to books on CD.  Kids love this!  They can follow along in the book as the CD plays.  Meanwhile, mom or dad can clean the kitchen and maybe even get a load of laundry in!  Books on CD are also great for the car.

8. Opt for books instead of toys when recommending gifts.  Birthdays, Christmas, Easter — whenever your relatives or friends ask what they can get for your child, recommend they get a book.  This helps build your collection.  If you are throwing a baby shower for a friend, a great way to start their child’s collection is to ask everyone who comes to bring a book (in lieu of a card) for the baby.

There are so many great ways to encourage your child to read.  If you have suggestions, please share with all by leaving a comment.

And with that, I leave you with this sweet video of Katelyn’s late-night reading:

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Our Fave Top Ten Toddler Books

We are always looking for new books for our avid reader.  Classics like Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon aside, here are our top ten favorite books so far, in no particular order:*

1.  Jamberry by Bruce Degen – this was a very early favorite and continues to be a joy for the whole family.  It is a fun, imaginative read with captivating rhythmic prose about, yes, berries!

2. The Icky Sticky Anteater by Dawn Bentley and Carly Castillon – our child loves anteaters, and for this reason, we searched for any and all books on anteaters.  Surprisingly, there are not that many books out there about the odd little creatures, so we took a chance on this one.  What an excellent find!  Not only is it a fun book that has great rhyming prose, it teaches a valuable lesson about being your own individual.  If your child has an anteater obsession like ours, this book should definitely be part of your collection!

3. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Tom Lichtenheld and Sherri Duskey Rinker – we found this one thanks to an excellent New York Times review.  Well-written with beautiful illustrations, the creators make routine construction vehicles come to life as they get ready to end their day and say goodnight.

4. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry – love this book!  It teaches excellent lessons about patience and the value of friendships. The book also has an excellent sequel:  Little Blue Truck Leads the Way.

5. Speedy Little Race Cars by Heather Cahoon – another early favorite.  We started reading it to Logan at about 6 months, at which time he loved the feel of the raised race cars.  More than one year later, Logan still loves the book, but less for the raised cars, and more for the bustling activity of race spectators found on each page.

6. The Going-To-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton – anything by Sandra Boynton is excellent.  Her books are short, witty, and fun.

7.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff – this is a relatively new one for us.  The mouse is endearing, as is the little boy who takes care of him for the day.  A very sweet read.

8. Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry – At first I thought this book would be too busy for Logan at his young age of 18 months, but I was dead wrong.  It is the number of illustrations of cars, trucks, buses, train, scooters – you get the idea – and the classic imagination of Richard Scarry that capture his attention and excitement.  I’m not kidding you when I say that we spend at least 1-2 hours a day on this book alone.  It never gets old.

9.  The Sleepy Little Alphabet by Judy Sierra – thank you, Oprah, for this suggestion from your Kids’ Reading List.  It’s a classic bedtime story that also teaches the alphabet.

10. Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw and Margot Apple – who can resist the temptation of reading a book about sheep driving a jeep?  This one will make you and your child laugh with its simple, yet catchy, prose.

*Disclaimer:  We have a car enthusiast at home (well, between Dad and Logan we have two), therefore many of these books are transportation-heavy.  Ahh, the joys of a testosterone-charged home!