In this personal essay piece, Eric Silverberg, a voracious reader, parent, and BUSD elementary school librarian, shares the joy he and his son experience through reading, and shares some easy to follow advice about developing readers in the home.
When I was ten years old I was a voracious reader. I read fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction — the Phantom Tollbooth, A Wrinkle in Time, James and the Giant Peach. I read in my bed, staying up late at night getting lost in the characters’ problems and their imaginary worlds. One morning, needing a break, I decided not to go to school and instead packed my bag, throwing in some chips, an apple and my copy of Mark Twain’s the Prince and the Pauper and headed to the roof of our apartment building to read for the day. It was the first time I skipped school and all I could think of to do was to find a place to be alone with my book. Reading was for me, at age 10, a way of escaping my problems, and making sense of my feelings. Today, I’m still an avid reader. As a children’s librarian, I read for work, so I know which books to recommend to kids. But I’m also a regular reader of adult fiction, especially science fiction when I need to escape and make sense of my feelings, just like I did when I was 10.
My son, now age 10, is a different kind of reader than I was at his age. A big non-fiction consumer, he loves the Guinness Book of World Records, graphic novels, sports almanacs, and, apt this time of year, his dog-eared copy of Our Country’s Presidents. He reads USA Today Sports Weekly cover to cover when it arrives at our house every Tuesday. When he does read fiction, it’s usually realistic. He reads to gain knowledge about the world, for deeper understanding, and often keeps several books going at once, depending on his current interests and inquiries. But like me at 10, he also reads to understand his own feelings. Like his dad he reads in bed, at night, and when he wakes up in the morning and often has to be told to put the book down to get ready for school.
There are all kinds of readers, each with varied interests and reading styles. Our goal as teachers and parents is to help our children become lifelong readers, no matter what their style. We begin by teaching our children to read: they need to learn the mechanics of reading; how to think deeply about their reading and writing; how to read for meaning; how to decode and read with fluency. But it is equally important that we help our children discover a love of reading that is unique to their individual selves. When our children seek out books for pleasure they are on the path to becoming lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
Here are five ways you, as parents and caregivers, can help your children see themselves as readers.
Let your child select what they read
Be a reading guide for your children and encourage them to try varied titles and genres, but let them pick what interests them. When it comes to fostering a sense of joy with reading, it all starts with interest. Try to minimize judgement when it comes to your child’s reading choices. Maybe your child only wants to read graphic novels or comic books — let them. Let them read magazines or sports almanacs, or the same tattered paperback over and over again. Let them listen to audiobooks — it all counts as long as they get pleasure from what they read. They might have found a great story, one they can get lost in. Or maybe they’re soaking up facts and trivia. When your child chooses the books, your child is choosing to read.
Create a special, physical space for reading
When my kids were little they liked to sit in a laundry basket. They’d cozy up inside with a pillow and a stack of books and look at them one by one. This was before they could actually read. Make your child an age-appropriate laundry basket—this can be the corner of the couch, a soft pillow on the floor. Get a stack a books from the library or your child’s teacher and place them within easy reach of this comfortable spot. No matter how small your living arrangement, always make a space for your child to be alone with books.
Make reading the go-to option for those times when kids are bored or have downtime—the car, in bed, in the bathroom. Keep a pile of books on hand to make these spaces book-friendly.
Model reading for pleasure
It’s important to show our children that adults also choose to read for pleasure. Before bed, after dinner, even for a spare five minutes, find a book and curl up on the couch. Your child will see.
Make a time in your family’s routine where technology (computers, phones, ipads) are off and away and you all read together, even for a short uninterrupted period of time. This may mean everyone sitting together each reading their own books, reading books aloud, or listening to an audiobook.
Teach reading as a family value
We pass on our values to our children, both implicitly and explicitly. At home, we should strive to show – and tell – our children that we love reading, and that it is a sacred, pleasurable experience.
Reading is also thinking – at the dinner table, discuss articles you are reading or books you discovered. We can show our children that we are a part of a family that is interested in learning about the world. These conversations help our children develop a sense that they are in a family of readers—and they will soon see themselves as readers, too.
Read with your children
Make time for family reading – reading with your children goes a long way in developing lifelong readers. Nightly read alouds are a good start. Find a book that you are both interested in reading, and set aside the time to do so together. And read alouds do not have an age limit: yes, we read with our infants and toddlers, and our elementary children curl up for a chapter, but it’s beneficial at any age – even with middle and high schoolers. Find a chapter book, and take turns reading to each other each night. In 5th grade at Washington School, for example, students in the Mock Newbery Book Club are reading Booked by Kwame Alexander. The rhythm of the book, and the concise poem/chapters lends itself well to a read aloud. Encourage older children to read to younger children before bed – start with the classic A Snowy Day to draw them in with artwork, or share a laugh with Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. The options are endless: what you read is less important than the act itself.
Try to keep the nightly read aloud tradition with your child. You’ll find that you both look forward to this ritual. In our house, it usually doesn’t happen every single night, sometimes we’re working, or exhausted, or cranky. But we read as often as we can. Because the benefits of carving out time to read will last far into adulthood.