One of the defining things about me as a child was that I was a reader. I read at the table (until busted). I read in the bed after bedtime (until busted). I read in the car. I read everywhere. I used to workout at 6 am and when I would leave the house at 5:50 to get to the gym, I’d always pass a kid at the bus stop (the high schools here start at 7:15 and the elementary schools start at 9 or 9:30. If there is ever an age group that needs to start at 9:30 it is high schoolers, but I digress) and he was always reading a book. That kid did my heart good every morning.
I prize reading not because I happen now to be a writer, but because I know that every good thing that came my way, came because I was a voracious reader. Reading made me curious, careful, compassionate. Reading gave me the world in a way that my parents financially couldn’t– but they knew how to give me the world through a book, and that lesson taught me that I could go out and get it. I know that reading changed my life, and I believe it can change everyone’s life, but only if that fire for reading is lit from within.
Here, four out-of-the-box things I’ve seen parents do which I think are brilliant ideas when it comes to inspiring the reader within their child…
1. This was my dad’s strategy: Take me to the library every Saturday morning and allow me to spend as much time as I wanted- and sometimes it was hours- picking books out of the kids’ room. And when I approached the desk to check out my too-tall stack, he never said anything to me about, “Are you sure you can read that many books in a week?” He just fueled my fire.
2. A friend’s parents gave him a bedside table lamp on his eigth birthday. That lamp was the last thing an 8 year old wanted, but, then, they told him this: From now on, he could use that bedside lamp to determine his bedtime. He would still get in bed at the same time every night. But, in his bed, he could read as late as he wanted to with his table lamp. Inevitably, he felt empowered that he could stay up past his bedtime so he wanted to read every night before going to bed and, yet, he was too tired to stay up late enough for it to affect him physically. It, however, was just enough reading every night to affect him emotionally and intellectually. A total win, win for parent and child. And this friend of mine? One of the finest men I know. You connect the dots.
3. The same friend’s parents used to sit him down at the beginning of each summer and ask him what he would like to do that summer for fun. He’d come up with a long list– go to the local amusement park, go fishing, stay up past his bedtime to watch a movie, etc– and then they would come up with a learning list. Every time he learned something, he got to pick a thing to do off his fun list. The learning list had poems he had to memorize, instructions to identify 5 insects, leaves, or flowers he found outside, etc. All of the learning required him (in the pre-internet age) to turn to a book. Fifteen years later, he could still recite If by Rudyard Kipling (If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;/ If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; /If all men count with you, but none too much;/ If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -/ Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,/ And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son).
4. I just read about this one on Viva La Feminista’s blog. She told her daughter, who was curious about what her mom reads, that the books on the living room shelf were hers for the taking (anything not age appropriate got moved to the home office shelf) and now the living room shelf is a no-holds barred lending library for her daugher, only fueling her curiosity and interest in learning.
What are the great strategies you’ve used or seen used to develop a person’s love of reading?