5 ways to raise little readers

child reading a book in a fort - tips for raising readers
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

I grew up in the country and didn’t have consistent internet until I left for college. My cellphone flipped open and used T9. Reading in my spare time came a little more naturally to me than my kids’ generation. Things are much different now. My kids grew up with the internet, a smart TV and people shoving phones in their face since they were babies.

Society can sometimes make it sound like kids who watch TV or use technology can’t also be readers. Television gets villainized and reading gets glorified—but I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. We can watch Toy Story for the fiftieth time and then read The Hungry Caterpillar for the hundredth all in the same afternoon.

Both of my toddlers love books. They like to reach for them. They like to look at them. They bring them to me to read. I’m definitely no expert and I’m not a teacher, but these are things that have helped our little readers.

Don’t make them read

Sometimes my kids don’t want to read. I read at least 50 books a year, and the truth is sometimes I don’t want to read either. Sometimes I want to watch trashy TV, drink soda and eat candy—and that’s OK.  Forcing myself to read during those times won’t make me feel better, and forcing my kids to read when they don’t want to isn’t going to make them like it.

We read every day before bed and naptime as part of our sleep routine, but the rest of the day depends on them. Some days we read a pile of books before lunch. Other days we won’t even touch a book until it’s time to sleep. Letting them choose to read, gives them space to want to read. It levels reading with their other activities like painting, blowing bubbles or going for a walk. It shows them that reading is just a part of life, not something that they have to do.

Let them see you read

My kids see me read. They see my books around the house—with bookmarks that are always disappearing. When they watch a show on TV, if I’m not doing chores, I sit next to them and read a book. They flip through my magazines when they come in the mail and pick the best outfits and hotels and beaches. They know that reading is something I do like cooking and showering and exercising. It’s part of who I am to them. Because they see me read, they want to read. My girls take my books out all the time, even my 18-month-old. They flip through them with such joy and pride, saying that they are reading just like mommy.

Go to the library

Even though I’m a reader, I don’t have a bunch of ideas for activities to go along with the reading. I’m not the type of mom to come up with a song that matches this book. And I’m not super creative with a toilet paper roll and some construction paper, but our library is. My kids love reading in large part because of the library. Not only do they see other people reading there, but they have built a great relationship with the librarians. These librarians find creative ways to bring the books to life. When we read about groundhogs we made one that pops out of a tiny paper cup. My kids loved it so much that it made them want to go back to the library for reading time. Libraries also teach them about how to form a community, have discussions and make new friends.

Use books with gadgets

Books for toddlers have sensory patches and buttons which make reading certain sections so much fun for my kids. My 3-year-old can match the buttons to the page and read. My 18-month-old loves to flip and touch fur, bumps and sticky honey on the pages. These types of books allow them to have an independent sensory experience without me having to guide them through it.

Read what they like—even if it’s the same book over and over

Read it again! Sometimes I really, really don’t want to. The truth is there are kids’ books that I just loathe and those seem to be the ones that my toddlers love the most. I’ve probably got a dozen kids books that I know by heart, and I can almost guarantee that we’ll read one of those before bedtime tonight. But reading what they love over and over again lets them have ownership over their reading; it lets them put things together and make sense of a story; and it lets them have fun . Reading the same thing has let them “read” to themselves too. I hear my toddler repeat books to herself that I’ve recited a hundred times now, and I see my younger daughter sign her way through picture books that she’s requested I read back to back to back. Even if they’re not books that I love, I’m filled with such awe and joy.

Reading doesn’t have to be something they only do in school. And raising readers doesn’t have to be as strict as reading all the time without any time for TV. Raising readers can be all kinds of things: it can be the same book a thousand times or it can be a new one that only has pictures. I just want my kids to know that reading is something that we do, not something we have to do.  Letting them set some of the ways we read helps us keep reading as an activity that we all love.