One of the things I read a lot on a homeschool web forum where I am a member, is “How do I raise readers?”. Well, I have 2 readers. They are 13 and 12. One’s a boy, one’s a girl. They’re active, easily distracted, totally normal kids. Except, from what I hear, it’s not “normal” that both of them are readers. HUGE readers. Fast, insane comprehension type readers. When many leave Sonlight for too much reading, my kids thrived and read more after schoolwork was done. This is «NOT» to brag, but to give a little perspective on my kids and our family. My DH and I both wish we could read as fast as our kids….for real. (The pile in the picture above is what Little read between Tuesday and Sunday of Thanksgiving Week – along with 4 wheeling, trampolining, movies, fun with a cousin, and sleep…).
Looking back, I think there are a few things that helped my kids to become readers. I am certain some of it is bent and gifting from God, but it was also fairly tactical on my and my husband’s parts.
1. Teach them to read really well.
With Big I used Veritas Press Phonics Museum, with Little he pretty much taught himself to read and then we used Click N Read. I don’t think the curriculum matters as long as it’s a solid phonics program you can teach, and you use it every day. With both we read daily when they were learning – sometimes a couple of times a day. I listened to a FABULOUS lesson on teaching reading and the speaker emphasized that we teach reading to read and love God’s Word. Since that isn’t only done Monday through Friday, neither should reading instruction. They read aloud until well after they could read well, and still do. We practiced and practiced. We read the bible and early readers and story books. Keep reading to them and with them. A ton. Until they really get it. Like flying, it’s my opinion that soloing too early can be dangerous. Yes, early readers can put you to sleep and frustrate you to no end – hang with it, smile, and keep going. It’ll be worth it!!
2. Quiet Time.
When my kids were little we had (and often still have) Quiet Time. Pretty much daily from 1-2:30 was my time to rest, clean up, whatever – and the kids had an option. They could “book or bed”. That meant a nap, or they could hang out on their beds and read. If they were too little to read, they needed to nap. Otherwise, I got them PILES of books for them to read. We’d go through 20 a week. No toys, no tv, no goofing off. “Books or Bed”. I felt it was really important for them to not be entertained 24/7, to learn to be quiet, and to fill their own time. In this time they became *much* stronger readers. [If I had a non-reader who was older, I think I’d do the same thing – but allow for books on tape or cd.] Along with QT, in terms of building a family reading culture, I’ll add in read aloud time, (or family Audio Book time), or general family reading time with everyone in one room reading most days. We’ve varied and done all of these. We LOVE read aloud time, and now that the kids are older – they can read to me, too!!
In our car we have always had a basket of books. In the living room. Overflowing bookshelves in every room. We made a huge effort to make sure there were always books around and available. What has never been readily available in our house is “entertainment”. Yes, my kids play video games. Yes, they watch tv. But, they are, I think in comparison to most homes, very limited. We also tried to make sure they were productive shows – Fetch!, Between the Lions (LOVE!!), The Leap Frog Letter Factory (AMAZING!), Liberty Kids, etc. As the kids have gotten older and more self limiting, some reigns have been loosened. Even with the loosening, we’re still tight. For example, on road trips we may listen to a book on tape, but we limit “screens” and provide a ton of books. A dvd player has been in my car once. It broke and was never replaced. I am sure that super tight controls on attention stimulating tv and media helped my kids develop longer attention spans and the ability to be fully engaged in something other than a screen.
4. Quality Books.
I have never been a believer in the “as long as they are reading” school of thought. My feeling was, if kids are fed junk books, they’ll crave junk books and any challenging, hard, or thoughtful books would be rejected. So, when the kids were little, we worked together to pick library books, but I always had veto power. I exercised it frequently and unashamedly. No books that laughed at or encouraged poor character, no sassy mouthed kids, no potty humor, no siblings being unkind to one another, no books based on a movie or tv character where the book didn’t exist first (for example: The Jungle Book – good, Lightning McQueen’s Big Race – never). If they wanted to read junk, they could do it at the library. We used to laugh together at the junk they’d read at the library!! To pick books I used:
Now, again, when the kids got older and more discerning I’ve loosened the reigns. I allow “kid beach reads” and stuff I wouldn’t have when they were younger, but they “get it” now. [I will say, we still keep it age appropriate and I still have veto power.] A few dragon books haven’t stopped my son from reading Huckleberry Finn. The kids are also very discerning about writing quality, language, character, and a good story because of their early book diet. MANY books get rejected by my kids after a chapter or two for being “poorly written” or “terrible language”. My DD is 13 and while she’s enjoyed the first Hunger Games book, and other dystopian reads – she’s not drawn to them. She sees through the formula in the genre and picks better quality books to read. Are they all literature – by no means – but she has discernment and standards for what she chooses for herself. I am certain being discerning when they were young paid off a lot as they got older.
5. Assigned Reading.
One thing I wanted to make sure my kids knew was that some reading is assigned. We started this early. I had seen a huge number of older homeschool kids recoil at Mom’s suggestions, so I started this habit early. Not every book was their pick. Not everything was interesting or a story. I have a friend with older kids who used to assign a few genres a week: fiction, nonfiction, a biography, etc. That way her kids were always reading different types of books. I’ve read that part of the gender gap in reading is that boys generally prefer nonfiction over fiction – so I made sure we got both. I assigned all kinds of books – male leads, female leads, history, biography, science books, books about math… Yes, a lot of books were their picks, but because they know their assigned reading is required, complaining is limited (we did thoughtfully discuss and discontinue one book in SL last year, LOL!!!) and I am able to expand their horizons through books in school (Sonlight) or with other picks we make in independent bookstores.
Is this a foolproof plan? No. Some kids aren’t readers. I wasn’t. I am more so now that I have a couple of avid readers. In fact, Big has a STACK of books she’s read more than once that I’m supposed to catch up on reading!! Yikes. Hopefully though, this list will help and maybe you’ll be like our family – and plan day trips in new places around the best Used Bookstore or the quirkiest Independent Bookstore in town!
And, I’m sure I missed a lot of great ideas. What about you? What have you done to raise readers?