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6 Steps to Foster a Love of Literature

February 25, 2010

photo courtesy of Pratham

“Children learn from adults. If you don’t read for fun, why would your kids?” Robert Munsch.

Instilling a love of literature is one of my favorite parts of parenting and teaching. The world offers us so many things – and formats – to read.  I love telling first graders, “If you don’t love the book you are reading, then abandon it. There are too many good books in the world to read one you don’t care deeply about!”  Their mouths hang open, but I mean it.  Life’s too short to read something crummy, unless it’s a requirement. (In that case, strategically place a better book in front of you for motivation!)

When we offer kids an abundance of books in every imaginable setting, and show them what reading looks and feels like, they’ll soon learn that they can find books the love. It’s not always that easy, particularly with kids for whom reading is just plain hard.  Learning to read is a complex process, but research shows that reading begets stronger reading skills and a solid reading habits.  If you want to know more and don’t have the time to get a masters’ in reading, there are resources to help you understand the complex neurological and developmental processes each reader moves through. Scroll to the end of this blog and there are some key links to reading development, or inquire with your child’s teacher and school.

Reading needs to involve the head (cognition) and heart (motivation).  Readers are intrinsically motivated to read about topics and characters they love.  Reading also builds on skills such as phonemic awareness, letter recognition, decoding and comprehension.  I once had a reluctant reader in our house for whom we made countless trips to bookstores and libraries.  He knew I’d buy or borrow anything if he showed an interest, but there were plenty of trips where I struck out.  My other child reads voraciously and can churn through books daily.  My offer to borrow or buy what she’s interested in would bankrupt me, so there are different rules for different readers in our house.   Nonetheless, they each build on the skills their teachers and families practiced and supported in them and learned to use those skills to read what stirs their passions and curiosity. Their interests and brains are as different as night and day, but there are some constants in their development as readers and their love of literature.

There many actionable steps you can take to help your young child develop good reading habits which will lead her to a life-long love of literature. Six you can take quick and consistent action on are:

1.   Be a Reader – Let them see you read. Every day. Read for pleasure, read for work, read for information. Talk about a book you love or a book that makes you wonder. Point out when you read for work or read a recipe to make dinner. Chances are, they’ll follow along, try to join you, or just make a mental note.

2.    Keep Books Around – everywhere. Neat stacks, messy piles, copious bookshelves, stuffed in seat pockets, baskets, bags. Paperback. Hard cover. Print books. Magazines. Electronic books.  Keep ‘em visible and they’ll get noticed.  Reading doesn’t just happen in library or at desks. It’s all around us and in all kinds of formats.

3.    Visit Places Where Folks Read – Libraries, bookstores, stores, coffee shops, classes, other people’s houses, offices, train stations. Print is everywhere and everyone reads.  Visit old favorite places or find new favorite spots. Notice and talk about all the new places you see readers!

4.    Talk it Up – Language and vocabulary represent the very foundation of learning to read and write. Children who do not develop strong oral language skills and vocabulary in these early years will find it difficult to keep pace with their peers.  Lucy Calkins, teacher of reading/writing teachers, notes in her book Raising Life Long Learners, “for oral language development, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz was right: ‘There’s no place like home. ‘ When our children are toddlers, most of us are aware of this. When they are first learning to talk, we support, watch over, and extend their oral language development.”  Keep this alive even after they learn to talk – songs, poems, chants all continue to build a child’s awareness of the sounds and patterns in language and strengths phonemic awareness.  Don’t forget to talk about what you (and they) are reading too – most good books warrant conversation and connections to texts are built on those conversations.

5.Keep it Creative –  Do you have a wee one who like to draw, sculpt or build? Let them do that then tell you the story (remember point #4 – talk it up?) while you write or type the story.  Or let them write the words to accompany their creation.  Are they intrigued by a computer? Show them how you can type and read what they say.  Find a website with reading games such as Between the Lions or Get Ready to Read.

6.Know Your Child as a Reader – Talk with your child’s teacher and keep current with what skills and strategies your child both has under his belt and the reading goals his teacher has.  Remember that fluid reading is reading that is smooth and easy – so books your child reads independently will be books that he has read before or finds a bit easy, but that builds confidence, smooth oral reading, and deeper comprehension.  Choose harder or longer text to read together (you read one page, your child reads the next) or aloud.  Keep in mind that most picture books are written for third grade readers, so even though the format and illustrations may appeal to younger readers, the words on the pages often exceed their reading skills.

Now that you’ve read this, here’s your homework:

  • Read something else in the presence of your child AND something with you child later today.
  • Pull out a few new books and put them someplace unexpected.
  • Make plans to visit a bookstore or library.
  • Talk with your kids about what you and they are reading.
  • Make a mental note to write an actual note next time your child creates something.
  • Touch base with your child’s teacher to get an update on his reading.

If that’s not enough, here are some additional resources:

Early Literacy!  Speak Up

Essentials of Early Literacy Instruction

National Institute for Early Literacy

Promoting Young Children’s Early Literacy

International Reading Associations Position Statement on Literacy Development in Preschool Years

IRA & NAEYC. Joint Position Statement. Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Young Children 53 (4) :

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2010 2:18 am

    Such an important topic – thanks for the reminder and all the great tips! Stop Pinching Your Sister!

  2. February 25, 2010 9:43 pm

    This is a gem. I clicked on your blog in the list of comments on the “Stop Pinching Your Sister” blog. I was just wondering about good science fiction for my highschooler (freshman). We homeschool. And I’d been thinking we should be reading more as a family. So, it’s timely to have found your blog. Looking forward to reading you other posts.

  3. February 25, 2010 9:51 pm

    Makes me recall the get-to-know-you questionnaire I gave my 7th grade students when I was an English teacher. It had questions like “How many books do you estimate are at your home?” and “What sorts of things do the other people in your family like to read?” The answers were fascinating!

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