I realize that this isn't one of the best pictures ever taken of my kids and me, but I love it all the same because it shows my kids doing one of their favorite things: reading books.
I myself can't imagine life without reading. We have bookcases filled with books, and we still don't have room for them all. At our house, one can easily find books stacked next to the bed, stashed between the couch cushions and even, (shh!) in the bathroom.
Yet I still found myself worrying: how do I translate my love of reading to my kids without forcing it down their throats? I have four kids, ages nine to one (those are the two youngest in the photo), and, so far, they all seem to gravitate pretty naturally to spending at least a part of their day reading books. Here is what I've learned that I think has facilitated that outcome.
1) Keep a wide variety of reading material readily available.We have a basket with library books in the bedroom. Bookshelves overflowing with books are in the toy room. The kids generally keep at least a couple of books at the end of their bed in case they wake up early in the morning (even my toddler has a book or two in her crib). We even encourage them to take a book to the bathroom with them, if they think they are going to be there for awhile. At nap time, or room time, as the case may be, we encourage the kids to read in bed for about an hour. We even have books stashed in the seat backs of our minivan so they easily have something to grab if we find ourselves in the car for an extended period of time.
2) Don't rule out "pop culture" books that kids show interest in...I just brought home another Barbie book for my first grader. While these aren't the best literature around, these are the kinds of books she is "into" right now, so I'm trying to keep her supplied with them. For my son, he loves anything that has to do with superheroes so I have exhausted our library's supply of the Batman, Spiderman, and Superman books. I support the theory that reading anything is better than reading nothing, however ...
3) ...but keep introducing the classics....I also keep bringing home books that I know are quality. Sometimes we return them to the library unread, but every so often, the kids pick one up and find themselves engrossed before they know it. I have finally gotten my older daughter interested in The Phantom Tollbooth and Harriet the Spy using just this tactic. My son claims he doesn't want anything without a superhero on it, but I have caught him perusing some Eric Carle and Tomie dePaola books when he thought I wasn't looking.
4) Books make great "special treats" or "rewards for a job well done."When we have a summer day with nothing much going on, or after a particularly grueling day of chores, our kids look forward to a trip to the thrift store to pick out a special (or even not so special) book. The school book fair is another great opportunity to reward kids for a good report from the teacher. Reading books aloud together, preferably with much dramatic inflection, is another great "reward" for finishing one's supper or just for getting pajamas on without too much trouble.
5) Let your kids catch you reading.Finally, don't underestimate the power of your own example. When my kids see me curled up on the couch with my book, it seems more natural for them to curl up on the couch with a book. One of my favorite Sunday afternoon memories is when my daughter and I snuggled together on the sofa, each of us with a deeply engrossing book in our laps.
Obviously kids will have different interests at different times in their lives, but I hope that I have made reading such an integral part of our lives as a family that my kids will continue to cherish the habit as much as I do.
Melanie is a Shine Parenting Guru. You can also find her raving about books at her personal blog, tales from the crib.