You’ve got them reading–now, how do you keep them that way?

by Kathy Higgs-Coulthard 

You’re a lifelong reader. You understand the inherent joy in creeping around corners with Harriet M. Welsh, hiding behind potted ferns to jot notes on Ole Golly and Mr. Waldenstein; the horror in sitting next to Fern at the Arable kitchen table and seeing Papa walk toward the barn with his ax; the devastation in learning along with Travis and Arliss that a beloved lab has hydrophobia and must be put down.

 You’re a lifelong reader and you want your kids to be one too. You model your passion for great books by reading in front of your kids, reading with your kids, and sneaking off for a few minutes of quiet reading. When a polar vortex is on the horizon, you head not to the grocery store to stock up on staples like milk and bread, but to the library to grab books. When packing for long car rides, trips to the beach or a favorite camp ground, books are as important as a full tank of gas. You realize that no child is ever too young to be read to and that the comfort of a great story transcends teenage drama to connect families on a cozy couch. You do all the right things to instill a love of reading in your children.

 But a study by the University of Michigan shows that the amount of time our children spend reading drops nearly 20% between the ages of 5 and 9. That statistic worries me and since the same study also found that reading increased school achievement (even more so than studying!), it should worry you too.

 So, if we are doing our best to create lifelong readers, what is happening to these young readers when they turn 5 that reduces the time they spend reading? One obvious answer is school. The structure of a typical school day leaves little time for free choice reading. The other thing that happens right about that age is that kids are spending more time engaged in organized activities, like sports, Scouts, and fine arts. All of those are wonderful things! Keeping our kids healthy—intellectually and physically is important. But it is also important to remember that kids need time to sit still and read. Factor that in when your calendar starts to fill up. One family I know keeps a stack of books in the car to read while they wait at the community bus stop. Another family schedules after dinner reading time each night before they’re off to soccer practice. An especially busy mother of three devotes Sunday afternoons to a marathon reading spree.

You’ve made an important decision to build reading into your child’s life. Don’t let busy-family syndrome ruin that foundation. Whether they’re turning five or fifteen, a love for reading is the best gift you can give them.

 This is the first book I remember my mom reading with me.The Five Little Peppers

 The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew 
by Margaret Sidney

What books do you credit with making you a lifelong reader?

4 Comments to “You’ve got them reading–now, how do you keep them that way?”

  1. That should all go without saying, but it’s oh so easy to let life get in the way. Rather than finding excuses for not spending adequate time with out kids, we ought to use family time as a great escape from the pressures of life.

    • I agree, Craig. I think too many people see family as an added pressure, rather than the gift it is. Whether family time is a joy or a stress is up to the parents. As adults we have the ability to set the tone.

  2. Series books definitely helped to make me a reader, from The Little House book to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.

    I think that you make an important point. There are a lot of things competing for our kids’ attention, and if we don’t prioritize reading, it can slip away.

    I think that the other thing that happens between ages 5 and 9 is that as kids start to read on their own, fewer parents read aloud to them. I’ve been reassuring my four year old daughter that this will not happen to her 🙂

    • That’s right, Jen 🙂 One good thing about big families is that siblings can read to one another–my 18 year old is reading The Hobbit to his 12 year old and 9 year old sisters. So sweet.

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