Thursday, March 11, 2010

How do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself?

I am honored to be part of the wonderful annual blog tour for literacy: Share a Story, Shape a Future.  Today's topic is Reading for the Next Generation, hosted by Jen Robinson.
Join us as we talk about how to approach reading when your interests and your child's don't match. It may be that you don't like to read but your child does, how to raise the reader you're not, and dealing with the "pressure" of feeling forced to read.
How do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself?

When I think about raising my children, I want to pass on the things I love to them. But I also am aware how I might pass on my own insecurities. My husband jokes that he was brought into the family to add math and singing skills to the family gene pool – and he’s probably right! I marvel at how each of my children has their own strengths – some of which I share, others are all their own. Two of my daughters have drawing skills that far outshine my own. I’m still at the stick-figure stage, much like my kindergartner! I’m fascinated by the question of how we help our children grow in ways that we might not have. I love reading, and so it is natural for me to want to share stories with my children. But it’s much harder for me to share a curiosity about math and numbers.

My question here for today is: how do I help my child learn to love reading if I am not a great reader myself? I think about my brother, who struggled with reading challenges all through school. But he loves stories – he loves listening to them, thinking about them. How can he help his children enjoy stories the way he did? How can you help your children to become readers, if you aren't much of a reader yourself?

Here are some tips that can help you foster a love of reading for your children.

Create warmth and bonds
If you want your child to enjoy reading, start by making reading time and story telling pleasurable. Think back to your own childhood. What memories bring warmth and a feeling of connectedness? Do any of those connect to stories, either that your parents told you or read to you? How do you want to create similar memories for your children?
I can remember snuggling up with my mom and my brother as she read Where the Red Fern Grows, as my mom sniffed and tried to hold back her tears as she read the climactic end. I don’t remember the details of the story, but I remember the feeling of warmth and closeness as we shared that story together.

Focus on stories
Children who enjoy reading are motivated by the pleasure they get from it. If you want to help your child enjoy reading, help them develop a love of stories. None of us are motivated simply to read words – we read to understand, to create stories and learn information. While the mechanics of reading are important, you want to help children bring stories alive. Create imaginative stories, tell stories about your own childhood, tell stories simply from the pictures in a book, talk about the stories you read and how they make pictures in your mind.

Patricia Polacco, one of our favorite authors, talks about how she couldn’t read as a child. But her family came from a long line of storytellers. She remembers the warmth of her grandmother’s stories, and that’s what she recreates with her own stories. By helping children fall in love with stories, you are planting the seeds to help them want to read and discover their own stories.

Find ways to share reading aloud
Children grow to love reading first by enjoying hearing stories told to them. Even though reading is difficult for you, try to find ways to share story telling. You can tell stories from your memories of growing up, stories your parents told you, or memories of when your child was a baby. You can listen to audiobooks together, whether short picture books or longer novels. You can choose short rhyming books to read together.

I’m sure that my love of stories stems from listening to my mother read aloud. The funny thing is, she talks about how reading was hard for her growing up; but she remembered her mother reading aloud to her, and so it was really important to her that she share that with us. I love listening to audiobooks, and that’s something that I have shared with my children. On the way to school, we listen to audiobooks as a way to capture our attention (and reduce the sibling squabbles!). We love the voices that professional actors do, how they bring alive a story. Sometimes, when we get to school a few minutes early, we even stay in the car listening to our story for a few extra minutes!
One father shared with me that while reading is difficult for him, he finds it easier to read Dr. Seuss books with their strong rhythm and rhyming. It’s easier for him to read (and sometimes memorize) these books because of the rhythm – they’re meant for reading aloud.

Involve your children in storytelling
If you or your child feel awkward about choosing a book, involve your children in the storytelling process. One father has made a story book about his adopted son’s birth story and is printing it into a self-made book using a site like Blurb. My father-in-law made stories about his cat, and narrated it using a Power Point presentation. My daughter was enchanted. Older children love stories that are the “choose your own adventure” format, where they can be involved in creating the story.

Do you have a way that helps you develop a love of reading with your child? Please share your ideas in the comments.


  1. I love the topic that you took on, because it's such a challenging one. It can be so difficult to reach out of our own comfort zone as parents. Well, as people. I find that I do best when I remind myself to be open to their experiences and joys, and how can be part of that.

  2. Wow, Mary Ann. This is great. You start with the warmth of the experience and it carries all the way through. It's not about WHAT we read it's about the perception we create.

    Thank you SO-O-O much for participating in our blog tour. This is a great post.

  3. Thanks so much for participating, Mary Ann. I think that the post turned out great. I love how how used formatting to separate out the personal experiences from the tips, while weaving them both together. I agree with Pam. This is a hard topic to write about, and you definitely came through with some great ideas. Thanks!

  4. Hi Pam, Terry and Jen - thanks so much for your kind comments. They mean a lot to me! As you can tell, this is a topic close to my heart. I'm so glad that my thoughts and feelings came through. Mary Ann

  5. What an important topic to take on! I think a lack of enthusiasm is like a "dirty little secret" for many parents...teachers, too. I love your real world examples. Thank you!

  6. Thank you, Esme. I loved this quote from Katherine Patterson in this month's Horn Book editorial: “First,” she (Patterson) has written, “we must love [a thing] so much that we cannot stand to keep that love to ourselves. Then, with energy and enthusiasm and enormous respect for the learner, we share our love. And we don’t give out love in little pieces, we give it full and running over.”

  7. I love how you asked people to reflect upon their own early reading experiences. It really helps people to see how they may have developed a love - or strong dislike - of reading as a child.

    The key words in this post for me were love, warmth, and pleasure. Those are the most important ingredients in the recipe of reading! Yet, so many people seem to think the keys are the drills and skills. No wonder so many children and adults think reading is a chore!

    I truly believe that reading with children can help parents and grandparents to develop the true love of reading they may have been missing out on for so long. Children's books have come a long way - and are not just for kids anymore!

    By the way, Patricia Polacco is a perfect example of why older children should continue to read picture books. Her style of storytelling overflows with warmth - for people of every age.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  8. This is a great and much-needed post! I love all of your ideas! I personally would add one more . . . practice reading a book before reading it with your child! If you are not comfortable reading or do not believe yourself to be a strong reader, then reading the book beforehand can help to cut down on any frustration you may have and will avoid the modeling of this behavior when with your child. You want to create a comfortable atmosphere when reading and practice can help this!!

    Thank you for taking on a tough topic! I loved it!!

  9. The stories my daughter enjoys the most at the moment are those funny memories from my childhood - it's good for her to hear stories about familiar people. Hey, my husband can't sing. I can't sing. Oh dear!

  10. Thanks so much for this, we don't get a lot on this topic. Love the suggestions, we'd all do well to take note!

  11. This is a wonderful post, and it's been far too long since I stopped by here! I love the comment about adding to the gene pool - I think my husband has contributed the clarinet-playing gene, which is good because I would not have helped with that. At all.

    I find that being a writer encourages my kids to read more, and differently. We dive into stories together, discussing them, pulling them apart and rearranging them. And my husband, though not a reader himself, long ago made a committment to read to them.

  12. It's been a fantastic resource of knowledge for me. Thank you so much!