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It Starts With Me

March 23, 2012

One of the things we hope to accomplish when we work with a school is to start a conversation about reading between students, with staff, and with families. We want books to become part of daily life for all children and to reinforce the importance of and joy of reading. Our hope is that by building home libraries for children, we enable them to see themselves as readers.

As we have seen the value of starting and building such conversations, we have questioned what more we can do in our lives to foster conversations about reading. When we give a gift, do we give a book? When we meet a child, do we talk about the kinds of books they like, or do we talk about their shoes? It is important to think about how we convey messages about books and reading and what we can do to foster conversations about reading in our homes and communities, even on a small scale.

First and foremost, we should lead by example. Most of us now know that vital role that reading to and with our children has in their development as readers. We have written about the importance of reading with children even after they are strong readers themselves. But it is also important that our children see that we value reading in our own lives. Children take cues as to what is important from what we spend time on and what they see us do. If we’re always on the phone, watching TV, or emailing, that is what our children will emulate (who hasn’t seen their toddler shove a phone on one shoulder and multitask?) If they see us reading, they will want to do that, too. If we keep a book going, in a briefcase or on a bedside table, we raise the value of books in our children’s eyes. Author James Patterson writes that it is critical for parents to be reading role models, especially when kids are reluctant readers. And if you think you’re too busy to read a novel? C’mon—pick up an old favorite, a bestseller, or a collection of short stories or humorous essays.

There are many ways to model reading beyond reading a book in front of your children. If you read on a tablet, make sure your kids know you are reading something other than email. Talk to your kids about what you are reading. The fact that you’re enjoying what you’re reading and looking forward to your next opportunity to curl up with your book makes a big impression, even on very young children. Talking about books you loved when you were a child, the first book you remember loving, the first book you remember finishing in a day, or a book you read over and over reinforces how much fun reading can be. Conspicuous reading doesn’t have to be limited to books—talking about things you read in the paper or a magazine is also important. Discussing books with your adult friends in the presence of your kids also demonstrates how much you care about and enjoy reading.

Encouraging your children to talk about the kinds of books they like is also a great way to further a conversation about the value of reading. But it starts a different kind of conversation when you get them to suggest books for friends or think about what kinds of books would be good to donate. Our own children are active in our book drives, and the process of helping select books for others has significantly broadened their horizons and deepened their appreciation for good books.

Coming back to reading together—talking during the day about how excited you are to read the next chapter in a book you’re reading aloud or speculating about which books you might pick or referencing a book that relates to an event in daily life (“Hey! I lost a button on this shirt. Just like Corduroy!”) raises the status of reading. Making sure you have reading time at different points of the day (waiting in line to pick up a sibling, when you have a spare five minutes before you have to leave to go somewhere, just for fun in the middle of the afternoon) makes reading a part of the fabric of your day. Making sure that books are within easy reach in the car and in different rooms of your house serves the same purpose. Reading becomes a more significant part of your family life, a part of what your children see as fundamental, and not just something that is part of a bedtime routine.

Reading should be fun and a shared joy. You can highlight the ways that reading matters to you by making books and reading a more overt part of your family’s daily life. And that’s good for everyone.

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