Reading is so much more than words in a book. Literacy is a vital life skill, linked to better educational and employment opportunities, and greater emotional development.
But an appreciation for reading doesn't just happen. It needs to be nurtured and encouraged until a child develops an intrinsic desire to read and the self-confidence to pick up a book on their own.
If you're struggling to plant that seed, here are 10 fun and creative ways to teach kids to appreciate reading:
1. Go on destination read-a-thons
Think destination weddings, but for reading and much closer to home. Parks, grassy knolls, gardens, a quiet café corner, the local library... these all make ideal spots to sneak away for a few hours and read with your child. Bring along a favorite chapter book or a handful of quick reads and make it a destination read-a-thon. Your child will love the spontaneity and, in most cases, react positively to the newness of their surroundings.
2. Make your own books
If your child is hesitant to pick up a book on their own, fuel their creativity with make-your-own books. You don't have to get fancy. Fold a handful of paper in half and secure the edges with staples or glue. Use colorful construction paper to make a cover. Help them as they bring their story to life with crayons, markers and embellishments. When they're done, sit with them as they read their story to you.
3. Create storybook quilts
Reading material comes in different shapes and sizes and doesn't necessarily have to be paper (or screen). One unique idea comes directly from the Cranberry Quilt Guild of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Members make quilts that correspond with children's stories. The guild lends the handcrafted books to libraries, schools and community centers. If you're crafty, you can make your own storybook quilt to share with your child. Here's a hybrid book version and a storybook quilt pattern to inspire you.
4. Dress up for story time
Imagine your child's delight if you walked into their bedroom carrying Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone... dressed as the young wizard. Or Professor Dumbledore. Bring books to life by dressing the part. Your child will look forward to the next time a literary character surprises them with a book to read.
5. Start a parent + child book club
If you have time and are willing to host, start a parent-child book club with other families in your neighborhood or child's school. Turn club meetings into parties with reading-related games, food, and competitions. Or make them themed events – lunch at an apple orchard like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for example. The more memorable meetings are, the more excited your child and others will be to do it again. Hand out reading journals and honor the most active reader at your next meeting.
6. Launch your own free library
Has the Little Free Library program found its way to your neighborhood or school? If not, consider building one with your child. Have them help you keep the library stocked with new children's titles and encourage others take a book, leave a book, and sign the guest book. Worldwide there are now more than 50,000 Little Free Libraries.
7. Write a letter to a favorite author
Does your child have a favorite author? Help them write a letter to their writing hero. Opt for pen and paper over a typed email to help them develop their writing skills. Find special stationery that ties in with one of the author's books to make it extra special.
8. Keep a writing record
Another successful approach to motivating your child is to use some sort of visible record of reading achievement. Consider a calendar where they list the names of the books they've read on a certain day. Or have them record what they've read on a chart or graph. They can learn math while developing an appreciation for reading. For significant milestones, reward them by visiting your local bookstore to purchase a new book.
9. Install a bookshelf with real books
At a time when technology trumps tradition, things that were once common have been replaced by things that are convenient. Paper novels have been substituted with ebooks and physical bookshelves have been traded for Kindle libraries. It's time to get back to basics.
Nothing inspires a young reader more than having their own assortment of books. Not just on an eReader, but real print books they can hold, feel, and even smell. While eBooks are terrific for on the go and very much a modern-day convenience, children deserve the tactile, sensory experience that real books provide. Learning to respect books, while being able to peruse what's on the shelves and physically choose what they'd like to read, helps children develop an appreciation and lifelong love of reading.
This might not be a novel idea, but it's important. Be a reading role model. Always let your child see you read. Children like to follow in their parent's footsteps, at least while their young. Take advantage of this impressionable time.