One of the most common questions we get from other parents who know about our children’s book blog Read It, Daddy! is ‘How do you get your children hooked on reading for fun? What’s the secret?’
As you’ve probably guessed, there’s definitely no ‘One Weird Trick’ to it, but we can share some of our own experiences from Charlotte’s reading journey.
How we began reading together
From birth, we read to Charlotte at bedtime, with both my wife and I taking it in turns to tuck Charlotte in with a goodnight story or two. We still do this today (though it’s more likely to be a chapter from our favourite current middle-grade story rather than a picture book) and it’s become an important way of bonding and sharing a bit of parent/daughter time, as well as giving Charlotte an association between books, cuddles and winding down at the end of a busy day.
Even before we started blogging, we had some of our own childhood books around, we bought a lot of books and we were also lucky enough to have a fantastic local library to delve into, bringing back armfuls of books every couple of weeks.
In fact that’s how the book blogging began, as an aid to my rubbish memory – and in some ways a way of saying ‘thank you’ to authors, illustrators and publishers for sharing their amazing stories with us. I would write each review by taking mental notes of Charlotte’s impressions and reactions to each book, and that’s still how we write our reviews today.
Why we avoid gender stereotypes
With books, choice and diversity were both vitally important from the beginning. Both my wife and I would visit the library with Charlotte, and once she began to toddle between the book stacks it was great fun to actually let her choose her own books. This began to pique her interest more and more as she grew older, and gave her an important level of direct control over her own reading material.
With books, choice and diversity were both vitally important from the beginning
Kids are swayed by cover power – but quite often some of the early ‘Book of the Week’ winners on our blog were books chosen by Charlotte that really threw us for a loop, when she’d randomly pick something out that was quite unexpected. This was a fantastic way of breaking out of reading ‘comfort zones’ and introducing that all-important diversity, again largely thanks to a well-stocked library but also thanks in no small part to us never saying ‘no’ to anything she picked up.
Back when our reading journey with Charlotte began, there was still quite an emphasis on enforcing gender stereotypes on children. We’d sigh inwardly when well-meaning friends and relatives would give her pink ‘princess-y’ books as Christmas or Birthday presents, but again this inadvertently proved useful as it gave Charlotte a useful breadth of reading experiences, so she could see the good and the bad alongside each other. We never made a conscious effort to steer her choices one way or the other but through her own enjoyment of books and stories, she began to make those choices from an early age herself.
Our tips to get kids into books
Aside from reading aloud to Charlotte and also making sure there were plenty of books around, she would also see us reading for pleasure. Both my wife and I are complete bookworms and it was also important that Charlotte made the association between books and reading for fun by observing her mum and dad’s behaviour. Kids very much learn by copying (even though sometimes we probably wish they wouldn’t) so seeing us dipping into books in our spare time really helped reinforce that.
The last nugget of advice from our own experience was to make reading interesting and exciting in those early years, using books that push the boundaries between book and toy, books that offer up opportunities for children to explore their own curiosity and books that take the experience of reading and fun beyond the standard picture book page.
…make reading interesting and exciting in those early years, using books that push the boundaries…
Many books use noises and gimmicks (and we had quite a few of these when Charlotte was really tiny) but from there we progressed to ‘lift the flap’ books, books with awesome paper mechanics that present scenes that literally leap off the page and even books that cleverly used things like augmented reality and QR codes to bring technology into the mix.
It almost seems sad that these simple enhancements to books are often left behind once kids move into middle grade and beyond. When putting together our reviews it’s still quite lovely to see Charlotte’s reaction to a book that cleverly makes use of hidden items, flaps or pop-up elements to convey a story with an extra dimension of fun.
Above all though, really the simplest advice is to make reading a normal part of your day every day, as many times a day as you can manage. Let your children choose. Be interested and involved with their reading and try to keep those bedtime stories coming as long as you can.