Yesterday I went to a fun little book club comprised of two of my daughters and one of their friends. I enjoyed hanging out with them in a local coffee shop for two hours and joining their conversation about books.
At one point in the discussion, my daughters’ friend said that she recently read an interesting article about the importance of building a home library and how this practice is starting to disappear.
I thought about what she said because our family enjoyed a good-sized home library that grew with the kids. Every one of us read fairly voraciously. Bookshelves lined the walls of our living room, and we had bookshelves in the bedrooms as well. There were books on tables, in baskets, on the floor, on nightstands, piled everywhere. In addition to building our family library, each of the kids also had their own book collections that expanded continuously over the years. We loved books, and books shaped us.
Every single one of my kids still loves to read, and they continue to pursue finding good books and expanding their personal libraries. (And so do I!) After the coffee shop book gathering, we went to Powell’s, and one of my daughters left with six or so books. These were all books she loved as a child— in the beloved editions she had read as a child— purchased, first, because she loves them and, second, because they are either disappearing from print, or they have been reprinted in an updated, unappealing edition. Reading nostalgia is powerful!
Articles with lists and strategies for turning kids into readers abound, and sometimes this thing that is actually simple and straightforward is made to seem overly scientific and complex.
Raising readers simply comes down to whether or not a few enjoyable practices exist in our homes. Some kids read voraciously at a young age, and some kids are busy doing other things before they take off with their personal reading, but here’s a simple recipe for eventual success in getting kids to read and enjoy books:
1. Have lots of books in the home. Build a library. Have shelves throughout the house. Research shows that reading performance correlates directly to the number of books in a home. A book-lined home makes readers and, besides, it makes home cosy and welcoming.
2. Parents should read aloud to their children all the time—hopefully every single day, even multiple times a day. But definitely make a routine of it. Set times of the day for reading aloud might help. And continue reading aloud together all through high school, until the kids leave home. The memories that result—for both children and parents—are priceless.
3. The parents have a habit of reading for pleasure themselves. All the time.
4. The children should have a growing collection of their own good books (to keep forever). Hopefully, they will also have their own bookshelves. Take them to used bookstores, new bookstores, thrift stores with books. Help them build their personal library of special, favorite books.
If you can’t afford to buy many (or any) books, you can take kids (or yourself, like I do) to the public library. Our family bought books and went to the library, too. There were definitely times we couldn’t afford to buy books, but we brought literal boxes of books home from the library every week (I still do this). Checking books out of the library feels like shopping for books, but it’s free. Yay! I think this is kind of amazing. Using the library is a great option for making sure you have lots of books in the house, specifically for each person’s delight, taste, and interest.
5. Have a happy, welcoming attitude about books. They are to be used, enjoyed, and dragged around. Sure, you can have some rules about how books should be treated, but don’t be uptight about it. We’re building a book culture. Almost nothing should make you smile more than seeing your child engrossed in good books!
Honestly, this is for everyone. Reading has a huge number of benefits for all of us-- adults and children alike --and not only benefits that are measurable by research. The greater, most important part of my education has occurred apart from schooling, and it has happened largely because of the books I’ve read. My heart and mind and life has been changed in many ways by reading books. And so have those of my children, who are now sharing the joys of reading with their own children.
A home with books is a special place. Let's keep it going.