If we can give our kids one great gift in life it’s a love of reading. “In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read,” said S.I. Hayakawa.
Think about that for a minute. Reading is the foundation for all learning. Even if you want to rear your kids to be mathematicians or scientists, they need to start out as readers.
As Latter-day Saints, teaching our children to love the printed word is especially important. Just ask any missionary who tried to teach the gospel to someone who was illiterate. It is a challenging thing to have a testimony of The Book of Mormon if you can’t or won’t read it.
We are commanded to study the scriptures on a daily basis. For a non-reader (and by that I mean someone who doesn’t like reading), this means slogging through a chapter or two a night. But if you are a reader, and you’ve learned over time what it means to read, this is what you discover when you open the scriptures: the poetry in Isaiah and Psalms, the rich symbolism in the Old Testament, and the distinct structure of writing in The Book of Mormon. The whole process of feasting upon the scriptures becomes more enjoyable as you become a reader.
As a mother of young children, I am in the middle of laying that foundation for reading. My husband and I, both journalists, have high respect for the written word. We’ve filled our home with books, magazines and newspapers. Reading is a priority. I taught each of my boys to read before they went off to school.
I assumed, naturally, that all of my children would embrace reading. We would be a family of bibliophiles. Our evenings would be spent sitting around the fireplace poring over Dickens and Hugo.
Except it turns out I have a son who doesn’t like reading much.
Oh, he knows how to read. But unlike my other children, who can happily sit with a stack of books on the couch, reading just doesn’t interest him.
Yet, I have this testimony of the importance of reading. I haven’t let up on turning him into a reader. This is what has worked for us.
1. Read the scriptures
I remember going to a fireside where a woman said all her kids learned to read by studying the scriptures. The scriptures are not an Easy Reader, Level 1. They throw you right into the thick of things with words like “contention” and “commencement.” Family scripture time is a great opportunity for sounding out words and discussing the definition of unfamiliar terms. “Contention” is a favorite around here, as is “stiff-necked.”
2. Find books that work for them
I’m sure we all remember what it was like to read Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in 10th grade and think, “This is such a royal waste of time.” Of course, I appreciate it now, but I think a lot of children (and teenagers) get turned off from reading because the books put in front of them just aren't interesting. They can’t find anything to relate to.
This is especially challenging for boys. There has been an increase in good literature for boys, but sometimes you have to hunt to find what works for your child. If they love sports, focus on that. Find books about nature or a favorite animal. Magazines are great, too.
You can keep your standards, though. My boys have begged for “Captain Underpants,” but we just don’t need any more encouragement in the potty-humor area.
3. Make reading interactive
Non-readers are often too social to sit and read a book by themselves. Cater to your child’s reading style. For example, this is how my son reads: He sits right by my side and reads a few pages, then he wants to hold a mini book club. He tells me how many pages he has read and what is happening. Sometimes he wants to read a few pages together.
This is not my style of reading. I’m happy to curl up in a cave and read by myself for 25 years. I cannot understand his way of reading, but it’s what works for him, so I support it and embrace it.
4. Read out loud to your kids
Once your kids learn to read, don't stop reading with them. So much can be shared when we read together with our children. We can discuss ideas, laugh about funny parts or explain areas that may be confusing. With reading aloud, you can take advantage of books your kids might not find interesting on their own. (Here comes that Shakespeare again, which is actually such a great thing to read aloud.)
Plus, out loud reading is such a fun form of entertainment. You can read to your kids at mealtimes, on long road trips or before bed. I read to my kids from The Friend over breakfast, and it sets such a good tone for the rest of our day.
5. Listen to books on tape
There are so many great audio books available at the library. Take advantage of all your driving time by listening to book on CD or tape. For little kids you can listen to Dr. Seuss or other short books. You’ll be amazed how many books you can work through. We have long, weekly commute to piano lessons where we listen to a special book on CD. It has become one of our favorite family times.
6. Have a designated reading time
For the reluctant reader, it’s important to have a time set aside each day to read. Right before bed is a great time because it allows your kids to wind down. This also helps establish a habit and an expectation: We are a reading family, and before bed each night we read.
My son, the non-reader, recently discovered the “Magic Tree House” series. He is working his way through the first book, and things are beginning to click.
On a recent evening, we were sitting at the piano, finishing up practice before bed. My son sighed and said, “I really wish I could finish so I could go read my book.”
I nearly slid off the piano bench in a dead faint. Those were words I never expected to hear. We still have a ways to go, but I won't give up. This world could use a few more good readers.
Tiffany Gee Lewis writes humorous and thoughtful commentary on the life of a stay-at-home mother in her column, “From the Homefront
,” which appears on MormonTimes.com