How to Raise a Reader
By Mt. Angel Librarians
How do you raise a child to become a reader? It all starts with you!
- Read to your child.
The more you read with your child, the easier it will be for them to learn how to read. Reading to your child allows them to build their vocabulary, learn about how books tell stories, discover that those squiggly lines on a page actually mean something, and recognize letters and sounds.
- Talk about what you read. You can talk about new words and the reason something happened in a story, or ask questions about what might happen next.
- Talk about the pictures. You can point out things that aren’t mentioned in the text and encourage your child to do the same.
- Encourage your child to rhyme words by pausing before you read the last word.
- Continue reading with your child even after they are able to read on their own. Shared reading can be a source of joy for children of all ages!
- Make it fun!
Raising a reader means raising a child who wants to read. If reading is fun, young children will want to learn how and older children will continue to read as they grow. Here are a few ways to keep reading enjoyable:
- Your attitude towards books and reading will affect your child’s attitude. Have fun and be enthusiastic when reading aloud to your child. Use a variety of voices and sounds.
- Read a variety of books. This includes novels, picture books, comic books, graphic novels, and eBooks and even audiobooks. In fact, reading along with audiobooks is a great way for older children to cultivate fluency and vocabulary in their reading. (“Oh, so that’s what that word sounds like!”)
- Read a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. You may come across new favorites this way. But don’t be afraid to revisit old favorites as well. Rereading books can be both fun and comforting. It also creates a special book language that is unique to you. (“I’m having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”)
- Make sure there is time in the day for reading, but don’t make it a chore. Having time, some quiet, and a comfortable reading space can encourage reading. Snuggling up with a book at bedtime can become a cherished ritual that kids remember forever.
- Young readers will be more interested in reading when they see older kids and adults reading, so don’t forget about taking some pleasure reading time for yourself.
- Have reading materials accessible.
Having books and other reading materials readily accessible is essential to support a growing reader—not only purchased books, but books from the library. Here are a couple of ideas about keeping reading materials accessible:
- Visit the library often. Ask your librarians for book recommendations. This can be especially helpful if you do not have a lot of time or if you’re looking for something new.
- Keep books in a spot where your child can see and use them. If you’re concerned about library books getting lost, consider having a designated bucket or bin where all library books are kept in your home.
- For children under age 5, sign up for the 1,000 books Before Kindergarten (link) program. Not only is this a great program to help you raise a reader, but your child will receive a free book when they sign up and additional books at each benchmark along the way! You can sign up at the library.
- Encourage your child to identify as being a reader.
A child who identifies as a reader will want to continue reading throughout their lives. Help your child identify as a reader by:
- Getting them signed up for their very own library card.
- Participating in library programs, such as storytimes and the Summer Reading Program.
- Allowing your child to choose which books to check out from the library and letting them select the book when you are reading together. If you want to encourage your child to read or listen to specific books, you can still provide a couple of options for them to choose from.
- Talking about what they are reading. Ask questions about which books they liked and what they want to read about next.
Reading with Babies
Becoming a reader begins at birth! Reading with your baby is an enjoyable experience even before they learn to speak; babies love being held close, listening to the sound of your voice, bouncing along with the cadence of the book. Reading with your baby is also an incredibly valuable experience; it helps your child develop language ability, confidence, and pre-reading skills.
- Use cloth books, bath books, and board books with your baby. This way your young child can explore the books and develop an understanding of what a book is.
- Choose books with large pictures and contrasting colors. The books don’t have to tell a story—you can point to different objects on the page and name them, make animal sounds, or ask questions about the pictures on the page. Pause before providing the answer yourself to give baby time to think the answer. Baby understands words long before speech occurs.
- Respond to your baby and talk about the book as they express interest by grabbing it or babbling.
- Don’t worry if your baby fidgets or crawls away. You can continue reading aloud and they will still benefit from hearing your voice.
- Just relax and have fun!
What do babies like in books?
- Simple and clear images of things they see in their house and daily life.
- Contrasting colors. This includes books in black and white!
- Photos of other babies and close-ups of faces.
- Rhythm and repetition, including lullabies and nursery rhymes.
- Animals, especially animal sounds—made by the book or by you (the sillier the better)!
- Interesting textures and touch-and-feel books.
Reading with Toddlers
Toddlers have a greater understanding of books and stories, but they are still developing important pre-reading skills! Reading with your toddler, talking about the story and the pictures, and asking questions will help build your child’s vocabulary and awareness of written and spoken language.
- Read your favorite books over and over again.
- Encourage your child to tell the story with you. They can chime in on repeated words or phrases, rhymes, and comment about the pictures.
- Ask questions about the pictures, like “Where is the black dog?” or “How many frogs are there?”
- Ask questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” like “What is she doing?”
- Don’t feel obligated to read every word on the page, especially when reading longer books. You can summarize the story or just talk about the pictures.
- Let your child hold the book or help you turn the pages. They will enjoy actively participating and choosing which pages to look at.
What do toddlers like in books?
- Rhymes and repeated words or phrases.
- Familiar items and routines, like clothing, pets, meals, and bedtime.
- Goodnight stories.
- Small and easy to hold.
- Interactive elements, like flaps, wheels, and finger puppets.
- Clear, colorful pictures with few words or simple text.
Reading with Preschoolers
Preschoolers start becoming more interested in stories and the words in books. Reading with your preschooler helps them develop the literacy skills they need to begin reading the written words themselves.
- Let your child help choose which book to read.
- Encourage your child to tell the story with you by saying repeated phrases together, or by pausing and letting them fill in the words or rhymes.
- Talk about the pictures and events in the book.
- Ask questions about what just happened or what might happen next.
- Support your child’s growing imagination! Let your child use the pictures to tell you a story themselves. Or retell the story using puppets or acting it out.
- Casually talk about some of the letters in the book, like “Heather starts with an H. Your name starts with an H, too!” You can also sometimes run your finger below the words you are reading. But avoid turning an enjoyable time reading into a lesson!
What do preschoolers like in books?
- Stories with plots.
- Repeated phrases that they can memorize and recite along with you.
- Introductions to the alphabet, counting and numbers, and specific concepts (such as opposites).
- Other kids. Kids who are similar to themselves as well as kids who are different!
- People they see in the real world, like firefighters and police officers.
- Things they see in the real world, like trucks and bugs.
- Stories about activities they do or see others doing, like going to school and making friends, doing ballet, and learning to ride a bike.
- Fun, playful language and rhymes.
- Humor. Anything that makes them laugh!