5 Tips for Raising Readers

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Author: Kristen Lunceford  | www.kristenlunceford.com  | @kristenlunceford

It’s been said that children are made readers on the laps of their parents.  While true and precious and all, the sentiment loses steam somewhere around mile marker 1 st grade. That is unless “laps” refers to the circles parents and caregivers run around the Internet—and drive around the library—in search of books that stand a chance against whatever’s playing next on YouTube.

In our app-for-everything, Fortnite-trumps-Narnia culture, raising readers has never been harder. The good news is that here at SHEology we’re intent on vanquishing hard things with guts, grit and, I’m convinced, library cards. Together we can raise up a generation of image bearers who believe in the power of stories and the tremendous capacity words have to, as playwright Tom Stoppard says, build bridges across incomprehension and chaos.

Are you ready to slay this giant? Start by loading your laps with one—or all—of these tips for raising readers:

1. Know thy library.

A few years ago I ambled nervously up to the customer service desk at my local library and confessed that we left a kids’ chapter book at a hotel and I needed to pay for it. The librarian pulled up my account, started to laugh, and said, “Oh, Honey, don’t worry about it. In the last five years you’ve checked out more than 4,800 materials and have returned all of them. This one’s on us.” My embarrassment turned to Monica Gellar-level elation as it occurred me that I must be the standard by which every other Clark County Library System patron is judged. 4,800 materials in five years? That has to be some kind of record. And the money saved? Who’s making Dave Ramsey proud now?

Eyes up here, ladies: Your local library system is a treasure and a gift and a budget-keeper’s best friend. Use the snot out of it every chance you get. Disinfect the books if you must. Fill your kids’ baskets with new books and magazines every two weeks. Expecting wee houseguests? Welcome them with a stack of oversized picture books. Heading out on a road trip? Stock up on DVDs and audiobooks. Say nothing of the cleverly themed story times, summer reading programs, afterschool tutoring, online resources, and free air conditioning. GOLD. All of it.

Know thy library and your kids will know the world.

2. Strategically place your library loot.

Kids, especially as they enter tweendom, often resist being told what to read and when to read. Fear not, you can still influence where they read. If you quietly, yet strategically, leave relevant-to-them-books and magazines lying around, I promise your littles and prepubescent creatures will reach for them.

I keep anywhere from three to six comic books, graphic novels, and fact books tucked into the seat pockets of our van. I haul gorgeous coffee table books home from the library on sports, animals, people, and places my kids are interested in and plop them within arm’s reach of the couch. I leave joke books in the bathroom, magazines on my kids’ nightstands, and I never, ever announce the arrival of any of this readerly bait. It comes and goes under their radar as a gift—not an obligation—and it nearly always gets read. Be stealth. Be strategic. They’ll think reading was their bright idea.

3. Read your readers.

No two kids are the same. They each come hardwired to enjoy reading about different things. Know this. Leverage this. Pick books based on this. My 13-year-old son loves historical fiction, realistic fiction, and reading about golf and WWII. His 12-year-old brother is a sucker for fantasy, magical realism, and books about baseball and how stuff works. Their 10-year-old sister? The brighter and more saturated the cover art, the better. Bonus if unicorns are involved. When kids come home (or over to your house) to stacks of books curated to their unique interests and quirks, they’ll feel seen and loved. This knowing they are known keeps barriers at bay—between them and the page and between their heart and yours.

Read your readers. They’re page turners.

4. Do your research.

Raising readers means feeding kids In-n-Out, not McDonald’s. (#sorrynotsorry for the West Coast reference). In other words, don’t peddle them processed garbage when there are hand cut fries to be had. Knowing the difference takes work, but putting solid content in your kids’ hands, hearts, and heads is well worth the elbow grease stains.

Start by perusing sites like Brightly and Read Aloud Revival or by scrolling diverse #bookstagram accounts like @hereweread. Once you have a short list of titles you think your kids might be interested in (refer back to Tip #3), click over to Common Sense Media and vet the titles there. Then, for the love of your budget and sanity, get to your library’s website and place a bunch of holds. No more wandering aimlessly through Amazon’s aisles or whining about how Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the only thing on the menu the heathens in your car will eat.

Do your research. Then chase it—if you live west of the Rockies—with a Double Double (protein style, grilled onions, no spread).

5. Go first.

My husband always says, “Jesus never asked us to do anything he didn’t do first.” To piggyback on that, don’t you think it’s a big ask to expect our kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews to love books if they never see us reading?

I do.

If we are truly serious about raising readers, we have to model it. Does reading have to be your go-to hobby or favorite way to practice self-care? No. Must you read a book a week or own a tote like this? Gosh no. But your kids should see you reading something other than your phone at some point every week. You’ll be better for it, and so will they.

Go first. One glorious lap at a time.

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world.

Love of books is the best of all.

 —Jacqueline Kennedy