It’s International Children’s Book Day today, a day celebrated annually since 1967 on 2 April (Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday!) to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books. We live in a house filled with children’s books – my husband often jokes we have more picture books than our local library – and both our boys are massive bookworms, so I get asked a lot for tips on raising kids to love books. Given today’s occasion, I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to share some of those tips more widely.
1. Start Early
It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. My husband actually read to both our boys when they were just bumps, even before they were born. Then we read to them every night at bedtime once they were born, even when they were too little to understand what we were saying, and now it’s just become part of our daily routine.
2. Share Books Every Day
Apparently research has shown that the amount of words a baby is exposed to has a direct impact on how their language and literacy skills develop, so as well as reading to your kids from an early age, try to read to them every day! The easiest way to do this is by making it part of your bedtime routine.
3. Make Reading Part of Family Life
Get everyone in the family involved in reading. It’s usually just one of us that takes the boys to bed and reads to them, but we take it in turns so that they get reading time with both of us. Sometimes we also all sit down together at bedtime, for example if we have new book to read. If grandparents, aunts or uncles are visiting they get included too, and now that my eldest is a confident reader he sometimes reads to his little brother.
4. Talk About What You Read
Take the story beyond the book, by talking about what you have read and encouraging your child to ask questions. This will further help to develop your child’s vocabulary and also help to develop comprehension skills as it is important for children to learn to not just read but to also understand what they are reading.
5. Re-read Favourites
As a parent you might reach the point where you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than read the same book yet again, but children love hearing their favourite stories over and over. It helps to develop – you’ve guessed it – their language and literacy skills, and also gives a chance to hear or spot things they may have missed the first time or to find new angles to talk about.
6. Have Books on Display
Kids usually want what they can see. Out of sight can easily be out of mind, especially for young kids, or they may not have the skills to ask for something that has been put away or out of reach. So make sure you have books visible and accessible at all times, that your kids can help themselves to. My only personal exception to that rule is seasonal books, because I like the excitement of getting them out at special times of the year (and because I don’t want to read Christmas books in August!)
7. Find Books About Things Your Kids Love
If you think about your own reading habits, you are probably more inclined to reach for books about things you are interested in, so why should it be any different for children. So seek out books on things that your kids love, to get them hooked on reading. My eldest, for example, loves unicorns, so we found a series of chapter books about unicorns and he’s just tearing through them.
8. Introduce Your Kids to Diverse Topics
Having said that, it’s also important to introduce your kids to a diverse range of reading topics. So once you have them hooked, take the opportunity to suggest new titles and topics to them. For example, I recently bought some of the Little People, Big Dreams books for my boys, which feature inspiring men and women from history, and they’ve now pretty much memorised the life stories of Amelia Earhart, Jane Goodall and Muhammad Ali.
9. Let Your Kids Choose What to Read
When kids are little, parents often end up choosing books for them until they are old enough to voice their own preferences. But I remember an incident in a bookshop when my youngest was about 18 months old, and he was drawn to a book about farm animals that he then wouldn’t let go of.So we ended up buying it and it was his favourite book for months. So don’t just pick books that you think are best for your kids, let the little ones be in involved in choosing too (though I draw the line at Peppa Pig, sorry buddy…) For older kids, never belittle their choices. If your 9 yr old wants to still read picture books, don’t tell him he’s too old (heck, I’m 40 and I still love reading picture books!) If your kids is going through a phase and just wants to read comics or graphic novels, that cools, at least they are reading.
10. Make Reading Fun
Mix it up a bit by putting on different voices or acting out parts. Get your kids involved too. My boys also really love books where they can shout out parts, e.g. Shark in the Park. And never make reading feel like a chore.
11. Read During the Day
A book at bedtime is a popular routine, but don’t restrict reading to the evenings alone. Show your kids that reading during the day is great too. Spend a morning in bed re-reading your favourites. Take some books with you when you go out e.g. to pass the time waiting on a bus. Read any time, in any place.
12. Find Words to Read Everywhere
Point out words wherever you go – street signs, traffic signals, restaurant menus, shelf labels in shops. Read them together. Even young kids who can’t read properly yet will begin to recognise letters. Show your kids that reading isn’t just restricted to books, it opens up the world to them.
13. Visit the Library Early & Often
I feel very passionately about showing kids the value of libraries. After moving house, which we have done a few times, the first thing we’ve always done after sorting out the essentials like house, nursery, school, job, is to register with our local library. When Oskar with little, I took him to Book Bugs, which are song & rhyme sessions initiated by the Scottish Book Trust and offered at many libraries here. We went every week from when he was about 3 months old. These days, we are frequent visitors to our local library, we try to go at least once a month but often we go more than that.
14. Use Books to Prepare for Trips & Experiences
Books are a great gateway for preparing for life events, coping with milestones, or getting ready for a trip. Expecting another baby? There are books about becoming a big brother or sister. Yup, there are books about that too. Moving house or starting school? Anxiety about learning to swim or losing your first tooth? Struggling with friendships or emotions? There are books about all of these! Books about girls that love science or boys that like knitting or playing with dolls? Yes, yes, yes! And then of course there are seasonal books that put that lend themselves to snuggling up for a good read together at Easter, Hallowe’en or Christmas.
15. Demonstrate Your Love of Books
And finally, the most important thing for instilling a love of books in your kids, is to lead by example! Monkey see, monkey do. If kids see you reading books and enjoying them, and picking up books to read – even if it’s just a couple pages – whenever you get the chance, they will want to copy you. If you were never much of a reader yourself before, don’t let that put you off. It doesn’t have to be any high brow classics, just find something that you enjoy. The important thing is that your kids see you modelling a love of books. If you want to raise a reader, be a reader!