How Reading Shapes Us: Guiding Your Children to Good Choices

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reading aloud to an adhd childAlbert Einstein once said “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

I’m not out to give you a definitive list of books your children must read to be a model citizen or better student. I do want to encourage you to keep reading and to keep putting books in your children’s hands. You never know which book is going to spark, inspire and change everything.

Some of us may not be born book lovers, but most of us are born to become book lovers.

For the same reason children shouldn’t be served a steady diet of chicken nuggets, fries and pizza, the same sorts of books shouldn’t be continually given. Your child may prefer comic books, but you want to keep offering other choices.

With our firstborn, we read to him early and often. Reading was something he loved from the beginning. Our first daughter also loved books – no problem. Our daughter Lesley was a completely different story and didn’t sit still for much. All the smugness I felt from having two children who loved reading disappeared overnight.

She didn’t want to Pat the Bunny and she was ambivalent about bidding the evening adieu with Goodnight Moon. She mostly listened when I did my best “Grover” voice for The Monster at the End of this Book. She was mildly intrigued by Richard Scarry’s Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town.

If she had been my firstborn, I’m sure I would’ve obsessed about what book to try next. Fortunately, having two older children helped me keep a balanced perspective and also preoccupied me so that I had no time to obsess about much.

Even with kids who love books, they may not like the same books that you do. As a child, I adored the “Little House” series books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, but none of my children particularly cared for them.

Early in the reading game, we went past our own collection of books and checked out the local library. I have to admit that looking for new children’s books was something I looked forward to as much as they did. When they were small, we all started looking for anything by Rosemary Wells wrote to see if there was another Max and Ruby adventure.

Even Lesley liked the privilege and adventure of going to pick out new books. Sometimes we just giggled over birthday cakes with real worms, or how noisy Nora could be. The Sweetest Fig showed us that dreams could really matter. Oh, the Thinks You Can Think reminded us how important our imaginations are. Miss Rumphius got us to wondering what we would do to make the world a better place.

After reading anything by Patricia Polacco, we all wanted to say Thank you Mr. Falker. He was her brilliant teacher who recognized how awful it could be if you couldn’t read and you didn’t know why.

In a time where no specialized help was readily available in public school, he made sure that she got the help she needed and stopped the bully’s teasing that tormented her.

In Polacco’s words, “Mr. Falker had reached into the most lonely darkness and pulled me into bright sunlight and sat me on a shooting star. I shall never forget him…So this book is written both to honor Mr. Falker, but also to warn young people that mean words have a terrible power…and that they should do all that they can to see that teasing stops at their school.”

Many books that we read together or that my children read included great messages I wanted them to absorb. Hopefully these stories weren’t so obvious with their moral or my children might not have chosen to read them. After all, reading needs to be fun!

There are children who don’t click with books until middle school or high school. My daughter’s 9th grade English teacher admitted that his father made him read classics in the summers. It wasn’t until the third summer that he enjoyed any of it.

With summer quickly approaching, you might want to combine a love of video games and the hope of more reading with a chart where kids earn their video gaming time by increments of time spent reading. For instance, 30 minutes of reading can buy a kid 15 minutes of video game time. If you’re interested in seeing the sort of Excel spreadsheet that was used in Kayla’s family, email us and we’ll send you a copy.

Whatever method you choose to inspire readers, keep trying, and don’t give up!

If your child has a few favorites, please let us know what those titles are. What method worked at your house to convert a mildly interested reader to a book lover? We would love to hear from you. What you’ve learned could help someone else who’s struggling now.

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Image courtesy of Yellowbird and Flickr