Building a book habit in preschoolers is a critical part of their long-term reading success.
Elizabeth Riordan, president of the Association for Library Service to Children (a division of the American Library Association), says that kids who’ve been ingrained with a book or reading routine at an early age tend to fall back on these positive experiences if they hit bumps later in their academic careers.
Here are some tips for helping younger children become readers for life.
1. Visit your library. There’s no right age to start going to the library. “If you haven’t started yet, go. If you have, keep going,” says Riordan. What’s important is having a sustainable routine that’s realistic for all involved.
Riordan also suggests that parents get kids a library card as soon as possible. Even if the books are ultimately managed by a caregiver, the sense of being part of the library makes an impact.
2. Get to know your librarian. Once kids have a sense of the types of books they like, encourage them to seek help from your local librarian. Not only does this help them feel empowered, it also encourages them to develop another relationship based on reading.
3. Give them autonomy. Yes, you may want to choose your favorite books from when you were a child, or direct them toward that picture book you saw in a parenting magazine, but kids who’ve chosen something they like gain greater motivation to engage with the book, says Riordan.
4. Attach books to loved routines. Bedtime, cuddle time, storytime, library time. However you can work reading and books in as a habit, do it. “You’re not purely teaching them to love books, but encouraging them to love a routine,” says Riordan. The pleasant association of books with something they enjoy doing also helps kids develop an attachment to reading.
5. Be adaptive. When my son was little, my husband and I took turns putting him to bed while reading to him from chapter books we’d chosen. As he reached the fussier toddler years, he called for picture books and we adapted our nighttime routine accordingly. The specifics may have changed, but hopefully the before-bed reading habit will last a lifetime.
6. Let them read to you. As parents, we’re all familiar with the books we’ve read again and again. Once your child is ready, ask them to read a book to you. (This works even if they aren’t really reading yet; let them tell the story as they remember it.)
7. Make it personal. Telling stories to your child creates another engaging experience around language, says Riordan. Don’t worry if you’re not creative. Start with the story of what you did today.
8. Give them space. Our house in California is devoid of the nooks and crannies I loved curling up in as a kid growing up in Illinois. But while we can’t have a book nook, we have made a cozy space alongside Clark’s bookshelf where he can snuggle up and read. He doesn’t have to read there, but having his own designated space means he can go to his very own happy place should he want to.
9. Shelve it! Whether you have a set of family bookshelves or your child has his own storage area, make sure at least one shelf is devoted to their books alone.
10. Encourage the collecting habit. While the library is the place to go for exploring many books, a child will want favorites at home. For gifts, give them copies of books they check out from the library time and again. On vacations, frequent bookstores and allow kids to choose a book as a souvenir (write the name of the store and the city where you bought it in the inside cover). Allow them to label their books with bookplates or personalized stickers. Someday, they’ll have these books to hand down to their children.
11. Be a good example. Parents who read have kids who read. According to Reading Is Fundamental, parents who have books, magazines, and newspapers around the home, and who read themselves, help reinforce the notion that books and reading are a part of daily life.