9 tips for encouraging reading at home

Promoting reading at home is the single-greatest factor in determining a kids success in school.  It can have a drastic impact on test scores, as well as overall enjoyment in school.  One study found that kids who read 20 minutes a day will read around 1.8 million words in a year vs. a kid who reads 1 minute a day and the paltry 8,000 words they would read.  Kids who read every night score astronomically higher on standardized tests than kids who don’t.

As a kid, I was fortunate to be immersed in books from an early age.  My mom read me bedtime stories for years, and my dad modeled constant reading with his audiobooks in his car.  I had reading materials at arms length in almost any room in the house and made weekly trips to the library.  My parents were constantly asking me about the books I was reading and making suggestions.  My dad would give me his car manuals and let me pour over their grease stained pages.

All of this helped develop in me a passion for reading that has continued into adulthood.  Not only am I constantly reading books, but I attribute a lot of my success in school to the reading habits I developed when I was little.
Here are a few tips to help your own kids develop good reading habits that will follow them into adulthood:

1.Read to your children at any age.

It doesn’t matter what age your children are, kids love to have someone read to them.  My 6th graders beg me to continue our read aloud book almost every day.  They like hearing stories through your voice.  Not only do they have a connection to the story, but they also get bits of you mixed in with that.  Reading to them also models how to read with emotion, pause at punctuation, and change pacing depending on the plot of the story.

I can still remember my mom reading and the way she would do character voices.  The characters in the story always had a distinct cadence that I find myself mimicking with my own kids.

Tip: Read books that are more advanced than your child could read on their own to challenge them and develop their vocabulary.

2. Record yourself reading if you can’t be there to read to them.

I wait tables 2 nights a week to help pay off student loans.  On those nights I usually only get to see my kids for about 10 minutes between teaching and my night job.  To keep my daughter from noticing my absence as much I started recording myself reading books to her.  I just use my iPhone and record my voice reading the pages.  I tell her when to turn the page, and I usually leave the book on my daughter’s bed or in her backpack.

I wasn’t sure how much she enjoyed listening to my recordings of the books.  She usually didn’t say anything about it.  Then one night I went into her room to check on her while she was sleeping.  I looked at her iPod and saw that she had the stories on a loop so she could listen to them all night long.

Tip: The audio recorder feature on most phones works great for this.  Don’t stress about an elaborate recording.  Kids just want to hear your voice.

3. Put audio books on your phone/iPod/CD player and teach your kids to do the same.

I always have several audio books going at a time.  I usually listen to a book in the car and one on my phone.  It’s a great way to pass the time on long drives and while doing boring chores.  The other day I was listening to a book in the car on the way to work (Cinder by Marissa Meyer).  It started playing after work when my daughter got in the car.  When I went to turn it off she asked me to leave it on.  I don’t think she understands what is going on in the story, but she loves listening to it.  Now when she gets in the car I fill her in on what she missed.  It’s been a great bonding time having this shared story experience.

I also listen to books on my phone while I’m working around the house.  Teaching kids how to load books onto a device/CD player, can give them a means to read while they are doing other things.

Tip: The public library is a great resource for audio books.  Also, if you find a great reader, find other books read by that person.  Jim Dale for example reads all of the Harry Potter books and is fantastic at developing voices for characters.

4. Model reading.

Good or bad, kids copy what they see us do.  I try to model good reading habits in front of my kids, so I make a point of showing them the books I’m reading.  I can’t always share the plots of some of the books, but I try to show them that I read books for fun.  I read books sometimes *gasp* instead of watching TV.

Tip: If something exciting happens in your book (that you can share) share it with your kids.  They love to see your engagement with reading.  Also, asking questions while reading shows that you are connecting with the book.

5. Have plenty of reading materials on hand.

When I was a kid I had a book shelf crammed and overflowing with books.  My parents also had multiple bookcases filled with books along with stacks of books on tables throughout the house.  We also had subscriptions to several magazines.

That has carried over into my own house.  Both of my kids have shelves of books in their rooms and the bookshelves in my own room are also overflowing.  In my classroom I have books on almost every surface possible.  Kids are often fickle creatures and will do the thing that requires the least work.  If they have to choose between searching for something to read or grabbing the TV remote they often choose the easier task.  However, if a book is within arms reach they’re more likely to pick it up.

Tip: The Half-Price book store is a great place to get books.  Check the clearance section.  There are usually books for $1.  Also, choose books with cool covers.  Kids are more likely to pick it up if the cover looks interesting.

6. Talk about real world reading opportunities as often as possible.

One thing I’ve found with many of the reluctant readers in my classes, especially boys, is that they will read something if they have a purpose for their reading.  For example they will read a strategy guide for the latest xBox game or the instructions for building a new Lego creation.

While it might not help kids develop a love of reading, it’s important to show them the importance of it.  Showing kids authentic reading opportunities can help them understand the value of reading.

Tip: Car manuals, instructions for building furniture, and cookbook recipes are all great real-world reading opportunities.  Talking about things you had to read at work can also show the importance of reading.

7. Put reading materials by the toilet.

We all do it, whether we want to admit it or not.  Most people do some sort of reading in the bathroom, either magazines or playing around with our phones.  You have a captive audience here so leave something worth reading in the bathroom.  I recommend magazines, because they can be thrown away after you’re finished with them.

Tip: Choose something that can be read in short chunks.  Magazines, comics, and bathroom readers are great options.

8. Subscribe to magazines.

Kids don’t always have a lot of time, nor do some kids want to devote a lot of time to reading.  Magazines are a great way to get kids to read in short chunks.  A short article might spark their interest when longer texts seem too daunting.  This is also a great way to tailor readings to a kids interests’.  For example, I love reading entertainment news, so I’ve been a reader of Entertainment Weekly for years.

Tip: Search online because a lot of magazines have discounted rates listed online.  Also, some magazines are free.  Lego puts out a free magazine (that’s really a giant ad for Legos), but it has some fun puzzles, games and stories.

9. Take frequent trips to the library

There is nothing quite like walking through stacks and stacks of books in a library.  The sights, the sounds, and even the smells all make you want to read.  At least they did for me.  Libraries today not only have a plethora of reading materials, they are also a great hub for activities, technology resources, and librarians to guide you along the way.

Tip: One of the biggest things kids struggle with is deciding which book to check out.  Talk to the librarians.  They know A LOT!

A bad grade is your punishment for being a terrible student…right?

One of the hardest aspects of being a teacher, in my mind, is grading.  It’s time consuming, frustrating and often covers so many grey areas it’s difficult to assign a definitive number/letter to a student’s progress.  Additionally there are the added pressures from administrators, parents, and district personnel for students to measure up to some bar they’ve held above a student.

The other night I went to bed well after midnight after spending hours grading papers to pass back to the students the next day.  With each passing paper I was getting more and more discouraged.  The students missed a major concept we had been discussing in class for several days.  Many of them were receiving low C’s and D’s on the assignment.

I wasn’t discouraged for my students.  They know my grading policy.  I allow them to correct assignments.  Their grades are simply a work in progress.  A low grade means there are things that need to be improved upon.  I also don’t offer extra credit.  My goal is for the grade to be a direct reflection on what they know and what they still need to work on.  The students weren’t a concern for me.

My concern was for the other people outside of the classroom.  What would parents think if their child came home with a *gasp* 62%?  How are these 6th graders ever going to get into a good college with grades like that?  The teacher must have failed them or the parents must have done something wrong or the student must not have been trying hard enough.

What if grades weren’t punishment? What if grades were communication to the students to let them know what to improve on?  I’m by no means an expert on grading.  I fail often.  I’m constantly tweaking how I grade and what the numbers should represent, but I think we often get so hung up on the number that we lose sight of the whole purpose of teaching.  The kids need to learn something.  They need to be able to incorporate new skills/knowledge into their daily lives.  They need to be able to do something they weren’t able to do before.

“…until we stop equating a bad grade with a bad kid, students will continue to shut down and ignore the feedback I’m providing.

The grade should ultimately be communication to the student on their strengths and needs for growth.  It should give them an accurate read of where they are at.  Then it is my job to give them the tools and guidance to move them from where they are at to somewhere new.  I don’t have a problem with a student receiving a D on an assignment.  That student struggled with some aspect of the content.  Now it is our job to reflect and develop a plan to move the D to a C.  But until we stop equating a bad grade with a bad kid, students will continue to shut down and ignore the feedback I’m providing.

The system as a whole is flawed.  One number/letter grade reflecting all that we do in a class is bad communication, and someday I hope we can find a grading system that makes more sense, one that encourages growth over a grade.  Because my goal is for my students to start out the year failing my class and end the year passing.  If I’m doing my job right I should constantly be presenting them with new, challenging content that they won’t master the first time.  Especially in Language Arts, it’s an evolutionary process.  They should continue to grow and improve over time.

The only way for us to get there is to teach kids the value of effective feedback and constantly strive for growth.