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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Simple Ways You Can Instill a Love of Reading in Your Kids

Instilling a love of reading is giving your child a gift—of dreams, imagination, escape, and connection. Here's how our family is doing it, and wholly enjoying the ride.

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We have family reading hour every evening

We started a new practice in our own household at the new year where each night the entire family heads to the living room for an hour or so. The only rule: It’s is a work-free zone for my husband and me. No phones. No computers. Our girls may finish their own homework during this hour, but we are simply reading books that we enjoy quietly together. My husband and I realized that we needed to do this first for ourselves, to consciously carve out a little peace in the day with our phones turned off. And then we noticed that our girls were picking up their own books and really looking forward to this time spent reading as a family. It quickly became the most treasured part of our day and creating this space to read casually together, and also trusting that there is time to step away from work and the hustle of life, that has been life-changing for us. And it’s had the side benefit of modeling for our girls that there is always time to read for pleasure. You might not know these incredible health benefits of reading.

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We let our kids read whatever they want

I also try to place no limits on what my girls read—and this tip was born out of my own childhood as well as my husband’s. I absolutely fell in love with reading when I was 8 or 9 years old because I fell in love with a particular series and, trust me, it wasn’t the classics. I wrapped myself up in Sweet Valley Twins and books by Christopher Pike and John Bellairs. They probably weren’t what my parents would have chosen for me at the time, but they gave me the freedom to choose for myself. And so I dove in. And it’s in those moments, when kids are reading what they like—that a life-long reader is born. My husband has a different but no less powerful story. Since he had reading difficulties as a child, no books were appealing for him, and so his parents gave him the sports page instead. He loved it!  Every day he would read the sports page—and he became an avid reader! So I say, let them read, no limits. These cozy quotes about reading will make you feel all warm and bookwormy inside.

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We keep the story time tradition alive

Continue to read out loud with your children for as long as possible. Our eldest daughter is almost 9 and we still read aloud together most nights, and I hope we will do it for a few, if not several, more years. My children still love to snuggle in close and listen to a story—and I find this is the perfect time to bring in those stories that have grown with us, like The Secret Garden or Little Women. Also, continuing to read aloud together, even in the pre-teen years, opens up one more channel for conversation with our kids. It’s a magical moment that’s hard to outgrow, because—well, it’s magical.

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We turn “me time” into “read time”

My youngest daughter has a time in the day that she absolutely craves. She calls it “peace alone,” and it was a concept she came up with when she was only 2 or 3 years old. She is very social, and yet for a few moments every day—it could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes—she steals away to spend time by herself in quiet. And she will do whatever she wants—play with toys, make up stories, lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling—whatever fits the moment and the mood. As I would watch my daughter grab these peaceful moments, I realized how much we all need quiet time. And so each day, I’ll take 5 or 20 by myself, and my eldest daughter will now do the same. It’s a time to find our center, to settle into a peaceful state, and to relish the quiet. Each day brings with it more activities, more busyness, and with it, more noise. Yet, for the past few years we have sought out these quiet moments to refresh. The unforeseen side effect has been to create one more natural space for reading. As my girls started to crave the quiet and find space within these moments, they also found the space to expand into a story and into their imagination.

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We make up our own stories together

My sister is nine years older than me, and when I was young she would often make up stories with me at bedtime. The stories came purely from her imagination and, as she told them, I would weave in my own bits to enhance them. We would watch as this creation would ebb and flow to endings unknown and often bizarre. We had so much fun with these stories, many of which I still remember today. We try to continue this tradition of storytelling with our girls—making up different tales, having them add their own twists and turns. These narrative wanderings help all of us tap into our creativity and fall easily into our own imagination. And that’s really when we fall in love with a story and its characters, when we can freefall into the world of the story through our own imagination.

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We create our own books—literally

A while ago, my youngest daughter went through a seriously picky phase with food. Nothing was working and I’d tried everything to get her to eat the foods we were eating as a family. A friend of mine suggested that I bring her into the kitchen to cook with me, and it was like magic! The minute she felt that she had a hand in cooking our meal, she dove right into the eating with gusto! She felt pride in the preparation and so was excited to try the meal. With that experience close at hand, I realized the same might be true with reading. When the girls were first learning to read, we started writing stories and turning them into books—folding the pages, sewing the bindings. They created books. which meant they were authors! This cracked books open for them in a new way. They realized they could create physical books, similar to the ones on their bookshelves, and so those books became much more relatable.

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We’re not above a good joke book

Keep your readers on their toes! Revisit books they loved as babies, choose joke books or super-silly children’s stories. Change your voice and try on different accents to make the characters come alive. When you read aloud as they look over your shoulder, divert from the story into a crazy tangent—perhaps Mary Lennox opens the door to the secret garden and finds herself on the surface of the moon! Reading is play. It’s leisure. It’s recreation and it’s fun. And the more we can illustrate the play and the fun inherent in reading, the more they will foster that outlook on their own and seek out space in the day to read.

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We don’t take it too seriously

We don’t stress about it. This final tip is really one that I’ve gleaned from my own personality and the times I’ve found myself wanting to do anything but read a particular book. Here’s where the obligation to read trips me up every time—I am a part of a book club, and the minute our monthly books are assigned, my first impulse is to go rogue and read another book! It is such a silly reaction, but I know that in that moment I am rebelling against the idea of being told what to do. If it feels like homework, I rebel, and I know my girls will do the same. So I try to keep it light, keep it fun, and if 20 minutes of reading simply isn’t going to happen that day, I just let it slide. As Walt Whitman once wrote: “We were together. I forget the rest.”

Elizabeth Lane is founder of Quarterlane, a monthly book delivery service, and Quarterlane Kids, a book delivery subscription service for boys and girls ages 6 to 12.