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Picture of How to turn your kids into bookworms
What is your goal? Improve your kids' test scores? Keep them occupied during a trip? Open their minds? Improve their ability to emphasize with others? Expand their vocabulary? Do you want a couple hours of peace and quiet (without the repetitive 4 bit music from game players)? Do you like having something interesting to discuss with them as you put them down to bed at night? Whatever your goal, the solution is the same. Turn them into bookworms!



Babies will gravitate naturally towards books, but as they grow older, without proper encouragement and reinforcement, some kids drift away. This instructable will give tips and strategies to turn them into lifetime readers.



If you're not convinced reading is important, check out the hundreds of studies on the benefits of reading.
 
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Step 1: Books and lots of them

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Books can become an expensive habit, but you need to have a lot around, and get new ones regularly or even an avid reader will eventually tire of the same stories. The first and cheapest solution is, of course,  



Public libraries



Go to the library, hand out there to read or take the books home. In the hot summer days, libraries are particularly nice places to hang out. Cool and quiet, many of them offer activities such as readings, tutoring, and classes, as well as programs to distribute free books to take home and keep. 



Second excellent solution to the cost of books is buying them second hand



I think the idea of a spanking new book is over-rated. As long as the book doesn't smell of mildew and the pages hold together, who cares?



Ebay or Craisgslist won't save you much money, because of shipping charges or the hassle of picking up a single volume from across town. Church sales, stoop sales, thrift shops, and friends with older children are great sources for books in bulk. In my neighborhood lots of people also offer books for free: they put a box on the stoop with a "take me!" sign for walkers-by. I live in an apartment building with a common laundry in the basement. Next to the washing machines there's a bookcase which serves as a free book-exchange. Residents leave books for their neighbors, and take them at will. If you don't have an informal "library" like this in your building you might be able to set one up.





Step 2: You can never have too many books...

Picture of You can never have too many books...
... but you can have too many toys! 



When buying birthday or Christmas presents, make sure you buy more books than toys. Kids might THINK they want toys more, but in fact, they will spend much more time with a book than a remote control car.



This is the time to get the new release, the beautiful expensive hard cover. Borrow library and and buy second hand books as much as possible throughout the year, then get the really nice new ones on special occasions: your kids will value them all the more.

Step 3: Care

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Teach your child to treat books with care and respect, with a particular emphasis on handling library books carefully. Throwing a book is equivalent to hitting or biting a sibling, and the punishment for doing so should be equally harsh. Nowadays I take money from their allowance, to pay for any damage or buy a new book, but when they were younger and couldn't read on their own my threats were particularly frightening:



"If you don't behave I won't read to you!" I almost never carried this threat out, because it got results: reading time was precious not just for the stories we read, but for the excuse of curling up on the sofa together to forgive and forget all the mishaps of the day. 



Kids need to learn to treat books well, but babies WILL rip pages. As long as this is accidental do not reprimand them harshly for this mistake or they might learn to stay away from books altogether.... instead you might involve them in the repair of the book. Give them the job of fetching the tape for you.

Step 4: Start early

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Read to them, but let them "read" on their own, even when they can't. 



When they are beginning to read by themselves, start reading them a good book, then jump off to cook dinner, or make a phone call at the most exciting moment. Leave the book nearby and tell them sternly:



"DON"T read ahead!"



(of course if you are one of those parents whose annoyingly obedient children actually listen to what you tell them, forget this piece reverse psychology)

Step 5: Be messy

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Every once in a while my boys get stuck in a rut reading the same books or series over and over. Though I try not to be too judgmental about their choices, some of the manga books they occasionally favor as so vapid I can't bear to read more than a few pages.... so I'll mess up the house. I'll put Tom Sawyer on the coffee table, The Borrowers in the bathroom, or Cheaper by the Dozen by their bed. I'll be careful not to tell them to read these books -- at their age (8 and 11) that's a sure fire way of having them be rejected -- but when I leave the books out (especially in the bathroom) my boys invariably get hooked.



On occasion this will happen accidentally. I had bought a Houdini biography for myself, but before I managed to get to it my 11 year old had nabbed it. After a brief argument we compromised and used two bookmarks. Be careful what you leave around, once you've got a bookworm on your hands they will read anything!



I will also reorganize their bookshelves every so often, putting my favorites front and center, with the manga neatly arranged on the top shelf. 



Step 6: Read everywhere

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Hand held game players are touted as ideal travel companions, and given the choice my boys will choose video games over books 98% of the time. So if you're serious about getting them to read, don't give them the choice! When you're dragging your kids around as you go shopping, leave the game player at home and take a book instead (or if you want to be devious about it, make sure the device is not charged...).



Whenever you leave the house, bring a couple books. The kids will read in the car, bus or subway. They will read as you wait in line at the supermarket or when you get measured for a suit. Where ever you are, whatever you are doing they will read if you just hand them a book (and there's nothing else to do).

Step 7: Digital competition

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A video game offers instant excitement and gratification. TV provides escapism without any effort. The internet is a fascinating  source of tidbits of information and endless distractions without the need for in depth research. A book, on the other hand, requires time, effort and the ability to concentrate before you can sink into the story. No wonder publishers are struggling so much!



The only way I have found to compete with digital distraction is to regulate them strictly. Theoretically, my boys are only allowed 30 minutes of screen time a day: in practice this usually turns to 90 minutes, because I have two boys. When one plays his allotted video game time, the other watches... there goes an hour. Then, as a reward for particularly good behavior, my husband will give them 15 minutes of  "extra" time. Though I don't particularly approve of this, it does make piano practice a bit less painful... Rules are necessary, but bending the rules once in a while is important too. The basic principle is they should never be allowed to have more screen time than reading time. They want to watch a show on TV? Fine. Read a book for thirty minutes, then watch your half hour show. You do need to be careful with this approach however, because you run the risk of turning reading into a chore. I find it easier just to say "no TV, you've already used up your time" but if they propose the reading exchange deal I will sometimes agree to it.



Another way of regulating digital consumption is through home design. Never put a TV in a kid's room. Don't put a computer in a kid's room or store the portable gaming devise in there either. All these devises should be in the shared space of the house where you can monitor their use. When you give the child a time out, send him (or her) to a space which contains only books or physical toys.

Step 8: Audiobooks

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Although I did love reading out loud to my children, before they could read themselves their curiosity and appetite for stories very often was too much for my vocal cords. It is hard to read for more than 20 minutes straight, and they would have happily listened to 2 to 4 hours a day. This is where technology came in handy: I started out by recording myself as I read to them, but this ended up being more work than I anticipated (being a perfectionist, I would edit my recordings to remove stutters and interruptions, then I started recording music to accompany the stories and it quickly got out of hand). Soon I discovered audible.com, which saved me. There are other places to get audiobooks (including CDs at public libraries) but audible makes it so easy, and instantly gratifying that it's hard to resist.



Here are some audiobooks advantages:



You are no longer tied down to one spot and can move and do other stuff (like drawing, bouncing on a ball or standing on your head). Most kids can't sit still and read for more than an hour or two, but they can listen to a book for MUCH more time if they're able to move around. My older son's record is about 10 hours straight. I forced him to stop and go outside, but  I was only able to do so after I put his book on an ipod and dragged him out by the earbuds.... 



Beginning readers are often interested in stories which exceed their reading abilities. By the time they can read "Good Night Moon" their interests have moved on to bigger and better stories. Audiobooks help keep them interested, and also help them improve their reading ability dramatically, especially when you give them the text to follow as they listen.



The performances very often add a wonderful layer to the text, and it's fun to listen together to one story, rather than having everyone buried in their separate books.



This brings me to a slight drawback:



Younger siblings are not always ready to listen to the stories older kids enjoy -- Harry Potter got a little too scary for my younger son. He would go isolate himself in another room and close the door, but it turned him off the series (and chapter books in general) for quite a while. If not everyone is enjoying it, resort to headphones.





Step 9: Electronic readers

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When we first bought the Kindle, ebooks were much cheaper than their paper cousins, and we saved quite a bit of money. Thought that advantage has all but vanished, it is still hard to beat their convenience, especially when traveling. Being able to carry a trunk-full of books (and magazines, and newspapers) in a single light device, AND have the ability to instantly purchase any other book, wherever you happen to find yourself is simply amazing, even when you love, as I do, the smell and feel of good paper.



In the Kindle vs. iPad debate, I must say, although the Kindle feels positively antique (no touch screen?!? no color?!?) that if your goal is reading, the Kindle is much better. Much easier on the eyes, much more like an actual book. Plus, although you CAN search the web and get email it will not distract you the way an iPad will.

Step 10: Snacking

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A nice side effect of being both hungry and absorbed in a book is that kids will eat the  healthy food they would normally never touch. As they're reading I'll quietly put down a bowl of carrots in front of them. If they notice me they will complain, but before they know it, somehow, the bowl is empty. Then come dinner I don't have to harass them about eating vegetables because they already did.

Step 11: Safety precautions

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Rule #1. Never let a child cross the street while reading a book.



Rule #2 If you are unable to enforce rule#1, force the child to look up before crossing, and then guide him across like a blind person. Reading is like sleepwalking, he is in another world. Try to be kind and wake him up gently.



Rule #3 If you let your child out by himself, make sure he is not carrying any books, or, if he is, put the book is a plastic bag, sealed with a knot, and give strict instructions not to open the bag till he reaches his destination.

Step 12: Light

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Some parents might not agree with me on this point, they might feel a strict lights-out and bedtime is important. I figure I'm strict with screen time and with snacks, so there should be one area where I do not place limits on my kids. I let them read as long as they want to, and I even provide them with a small LED lamp to read in bed. No need to waste batteries with flashlights under the blankets... They don't stay up all night, but sometimes they will fall asleep on the book. It's OK, drool can be wiped off.



Having good reading light is important, and I have posted two instructables on the subject, one made of mahogany, the other with a tin can. LED bulbs are perfect for kids reading lights, because they don't get burning hot and their light is directional and not too bright: it will light up the page, but not the room.

Step 13: Choosing a good book

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As long as the boys are engaged, I reason, why try to impose my taste? But the fact is I can't help myself, I do consider some books better than others. Thomas the Train stories make me feel physically ill, especially when compared to classics like Go Dog Go. Eventually, with a finite amount of shelf space, my favorites books always end up winning... that's the advantage of being the one to clean and to hold the purse strings...



I started trying to  compile a list of favorite books, but it was getting too long... instead I'll just give a piece of advice about gender: try to introduce kids to books featuring main characters of the opposite gender before the age of 7... after that they tend to become much more resistant. I was able to get my sons to read (and love) the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, the Betsy Tacy books (Maud Hart Lovelace) and even A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett), but now they would never allow themselves to be seen in public reading books about girls...

Step 14: Benign neglect

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This is the last and most important step. In New York City, where coveted pre schools are more competitive than Ivy League Colleges, parents, desperate to give their progeny a leg up, will stop at nothing: music, sports, tutors, languages and arts are crammed into toddlers lives. Elementary students  are too booked to have play dates, kids lives are so structured if they happen to have a few hours free they don't have a clue about how to occupy themselves... Though I am occasionally wracked with doubt and guilt, I have very consciously resisted this trend, and obey the rules of what I optimistically call "benign neglect"



1. Never sign a child up for more than two activities a week (including weekends).

2. It is OK to out on "adventures" (museums, zoos, activities in Park, bowling, etc) but make sure there are plenty of days when nothing is planned.

3. When at home on those "do nothing" days, studiously ignore attempts to get your attention. No monopoly. No Uno. Respond to any request with a vague “in a minute, honey” while carefully avoiding eye contact.



Eventually your children will tire of playing with legos, and they will even tire of bickering with each other. After a time of eery silence you can creep out with your camera and snap a picture of them, reading.



Fireball71923 months ago
Boo hate reading
GriffianS8 months ago

Actually, the reason for the kindle's lack of color was to make it simulate reading a book because color would require (as far as I'm aware) the types of screens used on ipads and the like (long times spent looking at those types of screens is bad for the eyes).

PurpleKat4 years ago
This is a lovely Instructable, but I have to ask -- what's with imposing your tastes on your kids? Are the Manga books teaching lessons about the way people are or the way the world works that you don't want your kids learning -- and if so why are you allowing them in the house at all? I mean, if it's just that the stories aren't sophisticated enough for you, people used to say the same thing about Jane Austen, back when reading 'modern' fiction at all was considered vapid. It seems like part of being a bookworm is having control over what you choose to read and discover.

If my parents had directed my reading the way you describe, I would have dutifully (I was one of the backward dutiful kids) read what I knew they wanted me to read, but I inevitably wouldn't have enjoyed a lot of it, and that might have led me to conclude that I didn't enjoy reading. I know my parents must have cringed at my 12 year old self's Xanth obsession, but ultimately, they didn't care, as long as I was reading. They (rightly) figured that I would branch out into more sophisticated stories as I got older.

A lot of your suggestions are great though, especially the idea of books as treats. The thing that most drove me towards being a reader was the Scholastic books that we could order at school. Coming in and seeing brand new books on my desk was always so exciting.

Just came across this thread and stopped to think back with much nostalgia - those books that I chose myself, without any intererence or even suggestions from my parents, and the waiting and the pure pleasure of finding them on my desk...
Haven't yet ever bumped into anyone else who has mentioned that...
Nice one.
belsey (author)  carlymyman3 years ago
Someone brought the book into your house or put it on your desk... Or in the public library, a librarian chose to display it prominently on the shelf... In the book store too a publisher worked hard to put their book in the window. Intentionally or not, all our choices, and particularly all the choices of a child, are curated. A parent can't and shouldn't try to impose specific texts, but it's not realistic to think that a parent isn't going to influence the child's choices -- and I don't think it's wrong either. Transmitting values is a big part of what parenting is about. You didn't choose those books as a child, your parents did. They were just wise enough not to show their cards.
belsey (author)  PurpleKat4 years ago
Most of this instructable is about encouraging and directing kids to read WITHOUT telling them to or imposing your will or taste. So I'm a bit confused that you think the methods I describe would inevitably lead them to conclude they don't enjoy reading -- and I can assure you this is not the case! That said, of course I have opinions and it is impossible to completely repress the desire to share my taste and values (especially with my own kids). The reason I dislike manga so much is not that the stories aren't sophisticated (nothing's wrong with a simple story, simply told) but that they are filled with fighting, battles and trash talk, and after putting the books down my sons invariably pick up whatever can be used as a weapon and start hitting each other, while making grand, ballet-like gestures and boastful obnoxious comments. That's what they've been memorizing, by reading the manga over and over. As far as allowing those books in the house is concerned, well, I put all the blame on my husband. He's the one who bought those -- and since I let my kids make their own reading choices, those are some of the most worn volumes I have.
Gocho3 years ago
I love your guide. My childs can't read yet, but I'll keep your instructions and recover it in 2 or 3 years.

Thanks!
belsey (author)  Gocho3 years ago
In the meantime you can read to your child... Even if he/she can't even talk yet, nothing beats cuddling up together and sharing an interesting and beautiful book.
GlowWireGuy3 years ago
LOL at bookworm picture! :D
mikemckay3 years ago
What a great article.

Never give up on reading to your kids. My wife read to our son right upto grade ten before he finally started reading on his own. Now he devours books.
Roflolommo3 years ago
My parents basically did this. I've been reading since I was a wee child. However I've realized schools are awful for reading. I actually got in trouble because they thought I was "pretending" to read books several times. I remember a teacher taking a book away from me because she thought I stole it and that it couldn't have been mine and my parents had to get it back from the school. Admittedly that book was a college textbook on history. I've always hated school because they teach to the stupidest student in the class.
bhylak4 years ago
"make sure you buy more books than toys. Kids might THINK they want toys more, but in fact, they will spend much more time with a book than a remote control car."

You might THINK you want freedom, but what you REALLY want is slavery. Fo real, it'll save you in the long run.

-Big Brother

P.S. You can have too many books. Trust me.
belsey (author)  bhylak4 years ago
Yes, I suppose it is possible to have too many books -- though I've never met anyone who did, and most kids I know definitely have too many toys... As for the idea that kids think they want something which, in fact, turns out to be much less fun than expected... I would venture to guess that you are either childless or your child is too young for you to have experienced the crushing disappointment of watching the much nagged for, expensive, most anticipated present end up being ignored and shoved aside after a day or two of use. I would even broaden that premise and say it's not just limited to kids. Adults think they want stuff they never end up using: why do you think bread-makers are fixtures of both wedding registers and garage sales? As for the comparison toy=freedom vs book=slavery -- I admit I don't quite get that.
bhylak belsey4 years ago
First off all, for a lot of people including myself, its easier to learn hands on.

Anyway the whole thing about your kids thinking they want something, it was a reference to the whole bit in 1984 Peace is War, Freedom is Slavery, etc.
belsey (author)  bhylak4 years ago
I haven't read that since I was a teen -- and it's been a while, so I forgot that part. But now I get your comment. This instructable isn't so much about reading to learn, it's more about learning to enjoy reading. Of course when you're trying to acquire a specific skill just reading about it (even if you're reading an instructable) won't be enough. You've got to do it! Couldn't agree more.
Tell me, was my guess about you correct?
bhylak belsey4 years ago
Yes, you were correct.
terribug bhylak3 years ago
I have 5 kids, Belsey, and you are so right. My kids have saved their favorite books for far longer and spent more time with them than any flash-in-the-pan glitzy toys they ever got! We have a large, dynamic library in our home, with books entering and exiting (to lend!) at a great rate. My kids are more jealous of their books than of their toothbrushes. (Actually, that would be a no-brainer where kids are concerned, wouldn't it? LOL) I would just add to your instructable that, giving a slight homage to bhylak, it's easier to make them bookworms if you read to them, and then have a book-related activity. As a professional tutor, my reading instruction often begins with reading to the student from a short story, then getting them to draw a picture, make a clay figure, or otherwise bring out the ideas in the story. Then, we work on "skills," such as spelling words or writing our own stories or sentences.

Good job on this instructible, Belsey!
belsey (author)  terribug3 years ago
You're right, I probably didn't emphasize the "reading to them" aspect quite enough; that's because my kids have passed that stage, and though I do still read out loud to them once in a while it's no longer part of the daily routine. It used to be though. I'd also forgotten about the reading related crafts.... After reading "A Cricket in Times Square" My kids and I built a beautiful little golden cricket cage with a bell. We even went to a pet store to find an inhabitant for it, but the crickets there were tiny and would escaped in a split second... So it ended up housing a variety of species of plastic animals and super heros. When I get a chance I might add that as another step. Thanks for the idea!
seamster4 years ago
I really enjoyed this! Thank you for posting it. My wife and I have four boys, and the two oldest (6 and 8) have just recently started tearing through all of our small library at an alarming rate. A 6 year old reading Harry Potter 1 and 2 in only three days? Ah!

I especially like the bedtime tips. We're gonna have to do that. Thanks a bunch!
balisticjoe4 years ago
Now for me, being forced to read made me hate books. It took the enjoyment away, especially when I couldn't chose what I wanted to read. I did eventually enjoy books, but it was after they were being shoved down my throat.
belsey (author)  balisticjoe4 years ago
I agree. The mandatory half hour of reading my boys have for school homework (and, worst of all, the reading log they have to fill out) sucks all the fun and spontaneity out of reading... which is why I usually ignore the requirement, because I figure without timing them, reading here and there when they feel like it, they easily fulfill their required time. Once in a while though I will insist that for their homework reading they pick a book which had more words than pictures.
ilpug4 years ago
I am 17, and read at a college level. Reading is the best way someone can learn. Schools these days are pretty much broken. In California at least.
ilpug4 years ago
I wholeheartedly reccomend getting a copy of Let Them Have Books, by Gaby Chapman. Its not too expensive, and is available online. Gaby Chapman was my English teacher, and is a total genius when it comes to education though reading.
bajablue4 years ago
Excellent. Children must be TAUGHT to treat books with respect.

If it's not a coloring book, it's NOT a book to color in.
wilgubeast4 years ago
Awesome awesome awesome awesome. As a former reading teacher, I approve wholeheartedly. LOVE IT. This is brilliant. I wish I'd had your instructable to hand out to the parents of my students while I was teaching. A bonus tip: if the kids are going to watch tv, turn on the closed captioning. It is a great passive vocabulary builder.
So true!!!!

It's also helpful to use closed-captioning in a language you'd like to learn.

I frequently watch movies closed-captioned in Spanish.

tincanz4 years ago
What a wonderful instructable! I am only 15, but many of my peers have not touched a book for fun in years. This is a message that would be very beneficial among high schoolers, but, unfortunately, many of them would not listen to it without a professional athlete or hot girl telling them.... Maybe other means must be constructed to reach such a determined not to learn audience. Anyway, a starting point has to be made eventually, and I congradulate you for that.