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.
Step 1: Books and lots of them
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...
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
"If you don't behave I won't read to you!" I almost never carried this treat 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Step 11: Safety precautions
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
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
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
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.