As a mother deep in the trenches of raising four children, I have big goals and dreams for them that guide my parenting choices day to day. I want my kids to reach adulthood strong in faith, healthy in body, joyful in heart, and equipped for all that the grown-up world has to throw at them.
And, oh yes, I would also like them to be readers.
Like the good mother I generally am, I try to work towards these goals daily. And while I work, I worry. Are they eating enough vegetables? Are they getting enough exercise? Are they brushing their teeth? Are they learning to pray? Do they have good friends? Are they doing well in school?
I used to worry, too, about how well I was raising them to be readers. Was I doing it properly? Was I choosing just the right books to inspire a life-long love of literature in my sweet babies? Was I reading to them for the exact right number of minutes each day?
Nearly a dozen years into my mothering adventure, however, I’ve finally managed to relax (mostly) about reading. How? By realizing that, when it comes right down to it, there’s no wrong way to raise a reader.
(Well: maybe there are one or two wrong ways, but we’ll get to those at the end.)
In the end, almost all of the maddening questions and choices that have filled me with self-doubt about whether I’m doing early literacy right turn out, amazingly enough, to have the same answer: yes.
Should I read aloud to them or let them read all on their own?
Should I let them choose their own books or choose books for them that I think they will like?
Should our reading times be scheduled or spontaneous?
Should I let them be free-range readers, or should I keep close tabs on what they’re reading and offer parental guidance along the way?
Should I encourage them to read for fun or for education?
Should I let them keep rereading their old favorites or encourage them to try something new?
Should we buy books or borrow them?
Should I have them treat books with the respect they’d give a treasured trinket or with the affection they’d give a well-loved teddy bear?
Should I let them read physical or electronic books?
Should I read all the silly voices and sound effects yourself or let them read the silly voices and sound effects?
Yes. (The silly voices and sound effects are, of course, nonnegotiable.)
Should I read every word on every page, or should I ignore the words entirely and just read the pictures?
Should we read books straight through start to finish, or should we stop to notice and chat about things along the way?
Should I read with my kids or let them see me reading (and enjoying) my own books without them?
Should I read to them each one-on-one, all snug and cozy, or read with all of them together at once, piled up together in a great heap of knees and elbows?
Should I let them spend all their free time watching Netflix and playing Minecraft, fill our shelf space with knick-knacks instead of books, never visit the library, and always keep myself too busy ever to sit down on the couch and read with them?
No. No, I should not. (But I think we already knew that.)
In the end, it’s not rocket science. Give them access to books. Read with them. Read without them. Help them carve out spaces in their day for reading. Show them how rich a literate life can be.
Even if we have no idea how we’re going to handle all the rest of this whole parenting thing, at least raising readers is well within our grasp.
Relax. We’ve got this.
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About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.