Last year was a huge disappointment for us in terms of reading. Like our homeschooling schedule, I tried to fix specific times and books for reading together and when we didn’t get through what was planned (uh, life!) I felt pressured to catch up just so we could stay on track. That feeling caused me to speed through books with him just for the sake of being able to cross them off my list. (And then I was surprised that he ended up not liking very many books.) Have you ever felt this way?
I had placed such a high value on being on track that I quickly lost sight of everything that is important to me — helping my child develop a love of reading, of books, increasing his comprehension skills … and just good old-fashioned mother-child bonding.
We were in a reading rut. It was downward spiral towards never-reading land and I realized that if I don’t change things, it would soon be too late. “A book is a dream you hold in your hands” (Neil Gaiman) and my dream was slowly going down the drain.
So in the beginning of this year, I made a resolution to slow down and be mindful about the things we do together. Our mindful learning nook was born and on it I vowed to place a book that we would read every day if we can manage. The idea and priority is to not to read 366 books this year, it is to help my children be drawn and attracted to books and to pick it up and explore it even if I can’t read it with them just yet.
Our mindful learning nook and my renewed attitude is paying off. There has been a huge transformation in the quality of our reading time together. (There has also been a huge transformation in my stress levels. You’re welcome, self.)
Here are 10 things I’ve learned this year about how to make my kids crazy about reading. Just because I went through the stress and ordeal of a botched reading year doesn’t mean you have to!
1. Don’t treat it as another chore. I wonder how many of us are guilty of this — treating reading time as a chore. I know I did and I still struggle with this on and off. But I find that when I read with my kids as if I’m sitting down to read my favourite novel, the results are amazing. Have you ever lost track of time because you were so engrossed in a good novel? There is no feeling quite like tuning everything out and getting lost in a good book. And don’t underestimate the quality of a good children’s book — I remember being completely immersed in Grandfather’s Journey and Frindle that when I finished, I realized that I had stopped reading out loud and my kids had already long walked away for a snack!
2. Read intentionally and with drama. A major priority this year is to read with the purpose of engaging my kids in critical thinking and improving comprehension. This means reading with drama and different volumes and accents, slowing down and asking if they understood what I just read, or asking them to predict what will happen next. The book How To Read A Story (pictured above) is a wonderful children’s book that helps both children and adults to understand how and when to pause to ask questions.
3. Use a front-facing book display. Just one book beautifully displayed on a book stand attracts my kids like a gorgeous pair of shoes at a store window. It draws them in. Every. Single. Time. It doesn’t matter who selects the book; anyone is free to choose. Sometimes Zac will replace a new book I’ve selected with one that he has read before because he wants me to read it again. We store our books in the shelves spine facing out due to space constraints, but I find that once Zac has fallen in love with a book he has no trouble looking for them there.
4. Enhance the book display with simple props. I find that placing just one or two thoughtfully selected items next to a book will entice a child and invite him to explore. I don’t always have the time but you don’t always have to have props out. Plus some books don’t lend themselves very well to props anyway. Most times we just enjoy the book, period. In the photo above, I placed a basketful of twigs to encourage him to create letters and words like the book If I Wrote A Book About You (pictured above).
5. Supplement with a real life experience or hands-on activity. So if I didn’t have time or if I didn’t think to place props with a book, and if a particular book was a big hit, then I try my best to extend it into a real life experience, hands-on activity or better yet both! If placing props is an invitation to explore before reading a book, then adding a hands-on experience/activity is an invitation after reading a book. Either way is super effective and pays off. When we read The Carrot Seed (pictured above) last year, I noticed how intrigued Zac was. So we planted carrot seeds that spring and learned about gardening. In the summer, our carrot tops hosted three caterpillars which turned into butterflies and we learned about life cycles. It was the book of the year for us. (Click here to see our carrots and caterpillars.)
6. Abridge if needed. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (pictured above) is recommended for ages 9-12, but how could Zac resist those beautiful 3D pop-ups? He kept begging me to read it. I read the text word for word in the beginning but then I realized pretty quickly that I was losing his attention because the text is too deep. So in the interest of just getting it done, I abridged. I shortened the sentences and paragraphs and added my own colour commentary in. It worked and we got through the whole book. But here’s what’s interesting: The next few times I read the book, I read the text word for word, and he stuck it out. Those big words and long sentences made much more sense now that I had abridged it for him once before. And he was soaking in all those big words! He fell in love with the story. We haven’t read it for some time now, but occasionally I still hear him saying “Willy Wonka” or “Charlie Bucket” to himself.
7. Try wordless picture books. These are hard to find at the library, but they work especially well in helping us to verbalize our thoughts, predictions, explanations and questions. When I read books with text, I find that Zac hesitates when it comes to offering his prediction or thoughts. I know it will take some time and more modelling before it will sink in, but with wordless picture books I find he speaks his mind more freely. I particularly love Before After (pictured above) — it has a lot of depth and meaning and can really spark long discussions. Letter Lunch is another wonderful wordless book that helped us to practice our letter phonetic sounds.
8. Try magazines. We subscribe to Chirp (pictured above) and Owl magazine for Zac and Matt and they love them. Zac will often get me to re-read the whole magazine as if it were a book. When he was younger, he didn’t really want to do the activities in the magazine. But I know now that it’s just a matter of readiness and confidence in writing and drawing, because he totally digs in these days!
9. Don’t be workbook-shy. I’m neutral when it comes to workbooks; I don’t have a strong preference either way. And let’s face it — some kids just love worksheets. Zac never used to, but is starting to really enjoy workbooks these days, just as his writing and drawing confidence is blooming. We don’t have very many workbooks, but the ones we are enjoying right now (besides the activity sheets in his magazine) are these brilliant Kumon Thinking Skills Workbooks for Pre-K (Spatial Reasoning, Differentiation, Logic).
10. Try a pop-up book. As I mentioned in #6, the Chocolate Factory pop-up book was a great success for Zac even though it’s not recommended for his age range. I think one of the reasons it worked, besides the abridging, is the fact that it has pop-up pictures. They are in essence props that have been built-in to the book and they helped Zac visualize what’s happening in the story. They made an abstract story into a more concrete one.
It’s helpful even for an older child. Matt, who is 9 years old, has read a non-fiction book Built! A Knight’s Castle (pictured above) and if we could I would bring him to an actual site. But since it’s quite impossible at the moment, the pop-out and build-your-own castle and battle scene at the end of the book helped to bring as much of that reading as possible to life. Both boys role-played a lot using this prop.
It’s easy to forget, but I try to remind myself every day it’s the journey that counts. The quality over quantity. When my kids and I laugh uncontrollably at the end of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt or while reading Jonathan Cleaned Up — Then He Heard A Sound: or Blackberry Subway Jam. Or when I cry at the end of a good book like Grandfather’s Journey or Frindle, and my kids just look at me weird. They won’t get it just yet … but when they are reading the same books to their kids when they are 30 years old and tears stream down their faces too, they might just remember these beautiful reading moments we had and finally get it. I can certainly dream.
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Check out what these Montessori bloggers have to say about books and reading:
- The Best Montessori Friendly Books: Babies, Toddlers, Preschoolers, Elementary // Natural Beach Living
- Montessori-Friendly Living Books Library // The Natural Homeschool
- Favorite Montessori-Friendly Books for a 2 Year Old // Living Montessori Now
- 10 Ways To Make Your Kids Crazy About Reading // Planting Peas
- Montessori Friendly Books — Birth to Six // The Kavanaugh Report
- Engaging Books for Preschoolers // Mama’s Happy Hive
- Montessori Books for Older Children: The Universe Story Trilogy // The Pinay Homeschooler
- Children’s Books About Birds // Every Star is Different
- Favorite Montessori Resources // Grace and Green Pastures
- Our Favorite Montessori Inspired Books for Babies to Preschoolers // Christian Montessori Network