Mistakes I Made While Raising Readers

If you’re reading this post, you likely value reading. As a mom and a book lover, raising kids who love to read has been on top of my parenting priority list. I wanted my kids to love books as a way to expand their horizons, to help them process their own feelings, to make sure they felt seen, and as a way to use their imaginations. But even with the best of intentions, mistakes were made. 

Here are 4 mistakes that I made when my now teenage kids were in elementary and middle school. I’m sharing these mistakes – and what I did to course correct – with the hope that they might help you on your own journey to inspire your kids to be lifelong readers. 

Mistake #1: Not making time for reading

Like most kids, mine were busy with lots of activities that they loved. Travel baseball, martial arts, soccer, and music lessons on top of homework, family, and church activities. When reading for 20 minutes a night was no longer required homework, reading for fun moved down the priority list. My mistake was in accepting this busyness and not encouraging them to find the time to read. The turning point was when we did a family assessment of what we value and compared it with how we spend our time. Reading and learning about the world were at the top of our values list, so we looked more closely at our son’s schedule to see where he could find extra time to read. Those 10 minutes on Instagram, the 30 minutes watching baseball videos on YouTube, that time waiting for another kid to finish practice — all were potential opportunities to read. 

Mistake #2: Pushing my literary interests instead of theirs

My sons and I shared a love of the Harry Potter series, so I assumed they would jump on my recommendations for other books. Um, no. They became interested in books when their friends recommended them. For a while, I pushed classics and other books I wanted them to read, but was continually met with disinterest and even opposition. Wrong approach. So, what did work? Allowing more “kid voice and choice.” I took time to let the kids browse the shelves at our local bookstore and library and encouraged them to talk with friends about what they’re reading. And, I honored their interests and reading choices like dystopian sci-fi and magazines like Sports Illustrated Kids and tried to read their recommendations rather than push my own recommendations. 

Mistake #3: Not continuing family read-aloud time

Before my sons could read independently, family read-aloud time was as important as tooth-brushing to our evening routine. We went through hundreds and hundreds of picture and chapter books. As my kids learned to read, I initially rejoiced in my moments of freedom while they read alone. But when they stopped choosing reading as an activity to do on their own, I realized that, in addition to giving us precious family bonding time, reading together actually increased their enthusiasm for books. Starting a book together was often the hook they needed to get sufficiently interested in the characters or the plot to then read the rest of the story on their own.

Mistake #4: Valuing tidiness over access to books

I am anti-clutter. A couple of years ago, in an attempt to de-clutter our home, I moved every “kid book” from around the house to one bookshelf in my children’s bedroom. The living room and the dining room were neater, but I found this actually reduced my kids’ reading. The “a-ha” moment came when I was running a used book drive for our school. We had several messy, overflowing boxes of books in our living room. My sons would plop down on the couch, peer into the box, pull something out … and start reading. We quickly moved books back into every room (including bathrooms!) to make them more accessible and approachable.

What mistakes did you make? And how did you correct them? Send me a note!

This post was adapted from a piece I wrote for Brightly in 2016. Read the original piece here.

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