A love of reading is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your children.
We all know books improve academic performance, but science shows reading also boosts EQ, increases life satisfaction and creativity, and even helps you live longer. Readers are more likely to get ahead at work and become leaders, and all that's even before we get to the sheer joy of losing yourself in a great story.
So how do you nurture a passion for reading? Most of us know the importance of reading to your kids and making sure children are surrounded by books, but according to Daniel Willingham, a University of Virginia psychologist and author of Raising Kids Who Read, while those measures are a great start, there's more you can do.
In a fascinating recent Atlantic article by Joe Pinsker, Willingham and other experts suggest three simple but powerful steps parents should take if they want to nudge their kids to become bookworms.
1. Read them this particular kind of book.
All bedtime stories are good, but some are even more valuable than others.
Kids who are good readers are more likely to enjoy reading, and in order to be good at reading, you have to be able to seamlessly translate the letters and words on the page into meaningful sounds in your head. Reading books like Dr. Seuss classics that involve word play can foster this crucial skill and "helps kids with the challenge of identifying the 'individual speech sounds' that make up a word," Pinsker explains.
2. Teach them about the world.
We tend to think of general knowledge as one thing and reading ability as another, but according to Williingham the two skills go hand in hand, reinforcing each other.
"The main predictor of whether a child or an adult understands a text is how much they already know about the topic," he is quoted as saying. So if you want your kid to understand more and therefore enjoy reading more, talk to them about how the world works in general and give them background information on topics they're reading about.
3. Offer them the right motivation.
This is probably the most common error when it comes to raising lifelong readers. Many anxious parents emphasize to their kids how important reading is for academic and career success, but kids naturally care less than you do about what their salary may be in 20 years. In fact, push this sort of well intentioned book-boosting too far and your kids may start to view reading as a dreary obligation.
Rather than focus on the practical results of reading, teach your kids to find joy in the act itself. "The aim is to present reading not as 'spinach,' but as chocolate cake,'" explains Pinkser, referencing the work of Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, authors of another book on the topic, How to Raise a Reader.
"Reading will seem more like chocolate cake if it's something that parents themselves take part in happily and regularly," he points out.
But even if you aren't getting through 50 books a year yourself, just talking more about the books you do read, taking your child to libraries and bookstores, and giving books as gifts at birthdays and holidays can communicate the inherent pleasures of reading.