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Signs You’re Raising a Reader: Looking Beyond Test Results

Doing the work to raise children who are readers can feel complicated. Some moments are warm and content, like finishing a well-loved book together while snuggled up during bedtime. But some nights, you may feel tired and worn out, when all you really want to do is run a bath or sleep. It can also be frustrating, especially in those early years when your child is misreading every other word. And the conversations and debates about what to read, how long to read, who will read, etc., can be incredibly draining. We get it. 

The cure is to stop periodically and notice successes, both small and large. It is important for both you and your child. Think beyond the test scores, the grades, the reading levels, and the Accelerated Reader goals (yuck). These indicators can feel heavy, especially if your child is considered to be behind. And a child reading above grade level can also present concerns, like finding challenging yet appropriate books. This is exactly why it is so vital that we stop to appreciate the many moments when we can find comfort that we are raising children who are readers. 

Start by remembering the definition of a reader. Someone who reads or, even more simply for our youngest friends, someone who looks at books. But moreover, a reader is someone who understands that words have power, whether we are reading them or writing them. They understand that reading and writing can be used for entertainment, persuasion, or information. They begin to wield this power and use it to live a better life. 

You’d never find this information on a report card.

We’re going to give some real examples from our four children, who cover a wide range of reading abilities, that have shown us we are raising real readers.

  • 13 year-old: After a heated argument with my son, we agreed we needed to retreat to our rooms to do some thinking. After a few minutes, I composed a text to my son, summarizing my thoughts about ways we could both improve. I knew if I texted him, he could keep it and review it, where he might not be ready to listen to the words he needed to hear. (I was also worried I hadn’t cooled down enough and if I shared my thoughts, I might get upset again.) But before I could hit send, my son knocked on the door and handed me a letter he wrote to me. It was incredibly thoughtful, and not just a blanket apology. It was clear he had really been thinking. He dug deep and found some reasons why he might have been acting out, things I hadn’t thought about. (With my teacher hat on, I was happily surprised that he used many writing conventions to help convey meaning, such as parentheses, ellipses, and even a semi-colon!) He later confessed that he knew that writing down his thoughts would be easier than saying them because he thought he might cry if he said them aloud. This is a HUGE milestone, y’all. He is using his ability to write (whether he used grammatical conventions or not) to help communicate. 
    • How did he come to this? We have had our kids write thank-you notes over the years to family and friends. Our kids have also heard us read emails and notes aloud to each other to make sure our intended meaning comes through. We also read aloud notes, emails, and cards we receive from others that are important.

  • 11 year-old: This is a child who would be the least likely to tell you that reading is a hobby for him. He puts up a stink about reading at any other time other than long rides in the car or for 20 minutes before bed. And even then, he sometimes complains. He’s also very particular about what books he is willing to read. If it’s not a biography of a famous athlete or historical fiction about troubled times, he is very likely to snub his nose at it. And yet, he can often be found scouring our local newspaper when it comes on the weekends, or pulling up websites to get more information when something has piqued his curiosity. And he asks the deepest, most heartfelt questions based on things he reads, especially about historical events or people who have been through difficult circumstances. 
    • How did he come to this? We are a family that often discusses current events, and we make a pretty conscious effort to inform our children about suffering in the world and throughout history. He doesn’t realize this, but for my son, reading is his access to this information that he craves so much. He feels a strong pull to learn more. It is obvious in his choices of what he reads, and his desire to discuss it with others. For him, reading is a way to expand his horizons. He may scoff at the idea of reading for pleasure, but it’s pretty clear he will use reading as a tool for learning throughout his life.

  • 10 year-old: This 10 year-old loves a project, from adding art to her walls or baking a cake. Recently she asked to borrow my computer so she could make a PowerPoint presentation. Um, ok! I didn’t ask what she was working on, just handed her the computer, happy that she might be entertained for awhile. Later she asked me to think about the books we had read together recently. I rattled off a few and went back to my task. An hour later, she brought me the computer and to my surprise….showed me a presentation about her favorite books we had read together in 2020! My mouth nearly dropped! 
    • How did she come to this? This project showed me she values our time together, but that it can be fun to rank and organize her favorite books. She knows that I track my reading on Goodreads.com. When we finish a book together, I always ask her how many stars she would give the book, knowing that is the review I will give it. Her opinion means something.

  • 9 year-old: Let the youngest of our bunch be the example that you should never, ever give up on the idea of your child being an avid reader. This was the kid who aggressively tossed board books and picture books as a toddler way more often than he sat to flip through them. He never once sat through an entire story time at the public library. He was late to show an interest in learning his letters. But in second grade, he fell down the rabbit hole that is the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey. And now he is the kid that often passes up an opportunity to go play outside because he’s too deep into a book. I’ve even started to notice that when he feels frustrated or upset, he’s turning to quiet time spent reading to regulate his emotions (without me suggesting it). And while at first he maintained he only loved Dog Man, and read those books over and over and over again (and over and over and over), he now happily reads lots of series and authors and genres.
    • How did he come to this? We never gave up on the idea of him being a reader, even when he defiantly (and sometimes violently!) showed zero interest in books. I still got him books as gifts. I still handed him books when he got fussy or bored in the car or on a plane. We tried to never say things like, “Oh, he’s just not into reading,” because comments like that can very quickly define a child. And when he would only read Dog Man, we treated those books like treasured friends and over time, just gently tried to nudge him toward other books, never forcing it. And eventually, he found his way to them.

Look at these as stepping stones, leading down a path toward an adulthood that includes the use of words used in powerful ways: communication tools, relaxation, or a hobby. Perhaps these stepping stones will lead to raising readers in the next generation of your family. 

In a world of education that often seems to want to categorize, track, and label, remember to look for these authentic, genuine signs you’re raising a reader. They may not be quantifiable on a spreadsheet, but they are qualifiable in the heart and that’s what matters. 

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Reading Your Way Through The Holidays

How many years in a row have you thought something along the lines of, “I wish we could sit around snuggling up and reading together as a family, but the holidays are just too busy.” Well, if your calendar looks anything like ours, some free time has definitely opened up in 2020. Cancelled parties and events, scaled back celebrations… plus all the time you typically spend just preparing for all this stuff is now available, too. We’re trying hard to look on the bright side and embrace what new traditions this might offer our families.

I know it’s still just mid November, though. And we have one very clear rule in our family, ingrained into our way of thinking since we were very young: Thanksgiving is the best of all the holidays and NOT just a stepping stone to the others. Well, Mom and Dad, it’s 2020 and we’re breaking the rules. Whether it’s the threat of shipping delays due to COVID, or concerns about in-person book browsing in a pandemic, this year it’s more important than ever to add books to the collection of a loved one in a timely and safe manner. And take advantage of a simpler, more manageable holiday schedule.

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Book Review: The Problem with Problems

Title: The Problem with Problems

Author: Rachel Rooney

Publisher: Rodale Kids, New York

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 2-5 years…but really, anyone on the struggle bus

Lexile reading level: suggested 4-7 on Kirkus Reviews years, no Lexile found

Anxiety? Worries? Butterflies? Nerves? Problems? No matter what these big feelings are called in your house, there’s no doubt that teaching your child how to handle them can be tough. We get it. We’ve been there. Talking from experience, we burned through a LOT of books about anxiety at different points with our children. With each read, we hoped one would be the perfect combination or text and visual support that our kids could latch onto. In short, we think this is the book that would have done it. 

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Book Review of Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet

Title: Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet

Author: April Pulley Sayre

Publisher: HarperCollins

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: 4 to 8, but could be used for STEAM-related lessons for any age

How has living in a pandemic changed your family? 

For mine, it has been that we’ve become more observant. My daughter said, while on a walk the other day, that she thinks she’s a “noticer.” I asked more about this and she said, “You used to ask me to get the mail and I’d do it as fast as possible. Now, I feel like I walk more slowly and look around more.” 

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Book Review: Nesting by Henry Cole

Title: Nesting
Author: Henry Cole
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
Copyright date: 2020
Age range: 4-8 (but really…anyone!)

Thanks to the talented artist/author Henry Cole, you’ll never hear the sound of a robin again in the spring without thinking of his latest book, Nesting. From the simple telling of the robin’s yearly cycle through accurate and concise word choice to the stunning illustrations, Nesting tells a complete story that leaves the reader with a sense of admiration for the devotion the male and female robins have for their offspring. 

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Introducing Your Favorite Books from Childhood to Your Kids

I won’t lie, when I became pregnant my favorite thing to daydream about was reading books with my kids snuggled on my lap. I had been a teacher and children’s book lover for years and selfishly wanted to create a home environment where reading was a beloved activity. Truthfully, that daydream didn’t include my husband as he doesn’t often read for entertainment. 

Last summer, when my children were 9 and 11, my husband came home with a boxed edition of the first five Hardy Boys books, announcing his intent to read them to the kids, starting with number one, The Tower Treasure. He shared with us his memories of reading these books as a child and how they probably contributed to his future love of CSI, Law & Order, and MacGuyver (the 80’s version, of course). 

My kids viewed the retro look of the book with suspicion. If this book were anything like the first four episodes of MacGuyver we had watched to my husband’s enthusiastic requests, we were all concerned this wouldn’t end well. 

Old books and new puppies.

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My kids viewed the retro look of the book with suspicion. If this book were anything like the first four episodes of MacGuyver we had watched to my husband’s enthusiastic requests, we were all concerned this wouldn’t end well. 

Old books and new puppies.

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Easy and Affordable Rewards that Encourage More Reading

For many parents now working from home, or struggling with safe childcare options, or just dealing with the aftermath of kids who have already been stuck at home for months before summer even started, this time period likely presents many new challenges that most of us have never faced. Encouraging your child to keep reading can feel like one more daunting task on the never-ending to do list. We get it. We feel that way, too, sometimes. Honestly.

Some libraries are stepping up to the plate with fantastic virtual or socially distant summer reading programs. If you haven’t yet checked that out, please do so. My library has done incredible work moving their program online, and it has actually made my work-parenting balance easier this summer. Uninterrupted time to respond to emails while they happily read or do simple activities? Yes, please.

But if your library has not, or it is structured in a way that doesn’t work for your family, there are still simple rewards you can offer your child to keep them reading this summer (and into the fall and winter!)

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Where to Access Free Books for Kids During Covid-19

Depending on where you live, you and your family are likely well over a month into quarantine. Even the most prepared parent or caregiver is probably running low on new, fun books to read. Libraries and schools across the country are closed, most bookstores are closed (although many are offering curbside pickup or delivery, so do try to support them if you are financially able), and even Amazon deliveries are delayed understandably in order to focus on essential shipping needs. 

With many families facing very tight and sometimes dire financial circumstances right now, creative ways to get free books into the hands of children have never been more needed. 

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Reading During the COVID-19 Quarantine: Now is the Time to Raise a Real Reader

With schools (and everything else) closed and lots (and lots and lots) of extra time at home, a golden opportunity has been presented to us parents and caregivers. We have time to read. So do our children. Research has shown us that students are far more likely to read independently and successfully if given time and choice. That’s pretty much all we have right now, right?

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Books and Series To Read When Children Need An Escape

I had just finished reading Erin Entrada Kelly’s beautifully written book Lalani of the Distant Sea when I got a text from my sister about an assignment her fifth grader had just completed: 

He has to write an argumentative essay that names a word of the year, and then defend it. He chose “altercation.” And then wrote paragraphs about mass shootings, everyone fighting about global warming, the potential war with Iran, and immigration. Imagine at 10 years old, the word you think best describes the world is altercation. 

My dreamy thoughts from Lalani quickly came to a halt as I considered this. My sensitive nephew’s world view is just so different from what I remember mine being at age 10. While I could name the current president (Ronald Reagan), my primary troubles were saving enough money for more stickers for my sticker album or wondering if Friday’s episode of Full House would be a rerun. 

It’s not always feasible to offer our children opportunities to escape the current events of both their immediate world and the larger, global world.

But books can be that temporary vacation from reality and offer us (adults and children alike) a much needed respite from the constant barrage of pain and suffering.

Whole worlds are awaiting us between the covers of books. As a long-time advocate of realistic fiction as a tool to develop empathy and understanding, I’ve recently found myself drawn more to fantasy. It’s like my brain and my heart simply need to disconnect from our reality from time to time. 

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