If we are anything alike, we both dream of our children being avid readers someday. We pray that they would choose to get lost in a good story over watching a screen any day of the week. But the big question is, what if our kids aren’t interested in books? What if reading is hard for them and it’s a fight to get them to open a book? I like to think that one of the best places to start in this situation, is at your local library.
For me, libraries have a calming affect. The silence immediately sets my worries free and knowing I’m not going to be approached by a sales person and scurried along to buy something, makes me linger in the stacks for hours. I have, however, witnessed that libraries don’t have the same calming effect on everyone. In fact, most visits to the library, we witness screaming children, frantic mamas, and distracted dads. “Only one book,” the parents will holler to their pleading child. “It’s time to go, put the book down,” another will say as they drag their kid out the door empty-handed. Why are we turning kids away from reading? Why is it stressful to allow your child to bring a FREE book home for a bit? I’m not sure of the answer, but there are a few things I intentionally do to make our family’s trips to the library a success.
|Let them choose|
Covid has brought on a really interesting problem with allowing our children to have autonomy over the books they are consuming. With libraries being shut down and forced to do everything curbside, kids were not able to browse the shelves like they use to. I know my kiddos missed this tremendously, so as soon as the library opened back up for in-person browsing, we were there! But if browsing online is still your jam, then you can still get your kids involved by having them look at the online catalog with you. Make it part of your routine to sit down and pick the books out off the screen together.
Now, if you are back in the library, allow your child the freedom to roam the shelves and peek into the stories themselves. Teach them ways to determine if it’s the right book for them like by reading the back cover/inside jacket and reading the first few pages.
Teach your child how to find books in your library. Taking them on a tour so they can see where all the different kids of books are located is a great place to start. Picture books aren’t for every kid; some prefer nonfiction or biographies. Also showing your child how to use the card catalog to search for books is a great way to provide them freedom at the library. If you aren’t sure how to do it yourself, ask a librarian to show the both of you. What a great thing to learn together!
Once you show them the ropes, they are going to start finding all sorts of material! Don’t get upset if it’s not their level or if they’ve already checked it out ten times. Kids learn by repetition, so allowing them to check out Go, Dog Go for the gazillionth time is granting them permission to perfect that story. Plus, let’s be honest, how many times have you re-read your favorite book?
|Take your time|
This one is easier said than done, but try to visit the library when there are no time constraints. Your children will not find quality books or be excited about what they found if they only have five minutes to grab a book and go. Allow them time to browse and then sit and read. My girls love pulling books off the shelf then thumbing through the pages in the middle of the aisle (sorry- yup that’s my kid you have to step over). Giving them ample time allows them to be curious and explore everything the library has to offer.
Giving them time also allows them to choose the books they really want to keep reading at home. This will lead to a smaller number of books you’ll be dragging home. Win-win!
| Have a reasonable limit|
The child I talked about in the intro who was limited to one book, left the library disappointed. It broke my heart to watch this– parent gives kid one book limit, kid looks at the ten books they have in their hands and becomes flustered, what book to choose? Kid leaves all ten books behind and grabs a random book off shelf as they are dragged out the door. Kid probably leaves book in car and never reads it.
Please don’t do that to your kid! One book?! One book?! Have you seen the inside of a library? They are filled with books and to tell a kid they can only get one is just not nice. And for what reason? So you don’t have to keep track of it? (Well just keep reading and we’ll fix that.) It’s not like it costs anything. In fact, over the last year, our family has saved over $11,000 just by borrowing instead of buying! You’re not going to peak the interest in your child if you only allow them one book.
There is a flip side to this though too. I used to allow my girls to get as many books as they wanted, but we soon were needing to bring a wagon to carry all of their books. This got out of hand, so I found them each a library bag that was the appropriate size for each child and they could bring home as many books as they could carry in their bag. This has not only helped reduce the load of books, but has also allowed them to enjoy the books much more at home. We no longer have a pile that we haven’t gotten to read. All in all, you can limit the amount of books within reason, just maybe consider more than one.
|Make them responsible|
I’ve heard more than one parent tell their child they can’t check out any books because they won’t remember to bring them back. This is a valid argument, but I have a trick to help. Remember the goal is to get books in your child’s hands! Most libraries will give cards to children. Some may have a limit on the amount they can checkout, others may not, but this is a great way to put the responsibility of being a library patron on your child. When my girls got their first library card, we talked about what would happen if a book got lost or damaged or if they didn’t return the book in time. Our library is fine-less, but they will freeze your account if something isn’t returned. Both of my girls disliked the idea of not being able to check anything out, so we haven’t had any issues with late or lost books.
We also get a receipt every time we check out that I keep in a special spot at home. My girls know how to check the receipt before we return our books to make sure they have every book before heading back to the library. These simple things we usually do as adults, are easily transferrable to kids and can help foster responsibility.
|Promote reading at home|
If you want your child to love reading, then reading can’t only happen at the library. Books need to be part of your life at home too. Since starting to homeschool three years ago, I have picked up on a few tactics that encourage kids to put their hands on books throughout the day. First, display books around the home. I learned this from another homeschool mama who might be considered obsessed with books. She would place books on window sills and on tables and shelves throughout every living space. When you walked into her home, you couldn’t help but see the books and become drawn to them.
Next, make time for reading. Reading with kids is just as important as allowing kids to read by themselves. We usually read poetry or short stories during our Table Time (you can learn more about this from my first blog, “How do you keep it fresh?”) We will also do a read-aloud together after lunch, then we read a bedtime story or two, and finally our oldest is allowed to stay awake a little longer to read her books before going to bed.
Finally, go to books for answers. Instead of searching for answers on Google, try the old fashion way of researching with your kids–through a book. It has been fun to challenge our girls to do their own research to questions they have. They don’t have access to the internet on their own yet, so they naturally are drawn to books for answers. I know this is something I want to encourage for as long as I can. First, knowing how to search for information in a book is a great skill that can be transferred over to the internet later, and learning patience and persistence in searching for something you are curious about are qualities many kids lack in today’s tech-y, instant gratifying world. If we want kids to have books in their hands, we have to give them the opportunities to do so.
It doesn’t matter if you home educate or send your child to school, if you have a toddler or a teenager, getting to the library is going to make a positive impact on your life. Albert Einstein said,
A love a reading comes when kids are given a choice in what they read and it’s made to be an enjoyable activity. I hope you visit your library this week and can spot the magic that lives inside its walls.