March 2 is Dr. Suess’ Birthday and National Read Across America Day, a celebration of reading in the United States. It is a kick-off to a year-round reading program (started in 1998 by the National Education Association), which focuses on motivating children and teens to read.
As decades have passed, many authors flood the marketplace with children’s books, covering many topics and ideas. Some are lovely and entertaining. Others, I believe, are too modernized or political for young minds and can discourage a love for reading.
How to Encourage Reading in Young Children
You can cultivate a child’s love for reading by encouraging them to read books they want to read. If they discover a series they love and must read all the books available and nothing else, cheer them on! When kids are of elementary age, don’t worry about variety – the goal is to help them develop a love for reading. The only way to establish that relationship is to direct them, but not make them read specific books.
Secondly, a child’s love for reading will increase if they read what is appropriate for their age. As parents, we should help our kids choose books that they can relate to yet understand. Some books may be popular among their peers, but you know your child best. Assist them in selecting the best books to grow in reading comprehension and are comfortable within their level of maturity. (More on that in a minute.)
When I homeschooled, it was often difficult not to overly direct my son’s reading choices. This was true especially if I thought particular fiction related well to a topic he was learning about. In this case, it was essential to give my son a choice between specific titles and find ways to make the reading exciting and adventurous, instead of an assignment. For the latter, it helped if we either read the book together or I would read to him. When available, an audiobook was quite effective. After finishing the book, we would incorporate the book’s characters into schoolwork. For example, if my son was learning Texas history in the 1860s, we incorporated book characters. We would discuss how a character would have reacted in a situation, what would have happened to the character if the book had continued, and the like. It helped him learn the subject, but also pushed his imagination.
Books Develop Imagination
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited,
whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress,
giving birth to evolution.”
–Albert Einstein, What Life Means to Einstein (1924)
Imagination is something we as parents should continuously cultivate in our kids. It is through imagination that kids develop creativity, ingenuity, and problem-solving. Remember when our kids were small how we loved seeing them “play pretend?” Now that they’re older, it is vital to inspire the same activity, only through books.
From this article on the Literacy Works website, “reading broadens our imagination by stimulating the right side of our brain. It literally opens our minds to new possibilities and new ideas, helping us experience and analyze the world through others’ lives.” When engrossed in reading, children enhance connectivity in the brain that improves brain function. In studies, it was found that reading fiction improved “the reader’s imagination in a way similar to muscle memory in sports.”
As they read, kids will create in their minds what they think the characters and locations look like and may adapt what they know and currently experience. They will also imagine what other worlds may have been like, either by traveling through time in a treehouse, or following the adventures of Laura, who really lived in that little house on the prairie.
We recognize this as adult readers. How often have you read an incredible novel and feel so invested in the characters’ lives when you finish? And if that book is made into a movie or tv series, was there disappointment when the characters or locations were not as you imagined? That is the result of your own unique imagination.
Pick Age-Appropriate Books
There are many good books and series available for elementary-aged students, including many quite culturally modernized. By this, I refer to books with storylines that give approval to bad behaviors by kids, actions with no consequences, or societal themes too advanced for a young child to understand.
Today, we see many adults who feel that kids, at an early age, need to be introduced to what the world is really like, and will have their children read books to that end. I must disagree. If kids are presented with subjects too mature or too complex from the world that they currently see, their minds cannot process it, nor even articulate questions about it. Trying to educate a child on the “real world” not only takes away their innocence but can take away the freedom to imagine and create and develop into their own unique personality.
Try suggesting some of the older, more classic series of books that will not only give perspective on other time periods but draw more on their imagination. Just as students in their teens and older are reading and studying the classics, so should young students read classics. Here are 8 fiction series that are still valuable for young children to read:
For ages 5 – 8:
For ages 8 – 12:
I love all these series and have read them as a kid or have read them with my kids. There are timeless lessons in these books. Many may say that they are too old-fashioned, but when it comes to reading, nothing is old-fashioned really – they are children’s classics.
This article was originally posted on my homeschool blog, Muses of a Mom, in March 2021. It is being reposted here for readers with updates