How to Raise Readers by Sarah Hamaker, Guest Blogger

Sarah HamakerBy Sarah Hamaker

What’s the best predictor of a child who reads well? Hint, it’s not teaching him to read at a young age.

I’ve always loved books. I read voraciously as a child, churning through biographies of famous Americans and Nancy Drew mysteries (especially the first editions set in the 1930s and ‘40s). I read classics like Jane Eyre and frothy teen romances. I gobbled up Agatha Christie and biographies of missionaries.

That love of reading continued into my college and young adult years. I would read at least a book a week, if not more, while commuting on the Metro to work in downtown Washington, D.C. I didn’t slow down until I had children…and didn’t have as much discretionary time as I once had enjoyed.

Nowadays, I, along with my husband, still read as much as possible, and our home is packed with books. We must have hundreds, if not a thousand, books on shelves scattered around our 1960s rambler.

Our four children also spend much of their free time with their nose in a book. How did we manage to raise readers in a world that has embraced technology and hand-held devices with gusto? Here’s our secret…and how you too can encourage reading and a love of books in your own home, no matter the age of your kids—or yourself.

Instill a Love of Books

Reading to your kids of all ages is important to getting them to forge connections with books, even when they can’t read themselves. When our kids were toddlers, I often sat them down with a stack of age-appropriate books for them to look through on their own. That became my go-to when the child got fussy or needed down time—I brought out the books. We also didn’t push reading, and as a result, while our two oldest (who happen to be girls) learned to read by the time they entered first grade, our two youngest (boys) didn’t master reading until well into first grade. That didn’t worry me—they were interested in books, loved to be read to, and didn’t exhibit any signs of learning disabilities that might make reading difficult. The boys simply blossomed later when it came to reading. I didn’t want to turn them off a love of books, so didn’t push them to practice reading when they clearly weren’t interested or frustrated by the process.

Limit Screen Time

From computers to video games to YouTube to movies, screens have invaded the average American household. Many families have more devices than household members, and we’re not alone in that. But, every since our kids were babies, we’ve restricted the number of hours they spent in front of a screen. With two teenage daughters and two upper elementary school sons, we continue to monitor and limit the amount of technology consumed in our household.

Visit the Library

We go to the library on at least a weekly basis, sometimes, more often if a book someone put on hold arrived. We’ve been known to visit the local library when vacationing (most cities offer a “visitors” library card in which you can check out books). Frequent visits allows us to know the library collection and find new authors we would probably have missed if we only browsed online.

Show by Example

As I mentioned above, my husband and I read. We talk about books we’re reading or have read, we maintain our own household library, and our kids see us reading on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. We put down our own devices to pick up a book, and that speaks volumes as to the importance of reading.

If you’re reading this, and you haven’t incorporated reading into your life, there’s still time, no matter how old or young you are. Try this: tonight, put down your electronic devices and pick up a book to read for 5 minutes. Then each successive day, lengthen that by 5 minutes. Soon, you’ll be spending more time reading and less time browsing online. This works for kids and teens too.

Remember, it’s never too late to learn to love books!

About Sarah Hamaker

A freelance writer and editor, Sarah Hamaker is the author of Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace (Beacon Hill Press, 2014) and Hired@Home (DPL Press, 2008). Her stories have appeared in several Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and her articles on parenting have been published on and on the Washington Post’s On Parenting blog. She also won the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for romantic suspense. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children, and is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™. Visit her online at, where she blogs about parenting issues.

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The Art of Reading

ShipOfFools_web_07292016“After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.
And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
(Luke 2:46-47)

The Art of Reading

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

During summer vacations in grade school, my dad sponsored reading contests. My sister, Diane, and I kept records of all the things that we read during the summer and at the end of the summer we earned some sort of prize for having read the most. I have long forgotten the prizes that we earned, but I loved reading the Hardy Boy and the Lone Ranger series and frequent trips to the library and local used book stores where such books could often be purchased for something like a quarter. Long after our summer reading contests were forgotten, I found it natural to explore new reading topics during the long summer school breaks.

In the fall of 1971 at Parkdale Senior High School, I was invited to take an honors history course with Mrs. C. Signing up for this class was a big deal because we earned college credit and attended seminars at the University of Maryland. Actually, I only remember a single seminar on a Saturday at the university and a huge reading list for the class. I struggled to complete the reading and to write the paper that we were assigned. Friends of mine skipped the readings and made up fanciful book titles to justify imaginative conclusions to their papers. It was an open joke throughout the class, but Mrs. C. never called them on it. The whole affair offended my sensitivities and I was proud to have completed the readings, but when Mrs. C. gave me a B for the class, I complained exposing the cheaters for making light of the class. She never said anything, but changed my grade to an A.

My experience with history did not sour me on reading.

I did not always understand what I was reading, but I found reading useful on two levels, as I learned in my college experience with economic history. On the surface level, was reading for content picking out the facts and the dates, as in reading history only as a narrative or chronology. On a deeper level, however, was to read paying attention to how the author argued his case. The case could be argued in terms of historical observations with hypotheses proven, presumably, by the number of observations explained by the hypothesis.

I learned to solve the problem of not understanding a particular author by reading more than one author in a field. A particular field, like history or psychology, started to make sense after reading a half-dozen books in the field; reading a dozen books generally made one a regular expert, even in tougher fields like learning a new computer language—as I learned later in my career. Writing book reviews throughout my career has sped up the process by forcing one to study the author’s method of argumentation, even when it might not be obvious on the first pass. Of course, authors having little or no obvious structure to their thought—chapters thrown together in kind of like a verbal collage—were also exposed at this point.

None of this was obvious in grade school when I started writing. I read because I loved reading and learning new things. Things that helped make my world more interesting; things that gave me something to talk about; things that replaced maybe the emptiness of life in the slow lane. When I read and wrote myself out, life simply made more sense. And I like it that way.

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