How to Raise a Reader

All my life I have been fortunate to have access to good books. I totally took it for granted when I was little. The daily story time with my mom when it was nap time, the sets of pricey Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories and Bedtime Stories bought from the traveling salesman, where my mom and dad conferred in hushed tones about whether they were worth buying and we begged and they said, “O.K. We will take them.” Those are my earliest bookish memories.

My dad bought box lots of old books at estate auctions. He brought us library books too. We loved it, because he would bring huge tomes of photo journalists’ collections as well as Dr. Seuss stories or books on wildlife. In our mailbox we got Time, Family Life, Smithsonian, Wee Lambs, Highlights, National Geographic. (My mom would check through it first and use a Sharpie to draw clothes on any unsuitably naked Aborigines before we were allowed to read the magazine.) We got Guideposts and Reader’s Digest too. That’s where I collected my Drama in Real Life grizzly stories. There was always something interesting to read or something coming in the mail just any day.

This was the pattern for all of my dad’s family. My unmarried uncle gave us Ranger Rick subscriptions for Christmas and my Grandma sent us classics like Hans Brinker or Little Women. When the Schlabach’s got together they would all sit quietly around the living room with magazines and newspapers and if someone thought of something to say, they said it, politely taking turns.

That is the first thing that comes to mind when trying to raise a reader: the process of surrounding children with reading material. Sooner or later even the most resistant ones will find something that interests them if you give them choices. When I was about 10 years old my parents invested in a shiny new set of encyclopedias. They were expensive, with really good bindings and color pictures. We sat around for weeks, I am not kidding, reading those encyclopedias. Recently I inherited that same set for our homeschool room and now my children do the same. They are still endlessly fascinating. My brother Nate and I read the dictionary for fun too. I realize now how impossibly nerdy that is, but we turned out fairly normal after all.

There is another equally important factor in our childhood that turned us out to be readers. We didn’t have TV. We didn’t have radio. We didn’t have movies. We had books and audiobooks and and the outdoors when it was nice and games to play with each other when it was not nice outdoors. This is how all Amish and Mennonite children were raised. We were not an anomaly in our small world. If we went to the neighbors’ and they had Sesame Street turned on, we sat and enjoyed it for as long as our mom visited, but we didn’t feel the lack of those programs in our everyday life at all.

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Once when I was younger I had a conversation with a very educated lady about killdeer chicks and I used the word “precocious”. She said, “How do you know that word? I mean you only went to eighth grade, didn’t you?” I can’t remember for sure, but I might have told her I read the dictionary when I was bored. Haha.

As homeschoolers, our main strategy for teaching the children to love learning is to teach them to love reading. We want them to be lifelong learners, curious about things, actually looking them up in real paper books! In order to facilitate getting lots of really good nonfiction books on our shelves, I signed up to sell Usborne books last year. The educational experts recommend 100 books per child in the home, and updating them as they outgrow them. Last week I decided to do an inventory of the books on our shelves. I came up with 1,500 titles, over half of them children’s literature. I believe that is what some Uzzies would call shelf-righteous. Pardon me, but I am following my parents’ example and it is working. Ours are all turning out to be readers.

There are some stunning statistics that I will share for you to chew on. They are not just Usborne propaganda. You can look them up on many different websites and find the same numbers. I checked because I find it hard to believe.

Literacy statistics, 4th grade


literacy stats

Folks, this is scary. This is really scary. You know that quote up there about adults who think? This explains why so much senseless decision making is going on in our country. We don’t want to raise our children to be lemmings mindlessly running after what someone else is telling them. Let’s raise them to be readers and thinkers!


8 thoughts on “How to Raise a Reader

  1. You just described my childhood too. The wee lambs, the family life, national geographic, cappers weekly, the newspaper, stacks and stacks of library books, yards sale books, goodwill books, and even once, he bought a whole library. I’ve fallen short with my children.

  2. I do believe a few traveling book salesmen were either sent from your house to ours or vice versa.

    That quote about kids reading is spot on and already had me thinking many sarcastic thoughts before I saw your last paragraph. Is this why the herd mentality? Why suddenly an obscure lion halfway around the globe is the world’s favorite animal? Why certain unnamed humans get elected or even have a real shot at getting ejected? Lord, have mercy.

    1. Oh, if only we could eject them! Lol. But yes, it’s disheartening to read the news. “Doesn’t anybody THINK anymore?” I ask. Then I read a Matt Walsh article and appreciate that there are still voices of reason out there. (As long as I don’t read the comments, I feel cheered.)

  3. OH preach it, sister.

    My personal angst is against the idea of some Amish/Mennonite people that we ought to stock our shelves with only Rod & Staff or other literature by plain publishers. That, in my opinion, leads to mindless decision-making adults too.

  4. I loved this post so much that I got my teacher husband to print it and share it at his staff meeting 🙂 I love how the teacher/educator in you shines through in much of what you write.

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