By Tracey Dowdy
When we all went into lockdown back at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us found ourselves with more time on our hands. Since we could no longer spend time with our friends and family, go out to restaurants, movies, concerts, or many other ways we entertained ourselves, we turned to books.
Of course, not everyone is a reader. Many would rather play video games, master a new recipe, or do just about anything else than read. But, if you’d want to encourage your children and yourself to read more in 2021, these tips can help.
Start by letting go of all your preconceived notions about what reading is supposed to do for you. If you’ve always looked at reading as a path to self-improvement or something one is supposed to do, let that go. If your kids see reading as something they have to do rather than something they get to do, they’ll never enjoy it. On the other hand, if you’re a list-maker or competitive, set a goal for the number of books you want to read this year and create an Excel spreadsheet or use an app like the Book of the Month Club to track your progress. Sites like Book Riot and Goodreads have reading lists, and their own 2021 Reading Challenges, or hop over to Beyond the Bookends for a mom and kiddos reading challenge.
Do your kids think reading is boring? Whatever their interest, I guarantee there’s a book for that. Sports, science fiction, dinosaurs, STEM – the possibilities are virtually endless. Scholastic has great tips on helping them discover books that will capture their interest, including using Book Wizard to find hundreds of titles by searching a title, author, or keyword.
Try switching up genres. Mystery, suspense, true crime are my usual choices. However, when quarantine stretched on and on, I switched to lighter fare. I still love a good mystery, but for a consider cozy mysteries like Sherry Harris’ Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries. Clever, engaging, with intriguing plots, they were just what I was looking for. You and your kids don’t necessarily have to abandon your favorite author but explore new ones. Help your kids find new friends in Captain Underpants, Anne of Green Gables, Matilda, Eloise, or introduce them to a president in President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath.
While you’re switching things up, if your child is not a reader, introduce them to audiobooks and podcasts. Forcing someone who struggles with reading to slog through a chapter book only reinforces their negative impression. Audiobooks and podcasts hold the same storytelling magic, without the weight of trying to decode words. We want them to fall in love with books – it doesn’t matter what format.
Don’t be afraid to revisit old friends and introduce your children to your favorites. Who doesn’t love Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Babysitters Club, The Lion Witch, and the Wardrobe, or The Hobbit? The same beautifully written stories that drew you in will entrance your children.
Create a reading space. Books have the power to transport us to another world, so having a special place to read – even something as simple as a blanket fort with throw pillows tossed in or reading under the covers with a flashlight – can help make reading feel like a special event.
Feel stuck and don’t know what to read? Can’t get to the library to borrow a book and don’t want to spend money on new ones right now? Take a minute to go through your bookshelves and pull out all the books that have been hanging out on your #TBR list. Once you’re through, swap with neighbors and friends. It’s a great way to discover new authors and encourage reading in others.
Finally, connect with authors and other readers. I’m part of a monthly book club, and our meetings – though almost exclusively virtual since last March, have been a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming year. Not only do we enjoy unpacking the stories, but we’ve also hosted local authors, expanded our usual reading lists, supported one another through caring for ailing parents, a divorce, children with mental health issues, and encouraged the moms wading through working full-time while having to help their kids doing virtual schooling. In a season when playdates aren’t an option, and many parts of the country are still on lockdown, participating in a book club or “attending” virtual book events can lift your spirits and put the magic back into reading.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.