Friday, April 20, 2012

Secret Steps to Creating a Thriving Reading Environment

The Secret Steps to Creating a Thriving Reading Environment 

Here’s a riddle for you: what takes 4-5 hours each day and teaches kids how to hate reading? 
The answer is: most schools’ reading programs. 

Why is this so? Sadly, education has become less about accessibility and more about accountability. So what’s the secret to helping your child become a happy, healthy and productive reader? The answer is: you. You are your child’s most important teacher, and there are some simple steps you can take to help boost your child’s reading aptitude and attitude. 

I have spoken all across North America and asked thousands of people how they learned to read, and not once has someone gotten choked up and said, “Well, Danny (sob, with hand over chest), my grandma used to have this old rocking chair. And she’d sit me on her lap, and we’d rock back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And Nana would hold open that book, smile at me, point at the letters and chant ‘a – a – alligator! B-b-ball!’”

Nope. I’ve never heard a person say that. My guess is that most kids learn the fundamentals of reading before they ever set foot in that school building. When I ask adults how they learned to read, most people talk about a grandparent, favorite aunt, older sibling or mother or father who would cuddle up with them and read favorite stories together. 

Schools may provide the practice, but it is the home that provides the passion. I am going to share with you three simple things you can do to help your child love reading. 

Read to Your Child. 
Browse any major governmental study from the past 30 years on how to improve students’ reading skills, and inevitably you will stumble upon a statement that reads something like “the research seems to support that the single-most important activity you can do to improve a child’s reading ability is to read to that child.” 

This statement is usually in the first few pages of a 10-lb. report, and then reading aloud is never discussed again. Here is why you won’t hear policymakers and top education administration officials discuss the importance of reading aloud: it seems too easy. In his must-read book The Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease argues that if reading aloud cost $129.95, every parent would rush out to buy it, and if we found out kids did not like it, schools would mandate it tomorrow. 

It sounds so easy, and yet it is so effective. Why? Reading aloud provides children important bonding time with parents. As your child’s parent, you have a tremendous “home field” advantage. You could be the worst parent on the planet, but your child does not know that. Even if you do not know how to read, the simple act of holding a book open and sharing a story with your child will have a remarkable effect on that child. 

Indeed, I once read about a child who did not realize her father was illiterate until he read aloud a favorite book that she had mastered and saw that her father was simply describing the pictures. As a parent – like it or not – you are the most important reading role model for your child. 

Read in Front of Your Child. 
Kids aren’t stupid. If they don’t see us adults reading, why should they read? Your child needs to see you reading. Read whatever you like to read. Classics may be the books that schools like to assign, but parents can model excellent reading habits by scouring the daily newspaper, lounging with a novel or sitting on the toilet with a favorite magazine. 

Provide Plenty of Reading Materials in Your Home. 
Access counts. Who do you think has a higher likelihood of surfing, the child who lives next to a California beach or the child who lives in Nebraska? Children who have access to newspapers and magazines and books and computers are much more likely to be readers than those who do not have those reading materials readily available. 

One of the best things you can do to help your child love reading is to reward your child with books and other reading materials. I have read all sorts of academic articles discussing the best ways to improve reading, and what amazes me is that the approaches that seem to work best are also the simplest approaches. By reading aloud to your child, reading in front of your child and providing plenty of accessible reading materials in your home, I am confident you will create a thriving reading environment for your child and give her one of the greatest gifts that will serve a lifetime: the gift of literacy.

Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador.” A father of three and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills, he is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club,, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. Watch video tips and learn more from Danny at Danny


  1. Right on, Danny! My experiences as both a child, mother and teacher corroborate your excellent post. My mother read to me all the time, until I turned the tables and read to her. I read to my children EVERY day - until the same thing happened. In my son's case, that was at 4 years old. He was in a hurry to get to the 'cyclopedias! My daughter decided that only teen magazines were her style, and lost the book-reading habit in 7th grade. But any reading is better than no reading! As part of my music classes, I include related books - we call them "Book Buddies". We usually sing them, add a chanted response, or add to them by asking "What Happens Next". Hooray!

    1. Thanks a lot for your kind words, Miss Carole, and keep up all of your great work. ;-)

  2. Right on! I wish less time was spent shoving iPhones at kids to keep them occupied and the focus was put back on books.

    Loved reading this. A great reminder of the power of literacy!


    Sprinkle Teaching Magic

    1. Thank you, Sheila. Actually, an iPhone can be a powerful tool in literacy development. Great way to direct kids to other types of texts, too. Happy weekend, and keep sprinkling your teaching magic. ;-)

  3. Great post, Danny! I totally agree with your "secret steps." My family's love of books and reading aloud (along with our walls lined with book-filled bookshelves) definitely gave my kids a love of reading. Reading aloud also gave us so many priceless memories. I pinned your post to my Literature-Based Activities Pinterest board at

  4. Once again, Deb: you ROCK. Many, many thanks, and please holler whenever you need anything. ;-)


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