How a Library Card Can Help Your Child Become a Strong Reader

Many strong readers are habitual library-goers. For them, summer is a time to read, read, and read some more.

But what about children who don’t seem to love reading? What happens to their hard-earned literacy skills during the summer break?

Readers Are Made, Not Born

When parents are readers themselves, they assume that their children will be readers — and these children do tend to be — but kids don’t just arrive at a love of reading by watching other people read. That passion results from exposure to lots of books, opportunities to explore a variety of interests, and the pleasurable memories associated with these experiences. And there’s no better place to achieve these goals than the library.

For tips on teaching your kid to read, check out this expert-written article about 11 ways to instill literacy skills in young children.

The Summer Slide

Children who visit libraries discover librarians who help them choose books and activities that are driven by their interests. In so doing, they can help arrest the common loss of reading and writing skills that may beset kids between the end of one school year and the start of the next — a phenomenon known as the summer slide. This problem is particularly acute in low-income communities in which access to abundant, free reading resources may be limited. Moreover, literacy experts suggest that all it takes to halt this loss is for children to read between 4–6 books over the summer months!

The Benefits of a Library Card

If you want your child to be a better reader by the end of the summer, get her a library card, and visit the library one or two times each week. Allow her to check out as many books as the library will allow. (In our family, we’ve been known to check out 25 at a time!) Keep them in a basket, where she will be able to find them easily, and make time in each day’s activities for her to read regularly.

A Success Story

Two years ago, while teaching first grade, I was discussing our upcoming field trip to the local library with my group of six-year-olds, and I asked them to share experiences of their library. Only two of my students had ever been there! So I challenged all of them to get a library card. I sweetened the pot by saying that if they got their card and checked out something they wanted to read, and had a parent take a picture of them with the library card and book, I would give them a new book from my classroom library.

That year I had 100 percent participation in my library challenge, even from kids whose parents didn’t have cars — they still found a way to get there. This group of children read all summer and came into second grade at a higher reading level than when they left for the summer.

Creating Strong Readers

In The Reading Zone, Nancie Atwell, recent winner of the $1 million Global Teacher Prize, reminds us, “A child sitting in a quiet room with a good book isn’t a flashy or marketable teaching method. It just happens to be the only way anyone became a reader.”

Having a library card opens doors to more than just borrowing free books. There are weekly shows your child might not ordinarily see, like a performance by ukulele players or programs on bridge-building in New York City, as well as workshops to help children explore interests in science or magic. And while it’s true that these programs are free and open to the public, regardless of whether an individual has a library card, the wealth of programmatic offerings available at libraries coupled with their rich reading resources feed children’s imaginations in ways that deepen literacy development. When children have broad experiences, they become better readers because they connect previous learning to new learning. The library is a veritable community center that will engage your child, increase her skills, and expand her imagination.

And the fact that library books are free for the borrowing also means that your child will be able to follow Donalyn Miller’s four tenets of becoming a good reader:

1. Access to books

Good readers need to have access to many books to explore their interests, meet their abilities, and spark their motivation. Let your child choose any books that appeal to her. Feel free to add a few of your choices to the mix — but this should be a time when she knows she can bring home lots of books to have around whenever she wants to read.

2. Time to read books

Good readers need to be given time and encouragement during the day to read freely. And don’t time your children while they read — this just turns what ought to be a pleasurable experience into a chore. Rather, sit down with them and explore their books. Ask them why they chose these particular ones. And be animated and excited if you’re reading aloud together.

3. Choice in selecting books

Good readers need to know that if a book they choose isn’t interesting, they can put it down and find another one that is. When we impose rules around how and what children read, the experience becomes ours and not theirs. Let them choose anything they want. If you are worried about their choice, read it beforehand. If it’s not a topic you believe is suitable, explain to them why, and encourage them to look for an alternative. Children sometimes select books that conflict with a family’s values, but permitting them as much autonomy in their choices as possible is vital to developing strong, autonomous readers.

4. Someone to talk to about books

Good readers thrive and grow when they have opportunities to share what they are thinking about the books they read. Of course, librarians will talk with children about books, but so should you! Make it your business to read what they read so that you can ask them questions. The more you engage with your child around what she’s reading, the more she will want to read. After all, children love talking to their parents about what they’re discovering, and books offer countless adventures for them to share with you.

If you're stumped at what to look for on the shelves, begin with this list of 39 librarian-recommended books for children of all reading levels. Find more ideas on Noodle's book review page.