“The most powerful early literacy skill young children can acquire is loving books.” – Pam Leo

One of the brightest spots in my early-childhood-literacy activism is reading with a different first grader each week as a volunteer reading buddy at a local elementary school. As a volunteer, it is not my position to teach these students to read; my “job” is to make sharing books together so much fun that the children fall in love with books.

Ideally, falling in love with books is a process that begins at birth. It is a love that grows with every new book read to a child by someone who loves them. Story time becomes a time of closeness and connection. For children who have been read to from the beginning, books are as much a part of their world as their toys or pets. They come to see books as their ticket to both cozy time and adventure.

Usually, well-read-to children learn to read easily and joyfully because they have a strong literacy foundation that has been built by years of hearing stories daily. For children who have not spent their first five years living in homes with an abundance of books, going to the library regularly, and being read to daily, learning to read is far less likely to happen for them easily and joyfully. That is, unless we make books fun and entice them to fall in love with the magic of books.

The 3 best ways I know to make books fun are:

1. Making books real, by bringing them to life with matching puppets, stuffies, or toys

2. Making books relevant, by choosing book topics that relate to the child’s interests or experiences

3. Re-reading the same book as often as requested (repetition is the explanation for how so many of us still know Goldilocks and the Three Bears by heart)

Children who have not heard a lot of stories have not had as many opportunities to develop their imaginations, so introducing book “props” or accessories, as I call them, creates a bridge, from the toy dinosaur they are now holding, to the word dinosaur they are hearing. This is why I create story bags that contain a toy that matches the book. Children have much more fun with the books that have a matching toy.

I once heard a children’s librarian say, “There are no reluctant readers, only children who haven’t found the right book.” As she put it, “It’s our job to become a matchmaker.” I’ve learned that if I can find out what a child loves, I can find a book that child will love. When we provide a book that is relevant to a child’s interests they will want to hear it again and again because hearing it is fun.”

Which brings us to what many parents dread…repetition! Most parents don’t enjoy reading a story for the fifth time as much as their child loves hearing it for the fifth time. But we can turn repetition into fun by pausing periodically to let the child fill in the next word so that we are telling the story together. Once a child has memorized a story, reading that story one day will come to them much more easily.

Even if we didn’t start at birth, we still have the opportunity, at ages four, five, and six, to make reading fun. We can read or tell 100 stories before 1st grade. We can do the summer reading fun of reading books together in 100 places before fall. Both these reading programs are free at www.BookFairyPantryProject.org.

When we do these reading boosts, we are creating the conditions that will cause children to fall in love with books and make it possible for them to learn to read more easily and joyfully and love books forever.

Pam Leo, is a family literacy activist, the author of Connection Parenting, and a new book, Please Read To Me. Her enduring love of children's books, her passion for literacy, and her commitment to empowering parents, are combined in her new role as the founder of the Book Fairy Pantry Project, whose mission is "No Child With No Books," because "Books change children's lives... For good."