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When I look back on my childhood, there is a single thread that runs through most of my favorite memories: reading. I cannot remember a time when I was not surrounded by books and devouring them voraciously, and my life has been so much the richer for it.
One unforgettable summer in elementary school—what we might call my “Harriet the Spy” period—I adopted a uniform of a blue hoodie and glasses, accessorized with a small composition notebook and pencil. I carted around that notebook everywhere I went, recording my observations of the world around me and my (now pitiful) attempts at explaining them. I was particularly keen to decipher the lives of our next-door neighbors. What could explain their erratic work schedules and intensely private demeanor? I thought I had deduced the obvious answer: they must be Russian agents.
A decade later, I had a major a-ha moment when I realized that my high school crush shared my childhood love of Kipling’s “Rikki Tikki Tavi.” As we reminisced about the literature that we had enjoyed as kids, my infatuation with him reached a whole new level...and it’s been that way pretty much ever since. We’ve been married for eleven years now.
My adult life has also been full of books—and not just because I went to graduate school in literature. In my new role as a homeschooling mom, I consider it akey part of my job description to keep reading and growing in my own knowledge. Expanding my own knowledge base (and growing in my own ability to relate to others) helps me to offer the best education—and the best of myself—to my kids. Sometimes reading has to happen at the expense of my kitchen’s cleanliness, but since Susan Wise Bauer said that’s okay, I’m taking her word for it.
As a mom, I want to give my kids the same wild pleasure in books that I have enjoyed throughout my life. But delight isn’t our only goal—we also believe that reading is key to their character formation and we KNOW that it is essential to their language development in our bilingual homeschool.
Because we value reading in all of these ways, we’ve instituted a number of traditions in our family to help build our children’s love of literature—to help them see books (of all kinds) as a joy and as one of the pillars of our family culture. These we do on top of our (many) daily read-alouds and regular poetry teatimes, and I hope that you’ll find them inspirational for your own family. By the way, if you do decide to take any of these on, don't forget that I have tons of foreign language book recommendations available in my free resource library.
1. Birthday Books
When I was growing up, my family would often go on “bookstore dates”—we’d pile in the car and head to Barnes and Noble, where everyone would split up, find some books that they were interested in, and settle down in a corner of the store to read. Sometimes, my parents let us pick out a book or two to buy, but even if we didn’t take anything home, the experience was always fun.
When I became a parent, I wanted to re-create that experience for my kids, so I decided to start our “Birthday Books” tradition. Every year, instead of going out to dinner for their birthday, we take our boys to a bookstore, where they are allowed to choose 1-3 books to take home. Since we rarely shop in-store for anything but groceries, this is actually a big deal for my boys, and we talk it up like the super special occasion that it is. I even did this with the baby this year—he, of course, chose this book for its adorable finger puppet.
2. Winter Book Flood (Jolabokaflod)
This Christmas, we began celebrating the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, which translates literally as “Winter Book Flood.” This simple tradition combines three of the best things in the world—books, chocolate, and Christmas Eve—and it is easy for any family to celebrate. For our Jolabokaflod, I used Amazon Prime to order new books for everyone in our immediate family (even the baby) and picked up a few chocolate bars from Trader Joe’s and ALDI. On Christmas Eve, after attending our church’s worship service, every member of the family got to unwrap a new book, and we all stayed up late reading and enjoying our chocolate. It was cozy and fun, and the perfect way to relax before the chaos of Christmas Day with your kids.
In case you’re curious, here are the books that I selected for each member of our family (and what my husband chose for for me—it was a total home run):
- For me
- For my attorney and Supreme-Court-watcher husband
- For our adventure-loving bilingual four-year-old
- For our puppet-obsessed one-year-old
- For my mom, who just loves a heartwarming story
- For my theologically inclined mother-in-law
- For my tennis pro father-in-law, who is also a professional wordsmith
3. Reading Rewards
This is a tradition that we are actually working towards, right now, but I thought that I would include it, nonetheless. Here’s the bottom line: we strategically reward reading milestones with…wait for it…more reading materials!
As my older son is learning to read (at his request), we promised him that we will reward him for his diligence with a book light, which we’ll give him once he shows us that he can read a short story by himself. See what I did there? I’m rewarding reading with more reading! So far, it’s working—he asks me first thing every morning to do our reading lesson, because he really wants that book light (and special reading time in the dark).
I feel like this tradition has a lot of potential for the future: we could create our own “summer reading challenge” with library books and cap it off with a special trip to Barnes and Noble, buy him a new audiobook as a reward for poetry memorizations, etc. Although I haven’t worked out exactly what our next reading reward will be, if it works as well as our current challenge, I’ll be pretty proud of my parenting skills.
If you have any reading-related traditions in your home, please share! I’d love to learn from other bookish families.