By Kris Yankee, Co-Founder, High 5 for Character
Summer reading was always an escape for me. I read as much as I could and as often as I was able. The Nancy Drew Mysteries series was one of my favorites. I loved that there were twists and turns, and even though it was always possible that Nancy wouldn’t solve the mystery, I was still so happy in the end when she did. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was learning trustworthiness, reliability, responsibility, friendship, integrity, and many other character traits that are so important to the formation of young minds. I was just having fun reading!
As a parent, I wanted to instill the love of reading in my kids. Every night, my husband and I would each take turns reading with both of our sons when they were very young. We had so many books to choose from! We’d read one of our many Dr. Seuss or Harold and the Purple Crayon books. Our boys loved the Veggie Tales stories, Thomas the Tank Engine, and the Berenstain Bear books. I secretly loved reading the Laura Joffe Numeroff books If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and If You Give a Pig a Pancake.
We spent quality time with our sons, making memories that none of us will forget. And…the boys were entertained but they were also learning about confidence, creativity, purpose, responsibility, friendship, integrity, and trustworthiness. My husband and I wanted our kids to have a sense of positive character and we made sure that the books that we read to them exuded those principles.
Once our boys were a bit older, our reading time together changed. They wanted to read on their own (which was fine by me) and the books they chose usually were in line with the standards we had created. Occasionally when each would bring home a book that I thought was a bit too silly, each would be able to tell me something redeeming about it, i.e., “It’s so funny, it cracks me up every time I read it” or “The pictures are so cool.” But really, how could I complain? They were READING! Still, though, I felt that they were making positive choices and the books continued to contain positive, or at least redeeming, character qualities.
As an author, I’m often asked what inspired me to write. My resounding answer is always, “My boys!” Then to add to that…all of the other kids who are out there. I believe that books are so important and that when kids are reading “good stuff,” they will imitate and emulate “good stuff.” A well-written story can really effect a child, making that child believe that he or she is one of the characters or is taking part in the world created by the author. How cool is it to soar through the sky or hang upside down in a tree in a jungle or be as small as a mouse and scurry across the floor!
Keep track of what your kids are reading so you can discuss
Just when my older son started classes in middle school, dystopian books became increasingly popular. I balked at letting him read these books. Although many of these stories did include positive character messages, there were other factors that we didn’t agree with and didn’t want our son reading. This was a difficult time as we didn’t want our son to lose interest in reading, but we also didn’t want to fill his imagination with contrary information.
We made sure to read or at least learn about the books he was interested in BEFORE he had a chance to read them. The world is filled with so many things, both positive and negative, and we wanted to at least try and filter some of the negative knowing that we couldn’t truly shelter our boys. It was important that we were able to talk with him about what he was reading.
Look for opportunities to bond over books
The Harry Potter series as well as the Percy Jackson series were welcomed in our home. What I loved most about these books (other than the great positive messages in each—friendship, loyalty, a sense of right and wrong, cooperation, etc.) was that after reading the books, we could watch the movies as a family and have great discussions.
Encourage your kids to explore non-fiction books
Non-fiction books can be just as powerful for creating positive character in kids as fiction. I remember one summer when my younger son read many books about outer space and trains. His knowledge in both of these subjects increased exponentially and he gained an appreciation for science. We all had great conversations about the topics my son was learning and exploring and he even taught me a few things!
Help your kids find books with great character messages
There are so many of them out there! If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list of books that have messages of gratitude, honesty, generosity, and more. www.goodnet.org/articles/25-childrens-books-that-teach-kids-meaningful-values#. You can always check out our books about confidence, respect, empathy, honesty, and gratefulness at our website www.high5forcharacter.com.
Reading time = together time
For me, books create bonds between people. All of the tips above have one thing in common: each required that we, as parents, were active in the reading lives of our boys. As they’ve grown older, we aren’t reading books to them but are discussing books with them. Even now with both in high school, I still enjoy finding out which books they are reading in their Language Arts classes and learning what they like and don’t like about each. We are still creating memories with books even if we aren’t the ones who are choosing them!