How to make a reader in one easy, high effective step

My daughter can read. She's six years-old and started first grade yesterday, and that girl can legitimately read books. Hard books. Real books. She can read books that I can't believe she can read. My girl is a reader. And she loves to read. 

And her brother is only three years-old and can't read yet, but the boy loves books, too. He will sit in the car and turn the pages of book after book, as happy as can be. He begs for additional books every night before bed. He stares at the pages with intensity. He loves books and is well on his way to becoming a reader, too.  

Here's the thing:

I didn't do anything to teach her to read, and neither did my wife. We are both elementary school teachers, and yet we have never delivered a reading lesson to our children.. No discussion about vowel sounds or consonant blends or the magic E. No running records or fluency practice. We barely participated in her kindergarten homework last year, but this girl can read. 

As a parent who wants to take credit for everything that my children do well, this is disturbing. My little girl can read, and I'm not responsible.

Then someone reminded me that my wife and I have been reading books to our children before bed every single night of their lives almost without exception, and that we are often reading to our kids during the day as well.

We don't trace the words with our fingers or point out high frequency words or discuss CVC words. We don't ask them to try to read any words. We don't use any of the literacy skills that we learned as elementary school teachers. 

We just read. 

Remarkably, less than half of all Americans do this. A survey in 2013 found that only one-third of American read to their children every night before bed. Children are more likely to be playing video games and watching television before bed than reading. 

I can't believe it.   


Sit down for 20-30 minutes before bed every night and read to your kids. Read the same damn books over and over again, even if you can't stand them. Go to libraries and bring home piles of books. Ask your friends and relatives for books. Make sure that the last thing your child does every single night for the first five years of life and beyond is read. 

Somehow, it works. And I should know it works since as a teacher, I know that all the research in the world says it works.

I guess I just never really believed it.

Best of all, the return on investment is enormous. In exchange for 30 meaningful minutes spent with your child every night, you will produce a child who will one day pick up a book and just start reading, seemingly out of the blue. You will produce a reader who learns her grade level sight words by October. You will produce a child who loves books and loves to read so much that she stays up late at night in her bed reading well after you have told her to go to sleep.

I did almost nothing, and I produced a reader. I'm amazing. I'm the best parent ever. I set my child up for lifelong success. I deserve a medal. Two medals. Two medals and a big-ass trophy. 

And all I did was read to my kids.

My wife helped, too.