AARP Eye Center
Since my children were little, their grandparents have been sending them snippets clipped from magazines and newspapers in the mail. With headlines like “World’s Largest Snake” and “Chocolate is health food,” grandma edits the world’s news according to the changing interests of my now-teenage son and daughter. Not only do my kids delight in the strange and random tidbits, but the shared information gives our three generations fun conversation fodder when we all convene.
Inspired by my parents’ quirky curation, I wrote a series of books called Totally Random Questions, 101 Wild and Weird Questions and Answers. Just like it sounds, this eight-part, photo-driven series is a totally random curation of topics ranging from space and science to animals and sports. The content is purposefully high-interest for the 8- to 12-year-old crowd, but because it’s about the real world, adults have been finding it fascinating too.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
But it can take more than a fun book to encourage kids to read. I spoke with some experts about how grandparents can help foster a love for reading — and deepen their connections to their grandchildren in the process. Their tips include:
1. Don’t push your old favorites on them. “Don’t say ‘You will love this book I read when I was your age,’ ” counsels Donna Wells, director of the children and teens department at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. “Rather than expecting them to like what you like, enter their world and explore their interests.”
2. Keep their ages and reading abilities in mind. Remember to meet your grandchildren wherever they are, in terms of reading interests and skills. Attention spans change rapidly as kids grow up, and keeping pace without adding the pressure of expectation can be tricky.
3. Make books easily accessible to visiting grandkids. Keep great reads “in every room of the house … even in the bathroom if potty training,” suggests Kit Ballenger, a youth services librarian and founder of Help Your Shelf, children’s literary consulting.
4. Let them know you’re reading if they see you doing so on a device. Many of us read books on e-readers like Kindles or iPads, but “when they see you looking at a digital device, they won’t necessarily know that you’re reading. It can look like you are playing video games,” Ballenger says. You want to model your love for books.
5. Maintain an attitude of joy related to reading. Taking grandchildren to libraries or bookstores, while emphasizing how they can be fun, is a wonderful shared experience. If you don’t live close enough to grandchildren for many in-person adventures, Ballenger suggests subscribing to library and bookstore newsletters in both their town and yours. “This can help you stay up on new series releases by a favorite author, which will also give you something to talk about [together],” she says. You can also find out if a favorite author will be in town for a book talk or signing that you can attend.
6. Don’t overdo it. Ballenger reminds adults to stop reading when the child shows signs of fatigue. “Be attuned to their endurance, which will vary,” she suggests. Some nights one short chapter is plenty. Try to figure out if the kid wants to quit because they’re tired, or it’s not the right book. “It’s OK to quit the book if it’s boring,” she adds.
More From AARP
When Grandparents Are Called to Parent — Again
Millions of older Americans are being forced by circumstances to raise their grandchildren
How to Gift Books Your Grandchildren Will LoveEncourage young kids to become lifelong readers with these tips from a literacy coach
10 Ways to Get Grandchildren Interested in Traditional Hobbies
Pass on your passion for crafts like quilting, woodworking, stamp collecting more