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If you’re reading this, you probably know and believe reading is important. But sometimes it’s hard to know what to do to encourage your children to read. In this post I’ll give you some ideas to help you do just that, so you can raise well-read, well-rounded, confident readers.
I am an avid reader. When I was two years old my mom put all of my books in the bottom drawer of my dresser so that I had access to them whenever I wanted. If I was being too quiet, she would come check on me only to find all of them spread around me with at least one on my lap open and me studying the pictures and trying to read the words.
So, when I became a mom I knew that I was going to raise readers too. I had grand visions of recreating what I loved to do as a toddler.
But you know what happens to grand parenting visions when you have real, live children…they don’t always look quite the same.
All three of my kids were early readers. My oldest likes to read often for fun and can often be found with a book in his hand. My youngest adores stories and has a goal to be the best reader in her class this year.
But the middle one. Oh my. She is the definition of a reluctant reader who needs lots of encouragement. Getting her to read just what she’s required is hard! She doesn’t want to do it and honestly, I’ve struggled because it’s not something I understand very well.
But, because books are so important in our family, these are some things that I have done to encourage my children to read and they’ve have helped her become a better reader and enjoy it more.
This one is pretty basic. Because when they’re little, it’s pretty easy. Read to them every day as much as you can. Before nap time, bed time, and any time in between. You choose the books, and they mostly listen to what you read. Creating that habit and culture of books in your home is essential.
I mean, there could be some children like Matilda, Roald Dahl’s character who has parents who discourage reading, who still loves it anyway. But, you’re much more likely to need to encourage your children to read.
Some ways that I practiced this was by talking to them all. the. time. I kept books all over the house. We played games involving stories (I’ll get to more on that in a bit). And I just made books an expectation.
Though, like I said before, this worked with only two out of three. There’s still more to do.
One of the most important things you can do is keep reading out loud to them, even after they can read for themselves. When my oldest was in preschool, I learned about The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. It’s not only full of books for every age, but includes “proven techniques and strategies for helping children of all backgrounds and abilities discover the pleasures of reading and setting them on the road to becoming lifelong readers.”
The philosophy of the book is that you should always read to your kids–even when they’re big enough to read for themselves. Because it helps them learn how words are should be pronounced and the flow of language. One day they will be more likely to pick up books in the future.
We LOVED the suggestions in that book because the books are just so good. Some books I’d never heard of that became favorites, and it includes classics that I hadn’t thought of reading to him at his age.
As he grew as an independent reader we kept up reading together before bed and took turns reading every other page. That’s actually something we still do, even though he’s in middle school. We’re currently (slowly) working our way through Harry Potter.
If you have a child that just won’t read, or it’s a struggle all of the time, ask some questions to help them–and you–understand where their reluctance is coming from.
What are they feeling?
Are they reluctant because they are struggling to understand the words or pronounce them?
Are they nervous to make mistakes?
Are they too tired at reading time?
Can they see and understand the words?
We found out that with my daughter, she didn’t ever want to read aloud (so I would actually know she was reading and didn’t just look at the page) because she was afraid of making a mistake because she doesn’t like looking “bad” at anything.
So, we had some discussions about risk taking, and how it’s ok to make mistakes. Then, shortly after that, she told us that the words were blurry. Turned out she needed glasses, so once she got those, she’s dramatically improved.
Taking the time to learn what’s happening in their head can be half the battle.
This one is hard, but especially important when you’re trying to encourage children to read. We, as parents, often research books that we think will be good for our children, (you can see some of my favorite recommendations here.) Or have ones we liked in our own childhood. And sharing them with our kids is great. But, sometimes, much to my annoyance, my kids seem to love the books I hate the most. (Why do they do that!?!)
So, what to do? Let them choose what books they want to read–within reason, of course. My middle daughter loves graphic novels. I don’t. But, she’s reading, and some of them aren’t as bad as they look. My girls will read some of them again and again.
But when they aren’t into a book, well…it doesn’t go as well. When my son was about 8 I bought him all of the Percy Jackson books in a set through the school’s book fair. I was really excited because he was at the right age and level, and I figured he’d be excited too.
Uh, not so much. He wanted nothing to do with it! He told me he just wasn’t interested. Once my mind stopped reeling, I realized that most often, letting them choose appropriate books they want is better.
Now–this is not a blanket statement. We also have a “required reading” list in our house. It’s comprised of books that are just good and should be read. So far, my son has said he’s really glad I “made” him read all of the books and wishes he’d read them sooner.
Sometimes you just need the proper motivation. We went through our home library with a reading chart and made a list of books that each child wanted to read, and some books that I wanted them to read. There are about 20-25.
Now, they know which books they want to read, I know what they want to read, and I can follow along with them. We can read together if they want, and they can earn extra screen time privileges or more allowance when they finish a book. They also have to read a minimum of 20 minutes per day before electronics.
Download a copy of our chart here:
I mentioned this a bit farther up, but exposing your children to lots of books is a great way to encourage them to read.
Beyond just reading to them daily, this can include regular trips to the library, visiting book stores to browse–or buying books to create your own library at home.
Visiting the library–it’s truly a great way to expose kids to books. When they’re small story time is fun, interactive and social. Depending on where you live, and your children’s ages, there are many programs, activities and possibilities to learn and explore at the library.
Book stores–ah, there’s just something about a book store that makes my heart sing. And, it’s another place your children will be surrounded by books. There’s so much diversity in a book store, and obviously it’s meant for you to pick books to take home and keep forever–which can be important for some kids. This is a great route to go if you’ve borrowed something from the library that your child loves and you want to have a copy.
It’s also great for creating your own home library! A place where your child’s books live so they can visit them any time they want. We’ve gone back and forth between keeping lots of books in the kids’ rooms, and having most of them in one central place. It depends on your kids’ ages, space, and where you think they’ll read more.
For creating a home library you can also consider a subscription book box. My “reluctant reader” is starting to look forward to her books each month and deciding which ones she wants to keep and which she’s not so into. Read more about our favorite one it here.
Reading should be fun. So make it fun! It shouldn’t be serious and disciplined. Tell made up stories, play story-making games (the series from Story Cubes is great), make a craft related to the story, make a food related to the story if possible. Just, make it interactive and they’ll be so much more likely to respond positively.
This one is pretty self explanatory, but it may need mentioning. Let your kids see you reading–something other than social media on your phone! Children learn by example, and by seeing a parent read for fun, they’re more likely to want to as well.
It could be anything–from a newspaper (do people still get those?) or a magazine to a novel in print or digital.
Another option is audio books. I don’t particularly like them, but they’re all my husband “reads.” And they can be great while you’re doing other tasks–like washing dishes, cooking, driving in the car etc. as long as it’s kid appropriate ; )
Raising children who enjoy reading is not guaranteed, no matter what foundation you give them. And sometimes they’ll look like they’re taking steps forward, but then go back. But, the important thing is progress and enjoyment.
Hopefully these ideas will help you along the way to helping you encourage your children to read and become a confident reader. Good luck!