You know your children need to read every day – their teachers have been telling you this for years. And you know that reading will help them to be successful in school, not to mention paving the way for a better future. You try to encourage reading at home.
But the pushback! Whining. Complaining. Pouting. Outright refusing. They may even stomp their feet and yell. What’s a parent to do?
These 15 ideas are a starting place for getting your kids on your side in your own personal reading wars! If one idea doesn’t work, try another. If all 15 ideas don’t work, search for more or come up with ideas that tune into your own kids’ needs and personalities.
But don’t give up! Reading matters more for your children’s future than you can imagine.
The Best Way to Encourage Reading
This is so simple, but so often neglected. The best way to encourage reading by your children is to prioritize it in your own life. Children who see their parents reading regularly are far more likely to become readers themselves. They learn that reading isn’t just for school, it’s for life. That it isn’t just for kids, it’s for adults. And when boys see their dads reading, they learn that reading isn’t just for girls, it’s for them also. Your example alone will encourage reading!
Encourage Reading with Daily Read-Alouds
Of course, your example is not enough. So the second best step is to read to them every day. As your children grow older, you may have to trim that time down, but don’t stop. Most kids – including teenagers – love listening to books read aloud.
Begin reading to your children as soon as they are born. Stop when they move out.
You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Certainly, reading aloud to your children will look different when they are 7 weeks old than when they are 7 years old or 17 years old. But at every age, children benefit from listening to books.
How to Read Aloud Effectively
- Use different voices and sound effects! They will love it.
- Choose a wide variety of books: nature, fairy tales, history stories, science fiction, mysteries, and others. By reading a variety of books, you will encourage reading widely – a practice that will increase your child’s oral and written vocabulary as well as contribute to his understanding of the world and society.
- When your children are very young use this time for cuddling and lap time. As they grow, have them sit beside you on the couch. Eventually, they’ll choose their own listening positions.
- Allow your children to doodle, draw, or color while listening. This actually helps many children to focus. No games, no phones, no screens.
- Make it a rule that everyone in the house participates. This makes it a family affair and reduces the possibility that your children will resent read-aloud time.
- When you move up to chapter books, don’t feel like you have to finish an entire chapter in one sitting. But do try to end at an exciting part, so everyone is eager for the next day’s reading time.
- Involve your children by letting them help select books or having them read aloud occasionally.
What not to do:
- Don’t focus on finding the ‘right’ books – just make sure you’re reading daily. You’ll choose some losers, but you’ll also find some hidden gems.
- As children grow, they become busier. Family read-aloud time may have to become a once- or twice-a-week ritual. That’s OK – just don’t quit altogether.
- Read to your young children daily until they can read a book of their choosing on their own. This is usually between the ages of 8 – 10 but could be slightly earlier or later for some children.
- Don’t turn read-aloud time into a chore. This should always be a favorite time of the day.
How a Family DEAR Time Encourages Reading
If you aren’t familiar with this, DEAR time is “Drop Everything And Read.” The entire family – and visitors – stop all other activities for the designated time and read a book or magazine of their choice.
By starting the practice in your home, you are showing your children that you value reading. With younger children, DEAR time might be only 5 minutes. But increase the time as they grow.
Also – be on guard for fake reading. I’ll be posting later about that but basically, it’s when your kids try to fool you into thinking they are reading when they aren’t.
Some tips for DEAR time:
- Enjoy quiet reading after dinner, before dishes.
- Read first thing in the morning – set the alarm early enough!
- Create a routine – have DEAR time at the same time every day – but modify for weekends and special occasions.
- Don’t skip DEAR time for school vacations but modify for family vacations.
- Have all reading materials in a DEAR basket so there’s no time lost searching.
- Once a month, let a child choose everyone’s DEAR book – from books you provide as options.
- With older readers, have everyone read the same book a few times a year and then discuss.
Reread Favorite Books Often
Young children love hearing the same books read aloud over and over again. And over and over again. And – you get it!
Yes, you’ll probably get tired of Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? long before they will. But the habit of rereading favorite books does two important things for your child. First, it helps them to fall in love with reading. Once they learn to read, the habit you started will continue to encourage reading. Second, it shows your love for them. Win-win!
Let Your Children Choose Their Books
The amount of guidance they’ll need in choosing books will decrease as they grow. One way to start during the preschool years is to offer your children a choice of favorite books. They choose a favorite and you choose a new book. The new book may become their next favorite book to reread. I’ll write more about how to help them choose books in a future post.
Read the Same Book as Your Child
Showing interest in the books your children enjoy helps to encourage reading. And what better way to show interest that reading the same book?
This is for when your children become older, more independent readers. Until they can read by themselves, you should be reading the books they read before they read them. You do want to know what they are reading, right?
But as they grow, it is fun to read the same book and then talk about it. You can discuss favorite characters or scenes, what you think the character should do, and how the book makes you feel. Not only that – but sometimes you’ll get to enjoy a favorite book from childhood all over again!
Some added benefits of reading the same book and talking about it are
- Your children will learn to think about what they read
- They will be able to state their opinions so others can understand
- Your children will learn to support their opinions with facts from the book
- And (hopefully) they will learn the difference between good fiction and popular (but mostly worthless) fiction. I’ll be writing more about what makes a book worthwhile – and what makes it not-worth-your-time.
Visit the Library Frequently to Encourage Reading
Trips to the library were always fun for my boys. Maybe the follow-up trip to McDonald’s helped! Whatever it takes, right?
And by frequent, I mean at least every other week. We often went every week. The younger your children are, the more books they’ll want to get. Older children will usually need only one or two books.
One more thing – as soon as your library allows it, get them their own library cards. Such a feeling of pride and possibility!
Listen to Audiobooks in the Car
Audiobooks are far superior to videos for stretching the imagination. And with so many options available, there is no excuse not to find a good book.
Audiobooks are great for long road-trips, of course, but don’t overlook regular car trips. Imagine how much more ‘reading’ your children can get done by having an audiobook always cued up during errands and driving to or from school and sports.
Magazines are a Great Way to Encourage Reading
Kids love magazines! Part of that is the excitement of getting something special just for them in the mail. But magazines are popular for other reasons too.
There are magazines for every age and interest. Magazines cover sports, animals, nature, history, writing, and more. Some magazines are more general, covering many topics but aimed at a specific age or gender. And of course, there are special magazines for young children.
Aslo, magazines provide new information all the time. My boys always wanted sports magazines. Sports information – from players to scores to strategies – is always changing. Magazines keep up much better than books.
But even with other topics, history for example, new topics are presented every month. Although the events themselves are past, the magazine’s articles are new.
Finally, what beats the thrill of receiving real mail? It was a special treat for years. But now with mail become rare – except for junk mail – your children might not know how exciting it is to open a mailbox and find something just for them! Give them that gift.
Have a Screen-Control Plan
Screens vs. books – screens will win every time. Don’t even allow the contest. Screen control (which means setting limits on screen time including having a ‘screens off during reading time’ rule) is necessary. Period.
But screen control also sets your children up for success in lots of other ways. Set the boundaries for screens as soon as your first child is born. Re-evaluate as they age, but don’t give in.
You control the screens – the screens don’t control you or your children.
Institute Family Share-Time
You can encourage reading – and different types of reading – by having parents and children (and any visiting relatives) share about their recent reads – both hits and duds. This could happen once a week or once a month, but it can be a really powerful motivator.
Plus, having conversations about what you and your children are reading helps them to think about what they are reading. And thinking about what they read is important if they are to write about it. Or to decide if the book is good enough to recommend. Or to decide if they want to read more by the same author or on the same topic.
Talking about what they read is almost as important as reading itself. Also, when your kids are talking about what they have read, be patient, listen, and ask open-ended questions. Let them talk and don’t share your opinion unless asked.
Scrapbooking About Books
Encourage your children to create ‘books read’ scrapbooks. It can be a lot of fun and also extend the learning that naturally comes from reading. I did this off and on as a child and loved it. But because we moved a lot, I don’t have any of my scrapbooks.
Creating scrapbooks is entertaining, but also educational (sneaky!). To create a page about a book your child must decide what facts to include. They will mentally evaluate the book and answer questions like the following:
- What was most important to the story?
- Who were the most important characters?
- Did you like them or not? Why?
- What were your favorite parts? Why?
- What pictures best show the setting? Or your feelings about the book?
- Did you like the ending?
- Did this book make you want to read more by this author?
While you may have to help them get started, your primary job is to provide the materials: paper, notebook, stickers, markers, and so on. Then ooh and aah over the creation. Make a big deal out of it and say something like “I can’t wait to see your next book creation!”
Buy Books as Rewards and Gifts
Anything received as a gift shows that the giver thinks it is valuable. When you give books as gifts, you show your children that you value books. Same thing with rewards. Besides, they are easier to store than most toys!
Make Reading More Fun
Reading is its own reward. But until your children realize this, sometimes it helps to make reading a game, challenge, or reward. Whatever you do, don’t make reading a punishment!
Reading challenges and reading BINGO are two great ways to have fun with reading. These work especially well with elementary ages – when kids can read independently and often enjoy winning at almost anything.
A reading challenge usually has a goal with a deadline. If the goal is reached by the deadline, a reward is earned. An example would be: read at least 200 pages in chapter books in the next 30 days and earn a trip to the beach (pool, park, putt-putt,…). I generally discourage food rewards, but you can certainly have an ice cream cone at the beach!
Reading BINGO encourages your child to read unfamiliar books. A reading BINGO card usually has a different genre, author, or type of book in each square. Children read in the chosen categories to make 5-in-a-row. For example, a child could make a BINGO by reading a book about sharks, a book published the year you were born, a book with more than 50 pages, a book about myths, and a book set in the Civil War.
You can find many examples of reading challenges and reading BINGO just by searching. Even if you don’t use the ones you find, they’ll give you ideas.
But the beauty of using challenges and BINGO, is that they can be tailored to your own children’s needs. For example, if you have all boys who only read nonfiction books about animals, cars, or sports, make a reading BINGO card that would require them to read fiction (about animals, cars, or sports!), a fairy tale (featuring a boy, not a princess), science fiction, or a nonfiction book about a person. In this way, your children expand their exposure to different genres and styles while also building vocabulary and background knowledge.
Create Special Reading Spots
Reading is fun – or at least it should be. One way to inject more fun into your children’s reading habits it to create special reading spaces.
You could have beanbag chairs that can only be used for reading. Or build a fort from sheets for weekend reading sprees. You can provide flashlights for reading under beds or in closets. Even better is providing headlamps for your children!
Reading time can also be a special reward or privilege. You could allow your children to stay up an extra 30 minutes (or whatever) if that time is spent reading. Or maybe they get an extra 15 minutes of read-aloud time if they take their medicine without whining. All As and Bs on a report card could earn a day off of all chores if the extra free time is spent reading. You get the idea.
What Ideas Do You Have?
I certainly could have kept going. But I’m sure you can come up with more ways to encourage your children to read.
One thing to keep in mind – variety works! By that, I mean that staying up late to read will work for a few days or maybe a few weeks. Then the excitement wears off and something else may need to be tried. Challenges and BINGO are great tools because they are constantly changing.
Now, grab the books, grab the kids, and get reading!