Fostering a habit of reading is one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child. Mastery of reading is not only an essential component of learning but it also translates to greater success during a child’s education and throughout their life. Parents can promote reading long before their kids start school. When you read to your baby or sing the alphabet with your toddler, you’re laying the foundation
for literacy.

According to research, children learn to be readers both by listening and talking, and the more exposure they get to language, the better. Reading aloud to our children helps them recognize sounds and connect spoken words to written language. By third grade, kids are able to read quickly and accurately on their own, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll naturally gravitate toward reading. In an increasingly digital world, it can be daunting to get kids to choose books over electronics. But don’t fret: It is possible. Read on for expert tips for cultivating a lifelong love of reading in your kiddos.

If you want your kids to be readers, make sure they see you reading regularly. Modeling reading is the first step to encourage the habit in our kids, says Kathryn Starke, a national literacy specialist and author of Tackle Reading and A Touchdown in Reading. When children see their parents
reading books, magazines or the newspaper, it shows them reading is an important part of a daily routine, says Starke.

Share the enjoyment you get from reading. When your children observe that joy, they’ll feel motivated to share in it, says Lauren Mactas, head of early learning at The Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood. “In the same way that families who love to cook tend to inspire children who love to cook, families who love to read typically inspire children who love to read.”

If we treat reading as an obligation, our kids are less likely to want to do it. Instead, we should make reading an enjoyable hobby, says Starke. We can do this by taking our children on a trip to the bookstore or library to pick out a new book, or by allowing them to choose reading material to enjoy one-on-one with a parent, she says.

Options are important, too. “Choice is a powerful motivator,” says Starke. “Children learn to become successful independent readers when a book matches their interest and developmental reading level.”

Mactas encourages parents to offer books that expose children to cultures and races different than their own. “Books are an amazing tool for broadening an understanding of the world around us,” she says.

Vary the type of reading material, which comes in many forms. Books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, photo albums, flyers, posters, cookbooks and even street signs offer opportunities for reading, Mactas says.

If your child wants to read a comic book, let them, but opt for paper reading material over digital. “Especially in the early years, paper books offer critical benefits to children,” says Mactas. “The physical act of holding a book, turning pages, understanding orientation and experiencing the weight and size of a book promote fine and gross motor development and a physical connection to literacy concepts, such as beginning, middle [and] end and front and back.”

Create an inviting reading area that your kids will gravitate towards at home. It can be as simple as a couple of bean bag chairs and a table with plenty of reading material. “Cozy areas are wonderful for reading, especially when they are quiet and offer natural light,” says Mactas.

Mactas suggests creating a “book repair station” with different types of tape to mend torn pages and labels or stamps that say “this book belongs to” in order to encourage ownership. “Having a ‘book-making station’ with folded papers, a stapler and writing materials is also enriching and engaging,” she says. “When children have a broad range of experiences with books and book making, their investment in reading deepens.” For extra fun, try acting out a story that your child is reading aloud. Seeing you engaged and joyful will help make reading a life skill that your children love, says Starke.

Parents can promote further reading by spreading newspapers and magazines on coffee tables, adding bookshelves to children’s bedrooms or common areas and displaying the book they’re currently reading on their bedside tables, says Starke.

Children thrive on routine, and that applies to reading, too. Routines are very important in helping young children feel grounded, safe, organized and regulated, says Mactas. And a regular bedtime reading routine provides a natural transition to the most peaceful part of a child’s day. “It encourages a calm body, slower breathing and an opportunity to drift to sleep while hearing the comforting voices of loved ones,” Mactas says.

If you’re worried about finding time, reading doesn’t require a huge commitment. Scheduling just 20 minutes of reading time daily increases a child’s success in phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension, says Starke. “Whether a parent is reading to a child or a child is reading to a parent, these skills increase quickly with a daily reading routine,” she says.

No matter what time of day you carve out for reading, having quiet, device-free times encourages togetherness and promotes a love of reading.

Here’s to raising avid readers!