You want your kid to love reading and go to great lengths to find books about the stuff he loves. You pick up the most popular graphic novels, hoping he won’t be able to put them down. But what if he’s just not into reading and would rather watch TV or play video games? Will he ever be excited to pick up a book?
Getting your kids interested in reading starts with consistently reading with them at home. “Readers are born on the laps of their parents,” says Cathy Collier, a member of the board of directors of the International Literacy Association and a reading specialist at the Chesapeake Public Schools in Virginia. “It’s been shown that kids with less exposure to books struggle from the beginning.”
Terry A. Beck, professor of education at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, suggests making reading fun by finding stories you both love. “Humans are naturally drawn to stories,” he says. “Capitalizing on this tendency is key when coaxing a child who seems reluctant to read.”
The more variety of reading materials there are at home, the better students perform in reading proficiency, according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a non-profit that develops and administers assessments. Students who read more at home have better reading comprehension skills and higher math scores, according to ETS.
Find the Right Books
If you have a younger kid who’s just being introduced to reading, Beck suggests wordless books, like Aaron Becker’s Journey, Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret or David Wiesner’s Flotsam. “All [of these books] help children focus on the story rather than sounding out words,” he says. “Start by sitting close to your child and pointing out the subtle details in the illustrations. Talk about what you each think might happen next.”
Younger kids also love to re-read their favorites, says Collier. While you may be tempted to move onto something new, remember that kids often respond to repetition. “The more they know a book, the more they can talk about it,” she adds. “Try to get them to talk about different aspects of the story each time.”
When your kid gets older and has stories of her own to tell, have her write them down and create simple books out of folded paper and [staples], Collier adds. “These story books can be illustrated by your child or as a family.”
Lesley M. Morrow, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Literacy Development at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, offers parents simple advice: just read. “Read to them, read with them and talk together about what you’re reading.” Parents should set an example by picking up books to read themselves. “If you read, your kids are likely to read,” she adds.
Get into a Routine
It’s also important to get into a consistent reading routine—and stick with it. Collier recommends setting aside 20 minutes a day to read to, or with, your kid. “Have your child practice reading aloud,” she says. “Tape them reading on your phone and play it back for them so they can hear what they sound like. They can also hear how their reading is improving.”
The quickest way to encourage a future bookworm? Help her find material she’s excited to read. Collier stresses the importance of finding a character or series that your child enjoys. She recommends the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne, but check with your child’s librarian for more ideas.
Look for a series that has cliffhangers, like Sam the Cat Detective by Linda Stewart. It’s an easy way to keep them reading since they’ll want to see what happens next. An added bonus: kids who get excited about how a story progresses also build empathy for the characters, Collier says.
More Strategies To Try
• Keep a journal or sticker chart. When they reach a milestone, take them to the library so they can pick what to read next.
• Check out audiobooks. You and your child can take turns reading while listening.
• Download a reading app, (many have free trials), like getepic.com (which offers unlimited reading for $4.99 a month) and raz-kids.com (which features a wide variety of leveled e-books.)
• Have your older kid read to a younger sibling, or even a pet. This builds confidence.
• If you have an older kid who complains that reading is boring, find books about topics he or she loves (like gaming, football, cats or crafts).
• If it feels like you’ve tried everything and your kid still has a hard time staying interested in a book, talk to his teacher to make sure he doesn’t have ADHD or dyslexia.
Remember to make reading fun, not a chore. As Morrow points out, reading comes in many forms. “There are books, magazines, directions, maps, menus and digital readings,” she says. “There are poems, newspapers, informational texts and narrative. All of us are readers if we choose to read voluntarily, whatever it might be, for pleasure or information.”
Martta Kelly has been a health and wellness writer for more than 15 years.