Saturday, August 15, 2015

10 Ways To Help Your Child Love Reading

"My child hates reading.  What do I do?"  I've heard that a lot.  I want to give you 10 things you can do to get kids to read more and encourage their love of reading.  I can't guarantee any of them will work, especially any of them alone, but at least it will give you a place to start.

1) Is your child struggling?

One reason they might dislike reading could be that they're struggling or lacking confidence.  If you're hearing things like, "I can't do this," or "it's too hard," this may be one of the issues.  Try working with your child on their reading skills in a calm and patient manner, and also try giving them books to read that are more fitted to their reading level or even a little below it.  There is nothing wrong with letting your child read a book over and over again to gain confidence and speed.

If your child is a younger reader (Kindergarten - 2nd grade) then you may find that the level readers they're trying to read simply have too many words for them to make it fun.  I have been surprised that a lot of the level readers that say level 1 are too long, and slow readers will have trouble getting through an entire book in one sitting, making it frustrating for them instead of fun.  One of the brands we like are Stone Arch Readers.  Our local library has around 50 of them (out of the thousands of other level readers they have), and when we switched to reading these my 1st grade daughter made leaps and bounds in reading and started to really enjoy reading time.

You might also want to look into a reading program like Hooked On Phonics that will help improve reading skills.  It uses short cartoons, easy workbooks, and level appropriate level readers to teach reading skills.  A program like this can give your child a stronger foundation in reading, give them confidence, and help make reading fun.  You might also want to check out sites like Starfall (free) and Reading Eggs (monthly subscription but amazing program) for their online reading games.

If your child is having issues with reading in a fluid way (smoothly and quickly) then one thing you might try is reading their books with them.  Read a sentence normally out loud and then have them repeat the sentence as you point to the words.  Ask them to read it just like you read it with the same speed and tone of voice.

There are also books out there for younger readers designed for parents and children to read together.  Some of these books have parents read one sentence while the child reads the next.  Others have the parent read one page while the child reads the next.  You don't need special books to do this though.  You can do this with books they already have, and hopefully books they like.

2) Are you choosing all of your child's reading material?

One of the things that makes reading fun is choosing what you read.  If you have religious constraints about what your child reads, then let them know the rules about subjects they can't choose from (such as books with magic).  Or if you don't want them reading certain things try this: when they go to pick a novel or book, ask them to pick out 3 or 4 and bring them to you to look at before they check the books out, and then weed out any that you feel are inappropriate.  This way they've still had a choice of what they want to read. 

If you have a lot of books at home and it's reading time, give them a box of books to choose from instead of pulling one out and saying they must read that.  Of course this is different if your child is supposed to be reading something in particular for school work.

3) Have you ever used reading as a punishment?

I know this sounds strange, but occasionally I have seen parents send kids to time out to read a book when they've done something wrong.  "I've already told you to stop that.  Go sit in your room and read for ten minutes until I call you back out to talk about what you've done wrong..." this is a great way to make kids think that reading is a bad thing and make them dislike it.

4) Is your child only reading for school?

If your child is only reading for classwork and never for pleasure, they may be getting burned out with it.  Reading a textbook or worksheet or required school novels that they have no choice in may make reading seem like a task.  Instead help them to find time to sit down and read quietly (start with 5 minutes a day for a week, then move to 10 minutes a day, then eventually up to 30 minutes or even an hour a day).  If your child is older (middle or high school) and they want to listen to music low in the background while reading, that's fine too.  A lot of people listen to music while they read, though this may be a distraction for younger kids.  Other than music, help your child to find a place free of distraction to read, and help them choose interesting books if they aren't interested in choosing for themselves at first.

5) Does your child see you reading?

Children often take on the traits of their parents, and that includes habits and likes and dislikes.  If they never see you reading during free time they may not think it's important to read.  Something you might consider is setting aside time each day as family reading time, where everybody sits down to read at the same time.  It's ok to let them spread out around the house at this time to find a comfortable place.  Not everybody has to sit together.  One thing I remember from when I was in 3rd grade in public school was scheduled reading time.  For 30 minutes each day the teacher would let us spread out around the room (under tables, on the floor, in seats, in backpack cubbies) and read.  We loved it.  It was the only time we got to spread out like that, and it made reading feel like something special.  There was no fight to get kids to read because everybody was doing it.

Tip: Help your child find a special place to read that's comfortable.

6) Do you read novels to your child?

Even if your child is in 3rd, 4th, or even 5th grade they may still get some benefit from being read to.  One of my favorite times in the school day when I was a child was having the teacher read a novel to us.  It was always an interesting novel the teacher had picked out and we loved sitting for 10 minutes and listening.  It was reading for pleasure, not comprehension, and we weren't asked questions or assigned projects based around the novel that was being read to us.

7) Is there any kind of reward for reading?

One thing some might find helpful is to offer a reward for reading.  Tell your child that when he or she has finished the book they are reading (novel, not level readers), that you will take them to the bookstore to buy a new book to read.  You don't have to keep this up forever.  The idea is to get them interested in reading more, and at first having a goal like: 'Finish this book so I can get a new one' may be a good motivator.  Remember, if you do this, they should get to pick out the book.  After you buy four or five books, you can tell them that you're going to change the rule to every two books.  After every two books they read, they will get a new one, and in the mean time they can go to the library to pick out books to read.

Another idea would be to take a large clear jar and tell your children something like, "for every novel you finish I'll put a dollar in the jar.  When we have $100 we'll go ...." make it some place fun like an amusement park or a place they have been wanting to go to.  You may even want to let them choose where they're going.  If you have more than one child this will be a good incentive to get everyone reading and adding dollars to the jar.  If you don't want to use money, you can use something else as counters that the kids can't easily get their hands on to add to the jar when you're not looking.  Dry pinto beans, marbles, or beads are all good options.

8) Is there a fun way to keep track of what they're reading?

One thing I did to keep my 1st grader interested in reading is I made a 'reading board'.  I used construction paper and a Dr Seuss scalloped border to make a reading board on the wall.  I printed, colored, and cut out Dr Seuss characters from online and put them on the board.  It was bright and colorful looking along with being large and near her work area.  When she read a level reader or other book, I gave her an index card without lines and she made a book cover for that book.  She illustrated it how she wanted, colored it in, and wrote the book title, and then taped it up on her reading board.  She found it very exciting and I now find her reading on her own without me having to ask.  I told her I was proud of her for reading on her own and she told me, "I want to finish this so I can go make another book cover to put on the reading board."  You can also do this with novels.  Come up with fun ways to keep them engaged.  I found that my 1st grader really enjoys being able to look up at the board and see everything that she's read.  Have a look at her first grade Dr Seuss board below and her 2nd grade 'big kid' reading board that hasn't been filled with her illustrated book covers yet.

Tip: If you don't have wall space for a reading board, make a reading board on a poster board or tri-fold cardboard project board.  You can pull them out when your child is ready to add new books to it, and in the mean time it folds flat and stores behind a desk or dresser.

9) Take an interest in what your children are reading.

Ask your children what they like to read and why.  Ask what they are currently reading and what they like about that book.  Not only will this show them that you are interested, it will give you an idea of books you can encourage them to read later on, or of the types of books to direct them towards in the future if they're uncertain about what to read next.

10) How much TV is your child watching?

If your child is spending several hours a day watching TV or playing video games and not reading then it may be an issue of them having found other more 'interesting' things to do.  TV watching and video game playing are habits like reading, and it's easy for kids to fall into a routine like adults do.  Come home from school, have a snack, do homework, watch TV until dinner.  Have dinner.  Back to the TV...

Limiting TV time and instituting half an hour of reading before or after dinner may help children to form a good habit of reading.  If you have a child who is skeptical about reading being fun, help them to see the benefits.  You can talk about how it's like watching a TV show or movie, but in their head.  Talk about how reading can transport them to all kinds of wonderful times and places with interesting characters.  Mention how some good books are turned into TV shows or movies, but how people have often found the books to be better than the movie versions.

Tip: Encourage your child to pick a book that has been made into a movie (help find an interesting one they'll like).  Have them read the book first (or you can read it together) and then watch the movie together as a family to compare and contrast how they were different and alike, and ask which they liked better, the book or the movie and why.

Sometimes we have to take our children by the hand and gently lead them in the direction we want them to go.  Even if your child is older you can read novels to them.  If your child is middle school aged or above, start a book club with them.  Get two copies of a book and read together or separately.  Challenge them to read one chapter a day.  Ask each other questions about the chapter that was read that day over dinner or desert.  Or challenge your teen to see which one of you can read through the book the fastest and still answer each others questions about the book correctly.  Have your teen come up with one hard question for each chapter to ask you at the end of the novel, and tell them you'll be coming up with one hard question for each chapter to ask them.  Make it a contest to try to stump each other.  This could help your teen get interested in reading, encourage them to finish a book all the way through, and ensure that they're actually reading and not skimming.

Questions can be about:
  • Characters and their relationships to each other.
  • Character feelings.
  • Plot.  Think the 5 W's and the H: Who, what, when, where, why, how?  Who was involved in this incident?  How did this happen?  Where did these two characters fall in love?  When did the main character realize they'd been betrayed?  What did the character's father think about this incident?
  • Themes that came up in the book (especially recurring themes).

I hope some of these ideas have helped.  What ways have you found to get your kids interested in reading?  Let us know in a comment below.

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  1. These are some great ideas! Fortunately, both of my kids love to read as do I. I started reading chapter books to them from an early age and now we love using a literature-based curriculum with lots of reading time.

  2. Wonderful ideas! number 5 really hit home for me. I honestly don't know how much I read in front of my kids, I read to them, but not for myself in front of them.

    Thanks for sharing! I'm loving your blog and glad I found it on reddit!

    1. I think it actually annoys my 7 year old how much time I spend reading lol. But it makes me happy that she has started to enjoy reading and chooses to do that on her own without my prompting. There's so much to do at the age of 7, but she still decides to spend some time each day reading, which makes my heart glad. I checked out your blog as well and I love it!

  3. Love this list, esp the ideas for rewards for reading. We love family read-alouds here, and although my son is in 5th grade now, I hope that he continues to enjoy them for a few more years at least!

  4. I've been working on severely limiting screen time for my kids and it is helping increase the interest in reading.

  5. These are AWESOME tips! My son is only 10-months-old, so I'm always trying to read to/in front of him, so he'll enjoy reading more than I did as a child. I definitely think that my not being able to choose my own reading material contributed to my dislike for reading, because I've enjoyed reading more and more the older I've gotten. Thank you so much for sharing <3