We all know how important it is for kids to learn to read but sometimes we struggle to get the kids to fall in love with reading. As kids, my brother and I were like chalk and cheese, I was reading from 3 years old and demolished all the books in our small town library and couldn’t wait until book club day. My brother on the other hand, hated reading and would do whatever he could to get out of it.
So what do you do if your child is not a natural book worm but you still want them to love reading?
1. Follow The Child
This one is the easiest and the most effective way to get your kids to read more. Feed your child books related to the subject they are interested in. If you have a pony-mad child, books on horses and ponies. Your child loves football, then books about football and football players is the way to go!
This works because the motivators are intrinsic rather than doing it for a reward or to please someone else. They are reading because of their thirst to know more about a topic they love.
Because I live on the other side of the world from my friends and family, gift-giving can be a bit tricky. What we do is have a book list set up on Airtable, (a free database app) my son adds books that he wants from The Book Depository (free international shipping). My family sometimes questions the choices but the thing is, they are books that he has chosen, on topics that he’s interested in and he has read every single book that he has received through this system.
2. Create A Habit
Like all habits, once they have stuck they just become routine and you no longer question why you are doing it, you just do. By creating a reading routine, your child might resist initially but soon it will become part of the day, just another thing they do, like brushing their teeth or eating breakfast.
This is why bedtime stories work well, it’s a solid part of the routine and the child comes to love it as part of their day. If you usually do the book reading at bedtime, and you want your kids to read, then start taking it in turns, maybe they read a page then you do. Or they read a picture book and then you read the next book.
If you want them to practice their reading even more then build in a 5 or 10 minute reading time. Use a sticky habit to make it work – that is to say, stick the reading habit to something you already do.
Another way to encourage this is to create a Reading Nook (we go into detail on how to do this in The Wonder Mom Success Club). Having a special place to read can make a big difference especially for children that get easily distracted.
3. Don’t Use Books A Punishment
Want your kid to hate reading? Then use reading as a punishment.
Threw a Minecraft tantrum? That’s it, no screen time for a week, you have to read book this instead!
Doing this paints the picture of books being bad, something you do when you have been naughty. It doesn’t evoke feelings of fun or joy. Yes, reading a book might be better for the child but framed in this way, it will only end with the child resenting the books.
Of course, if you have a total book nerd of a child and you take away reading privileges… that is a whole different thing!
4. Book Reading Rewards
This one should be used with caution as it depends very much on the child. Some kids love the idea of a challenge, read 10 books and gets some kind of reward. For other kids, this is their idea of hell!
Using a reward relies on extrinsic motivation, if your child really wants something or to do something then you can use reading as the motivator to reach the goal. Often schools have a reading log and/or challenge for the summer break, if the books are not set, then use Tip #1 to motivate your child to choose books that they will enjoy.
We have a family rule that if there is a film based on a book, then we read the book first. Not only does this have motivation built in but it also leads to lots of great discussions about the comparison of the book and film. We did this for the whole Harry Potter series and Lord of The Rings!
5. Get kids to read more and Expand Their Minds
Give your child a good mixture of types of books, fiction, and nonfiction. Encyclopedia’s, atlases, recipe books, books on sports and animals, geography, art, in different languages…… by having a great variety of books available it will open your child’s eyes to different things.
When a child makes the connection that they can gain knowledge to help them do something that they are internally motivated to do, they will naturally try harder when it comes to reading.
For example, if your child loves to bake but has to rely on you to read the recipe, when the penny drops that if they can read then they can read the recipe by themselves, taking their independence level up a notch, they will be more motivated to learn to read.
One of my favourite pages from a book, when I was a child, was all about tropical butterflies and moths. I didn’t have a particular interest in butterflies but this one page always captured my imagination and was the one page I would always go back to. It was from that page that I learned what iridescence is, a word I had to go and look up it also led me to pour over the atlas to find out where these butterflies lived. That one random page led me on many adventures through the bookshelves.
You never know what might capture their imagination and they don’t know what it is yet… because they have yet to discover it!
6. Content matters – or does it?
This is the controversial one… For reluctant readers, it really doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, whether the book is well written or in your eyes, a load of old tosh. Think of it as the bridge from reluctant reading to reading with joy.
For example, books like Captain Underpants or The Butt Detective (a detective with the face of a butt, I kid you not!) get a lot of backlash because they are written with potty humour in mind and not exactly high-brow reads.
Kids, and it’s often boys of a certain age, go through a stage where potty humour is hysterical, who knows why? This can be the little push they need to understand that books can be fun plus it won’t be long before they have grown out of that stage, by which time they will be choosing books that you are more likely to approve of.
7. Switch up the format
Reading doesn’t have to be in paperback format, there are lots of ways to enjoy reading and get kids to read more. Basically, don’t get too precious about the format your child uses.
Kids that are not very visual might find it easier to understand a book that contains pictures.
Kids that find a whole page of text overwhelming might enjoy comics/manga more.
Kids that are very factual orientated might enjoy biographies more than fiction.
Kids that suffer from information overload maybe better suited to reading magazines.
Think of other things that involve reading, playing games, reading subtitles, researching, reading menus, solving puzzles (like the 193mysteries games)… once your child gets started the process often happens quickly. Give your child the encouragement to try to read whenever possible.
BUT… sometimes the format is fine but the level is wrong, the way to find the right book for your child’s level is explained here.
8. How do I help my kids with dyslexia enjoy reading?
Fortunately these days dyslexia tends to get diagnosed early on and many schools have help for children who struggle with dyslexia and other reading problems.
The good news is that with Kindle you can choose your font and one of them is “OpenDyslexic” which has been specially designed to make reading easier for those who have dyslexia. You can also change the font size, this doesn’t have to be about eyesight, less words on the page is less overwhelming and makes it easier for kids to get through a page which encourages kids to read more.
Worried about this being even more screen time. Kindle takes that into account and is designed to be less stressful on the eyes, even more so than reading a traditional paper book.
The other up side of a kindle is that it takes up less space! Your library is in the cloud.
9. You can listen to books too!
I must admit, I was never much a fan of audio books but we had some on CD that my son loved, he must have listened to Winnie The Pooh about a million times! The great thing with kids books that come with an audio version is that the child can read along with the CD/audio. Show them how to follow the words with their finger, from left to right, top to bottom (unless you are reading a language that goes the other way!)
This is a great pre-reading skill and what they won’t realize is that they are starting to recognize the shapes of letters and words and they read along as well as the flow of the book.
We use Scribd for audiobooks, it’s much cheaper than Audible and you get access to a whole library of books, magazines, sheet music, research papers, and podcasts for less than $10 a month. (Use my referral link here to get the first 60 days free)
They also have a Perks system, these change occasionally but as of writing the Farfaria App – unlimited children’s stories for kids aged 0~9 is free, as is CON TV + Comics for the geeky comic fans, and a couple more movie-related apps.
10. Gift Book Vouchers
OK, this is a bit of a sneaky move but if your child gets a book voucher and all they can use it on is a book, then they will hunt out something they want to read. If your child is really reluctant, go back to tip #1.
If your child is a science nerd, show them where the science books are, if your child is a sporty type, then head over to the sports section and if your child loves LEGO or building, crafts, programming… there are books on all those and more.
+1 Get kids to read more by Leading by example
And finally, you can’t expect your kids to read more if the adults in their life are not readers. So make sure your child sees you reading too.
Talk about what you are reading, why you like it, maybe the trashy chick-lit makes you laugh, or you get inspired to cook flicking through a cooking magazine. When you discover a new fact or something interesting that you have read, tell them about it. Even if it was online, you can say “Oh, I just read that…(super interesting fact…)
If the child is surrounded by things to read and with people who love to read, it will start to rub on to them, it’s just a matter of finding the right thing to get the ball started.