Every year in the classroom, at least one parent would message me asking: How do I get my child to start reading at home?
Some parents would tell me that no matter what they said, their child would not read. Instead, their child chose video games, toys, sports, etc.
Now don’t get me wrong—after a full day of school and activities, children need time to decompress and do an activity they enjoy. However, I believe there are things parents can do to make one reading of those activities.
Some children may pick up books on their own without parent or teacher involvement because they enjoy reading. However, many children may require some direction from school and home to help them learn how to enjoy reading at home.
In this free eBook, I share some simple tips and strategies to help get kids to enjoy reading at home.
#1 Allow Free Choice
I know we’d love for our kids to experience the depth and storytelling of some classic novels. However, goal #1 is to make reading pleasurable.
When books are competing with the sensory stimulation and instant gratification of video games or phones, it’s important that a child have reading material that interests him or her.
If children are told to read certain material, they may become resentful, annoyed, frustrated, etc., and they will not be engaged with the book.
Imagine telling an adult sports fan that in order to learn to love television, he or she must watch a channel on home decorating. Would the sports fan enjoy that activity? Would he or she be interested? How long would that last?
Under that lens, forcing someone to consume certain content seems pretty ridiculous, right? I know from raising toddlers and teaching students that the content matters. Giving them the control over the content is a great first step to helping your child enjoy reading at home.
#2 Don’t Force A Child to Read
I wholeheartedly believe this. Some people think that doing things you don’t want to do is part of life. Sure, I get that. However, if you want someone to enjoy something, he or she must choose to do it.
The joy of reading comes from within a person; it does not come externally from you (a teacher or a parent). If your child enjoys reading, you won’t need to force it or make it a chore.
So what does that mean? It means:
- Don’t make them read for a set period of time.
- Don’t make them do book reports.
- Don’t take away things to force them to read.
- Don’t require them to read a certain number of pages, chapters, books, etc.
If you try to force a child to read in any way, you will have to join that request with a negative consequence (withholding a reward, taking away a video game, taking away a phone, etc.).
Forcing a child to read instead of playing games, etc. connects reading with punishment and pushes him or her even further away from the joys of reading.
Instead, think of ways you can build and nurture a love of reading in your child without standards, expectations, or pressure.
I also have found that when you set a time quota, it encourages bad habits. The time is reluctantly spent reading, and the child passively takes in the information—doing nothing with it.
For me, an integral part of reading is the reflection period—when you must take time to consider and think about what you’ve just read. If you are intent on meeting some kind of book-a-day or minutes-a-day quota, it will come at the expense of this reflection period.
Your child won’t be excited to read the content. He or she won’t be turning the page to see what happens next, won’t be immersed in the story, won’t be reflecting on the characters, won’t be thinking about the message, etc.
The child will turn the page to meet the minimum quota and move on.
#3 Expose Them to High-Interest Reading Material
This is obvious, but I’ll say it again anyway. If you want your child to start reading at home, you need to have high-interest reading material available for them.
Take a trip to the library or bookstore. Let your child fill their own bookshelf in their bedroom.
My children are young, and their interests change frequently (bugs, construction vehicles, superheroes, etc.), so we frequently rotate books in and out of their bookshelves (with their help, of course). When their interests change, so do the books. We go through boxes of hand-me-down books, we go to the library to check out books and purchase used books, we go to the bookstore, and we order new books together from Scholastic. When people ask me what my children want for birthdays, Christmas, etc., books are always on the list.
Don’t Fight Fortnite: A Lesson in Providing High-Interest Reading Material
Have you ever said to your child, “Why don’t you get off your video game and read a book?” It didn’t work, right? Instead, ask yourself why your child is choosing video games right now. I can tell you. It’s because Fortnite is cool. It has action, weapons, and all these little achievements that trigger our children’s dopamine receptors. It’s what everyone in school is talking about, and for better or worse, it brings joy to the children who play it.
So don’t fight Fortnite—make Fortnite your ally.
Buy your child a strategy guide. Print off an interesting article or current event happening with the game. Find articles about the creators and how they made the game. How do they balance the game? What makes it popular? Find an article about how The Backpack Kid is suing the game creators for copyright infringement over his flossing dance. Don’t lament the fact that your child isn’t picking up Dahl or Clements. Rejoice that he or she has high-interest material. Rejoice that he or she is learning domain-specific vocabulary (lawsuit, copyright, plaintiff, defendant, appeal, etc.). Rejoice that they are figuring out how to read for pleasure.
#4 Positive Reinforcement
Once you’ve done the work of exposing children to high-interest reading material and have allowed them the opportunity to choose reading material on their own terms, cement your work with positive reinforcement.
I don’t mean that you should reward (a.k.a. bribe) your child with candy, video games, toys, etc. What I mean is that you should show interest in your child’s interests and give him or her recognition.
A good way to do this is to ask questions about what he or she read, have a conversation with your child, and be genuinely interested.
Be careful though—if a child feels like he or she is being quizzed, the conversation will have the opposite effect. If the child senses he or she is being quizzed, reading is no longer for pleasure; it’s a chore with strings attached.
During this conversation, let your child be the teacher and tell you about the material. Stick to open-ended questions and phrases such as:
- “That’s so cool!”
- “It sounds like you really like that part/character/thing!”
- “Would you like to pick out some other books like that one?”
#5 Model Good Reading Habits
The one thing about children is they do what you do, not what you say.
They learn how to behave and socialize by emulating our behavior. If your child sees you reading, carrying around books, and reading for pleasure, they will want to do the same.
So be a good role model and show them how to be a reader. Show them how readers often carry their books around with them throughout the day so that they can read a little bit when the opportunity arises.
Show them how you enjoy going to your quiet personal space to read.
Don’t tell your child to be a book reader. Instead, be a book reader!
#6 Provide a Personal Reading Space
A comfortable, quiet area will encourage your child to start reading at home. It could a beanbag chair, a desk, or even a bed.
If your child is distracted, it will be difficult for him or her to focus on the reading material, and he or she will be less likely to read for extended periods of time and improve his or her reading stamina.
#7: Read to Them and With Them
Reading to your children has so many positive benefits.
First, you are modeling what it looks like to be a reader for them and setting a good example.
Second, you are providing them with positive attention and recognition, which children thrive on.
Third, you are doing wonders to improve their reading comprehension.
When children are developing as readers, their listening comprehension is higher than their reading comprehension. This is why kids need to hear text the way it’s supposed to be read. Being read aloud to sparks kids’ interest in reading because it engages them with more complex language and plots than they could access themselves.
Encourage your child to read material that’s appropriate for his or her reading level, but also read aloud to him or her from texts above their reading level as much as you can — preferably about something your child is excited about.