7 Ways to Encourage Your Children to Read

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Photo Source: Cristina Thornburg

FishPapa and I are major bookworms. For years we lived without TV or VCR because we so much preferred reading. Our date nights were often spent browsing through Borders or talking about the books we were reading. He prefers theology and I prefer novels, so we’re good foils for one another. Recently, he read a memoir, which is close to a novel, and I’m getting ready to tackle a Bible commentary. Oh my word! We’re probably starting to look like each other, too!

Even though a television exists in our home today, we still love to read. And I’m so glad that our children do, too. So far, three boys know how to read and FishBoy5 is well on his way to learning. I am so excited! This homeschooling experiment is working! My children are literate – oh happy day!

I can’t say that we have any special tricks to having produced good readers, but I am so thankful that we have a family of bookworms.

Here are some things that I believe have helped us in this journey:

1. Read to your children early and often. My favorite pediatrician of all time, Dr. Patterson, always gave our babies board books at their six month visits. He was a firm believer in reading to children at an early age. I was always so impressed by his willingness to put his money where his mouth was. I’d heard this advice before, but I was often frustrated when my first born would tune out while I was reciting Go, Dog. Go! Eventually, I learned that “reading” to a baby is much different than reading to a toddler or to a preschooler. Sometimes, it involves just “reading” the pictures, or simply narrating what you see. Depending on the child’s personality, development, and attention span, you may find different kids wanting or needing different types of reading. FishBoy12 could listen, spellbound, to Saint George and the Dragon when he was only three. Yet, today FishBoy5 doesn’t really want to hear the story in its entirety. Be patient, try different things, and most importantly, continue to expose your kids to good books.

2. Make library day a regular event. This can be as simple as a 20 minute stop on errand day or elaborate as several hours spent browsing and reading and maybe attending a library-sponsored event, like storytime. There are some challenges to library trips, but with creative thinking, I think most parents can find a way to make it work. If it just seems impossible right now, take a breather for a few months and try again. Chances are you can request books online and then pick them up in a few days from your local branch. This should help keep a steady supply of reading material in the house.

3. Start a book collection. Whether you have a Barnes and Noble budget or simply a passion for browsing used book stores and thrift stores, establish a home library and find a tiny corner of your home where your kids can keep a few books of their own. This doesn’t need to be elaborate, but I think there is something sweet and comforting about a well-worn volume that a child can call his own. I began our book collection by ordering through Scholastic Books years ago. These are inexpensive, paperback books that are usually available in popular and classic titles. Many of the books I bought 10+ years ago are still serving us well.

4. Read books aloud as a family. This is not something that I remember from my own childhood, probably because I loved to find a quiet corner to read by myself. But, we’ve made this a family habit. Over the years, we’ve read 100s of books together as a family and kids — of all ages — enjoy this. In fact, FishPapa has been known to stop his home improvement project to listen better to my recitation of Old Yeller. If you need help in choosing good books or aren’t really sure what it means to read aloud to kids, check out The Read Aloud Handbook or Honey for a Child’s Heart.

5. Engage in book discussions and book recommendations with your kids. As your children grow older, they will want to read books on their own. We regularly have 30+ books checked out from the library. Since our oldest three children are all boys, they have similar book interests. It’s not uncommon for the same book to pass through three pairs of hands in the course of a week or two. This is the prime time for me to read the book as well. Then we can discuss it together, sharing what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we expected, what disappointed, etc. Often, the boys will give each other suggestions as to what to read next. It’s a wonderful way for us to engage in a story without being there all at the same time.

6. Make quiet reading a regular part of every day. When I taught high school we called this time during class, SSR (Silent, Sustained Reading). For some students, this was the only quiet block of time they might experience all day. Make sure this is a part of your home on a regular basis, if not everyday. In this season of our life, we often have reading time right at bedtime. FishKids need to be in bed at 8:30 but can read until 9. Find a pocket of time that works best at your house.

7. Demonstrate your love of reading to your kids. Read! Children learn what they live. If they see you value books and what you gain from reading, their interest will be piqued, and they will most likely follow suit. Make it a regular habit to have a good book going and share what you’re reading or what you hope to accomplish by reading a certain book. If you need some inspiration, join us each month as we’re booking it.

What do you do to encourage your kids to love books and reading?

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  1. Reading is such a huge part of my life, too! I agree that it’s sooooo important! My almost 5 year old LOVES books, cannot get enough of being read to. We just started reading bigger books like The Boxcar Children and he loves them. I think he should be starting to read on his own by now, and I have NO IDEA where to start with him reading on his own. Obviously he knows all his letters, etc…but where do we start with getting him to read the words himself? I would love suggestions!

  2. Thank you for these wonderful tips. I have done many of them and I enjoy reading myself, however, I must be diligent.

  3. I love this post and your ideas on how to encourage your children to read. We have thought about homeschooling, but I am not sure I have the patience to deal with my boys 24/7 as a mom AND a teacher. It is just something we are continuing to pray about and maybe God will direct me to do it and have faith that HE would provide the skills to give my boys a good education.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for this post and also ask a question. I want my boys to love books and I already have a large collection of books for them, but my youngest isn’t always gentle with books, and will often tear out pages or pop-ups. How do you deal with book destruction?? Do you just let them have free access to the books OR do you limit their access to board books in their younger years?

    Daily laying it at the Master’s feet!
    Laura Ann

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. I know God will direct you. Hang in there. As to board books, yes, until a certain maturity, we don’t let the littles have precious books. Great question!

  4. We LOVE words in our home! We’ve made it a priority and we have 5 bookshelves in our 975 sq. ft. home, plus a book area just for our kids books. I try to read to both kids every day, sometimes i have to do it separate, but my 2 year old loves to read on her own, and sometimes I can read to just one at a time! its a miracle when its happens but I love it all the same.

  5. I have tried many of the things you list but my daughter age 4 just does not like to read- or be read to. She just will not sit still for more than about a minute. It makes me sad because I always loved reading. Now that I am a mom I never have time to read a book.

  6. Ditto, ditto- Great advice that we also did with our kids, now ages 17 and 13. They read, read, read still and are about the only ones they know who use the school library to check out books (sad, but true).

    As a preschool teacher I tell my parents that reading with your child is the #1 thing and I can always tell the children who have parents who read with them!

    For children who struggle, really try to make it fun- get easy, funny books and just look at the pictures and tell a story at first, gradually moving to reading words while moving your finger along the words. It’s OK to start slow, just try to make it fun, a really special time with a parent! It didn’t click with our daughter until after first grade, while our son read at 3- each child is different!

  7. What a great post! Our family loves reading, too. When I was pregnant with our daughter (now 8 1/2 months), my husband read Goodnight Moon to my belly every night. After she was born, we started reading to her regularly, and it’s a part of her bedtime routine. We check library books out for her, and once a month we take a trip as a family to a bookstore (sometimes new, sometimes used) and everybody gets to pick out their own book. Of course, right now WE pick her book, but she still gets one. πŸ™‚ We really hope she’ll grow up to love reading.

    My mom and dad were big readers, and many of these tips are EXACTLY what they did to get me to love reading. Regular library trips (complete with the cloth bag and as-many-as-you-can-carry rule!), them reading to us, starting a home library, letting us see them reading…wow, I can’t thank my parents enough!

    A woman named Mary Leonhardt has written some fantastic books about how to get kids to love reading–“Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don’t” and “Keeping Kids Reading” are two of my favorites!

  8. We have a wonderful children’s “library” built up, thanks to Dolly Parton and the Imagination Library. It’s a program that gives your child a new book every month from birth-5 years (certain states). My oldest is 5 1/2 and my daughter is 20 months. We have enjoyed all our books and look forward to many more over the next several years. We love to make library visits (and I just adore when my son asks me to go). I am a college student as well as a homeschooling mama so I utilize the online reservation service to pick out good books. When we go (and my toddler is in tow), I know I’ll have some good books to bring home in case our time is cut short. I am looking forward to the annual used library book sale at the end of the month, all kids books are $1!!
    My husband loves to read as well and really enjoys reading to our kids and answering lots of questions. As a child, I grew up in the library and hope my kids develop a love for it too. πŸ™‚

  9. I absolutely love to read and my daughter has taken after me on this – she begs to stay up and read, claiming “just a few more pages until I finish this chapter”. She loved to be read to when she was younger, but over the last couple of years, she hasn’t liked it so much, although she will join me while reading easy picture books to her brothers from time to time. My middle son is a totally different story and its a challenge to get him to read and to stick with it. A few things have helped – attending a library program where they interactively talked to the kids about lesser known book series and had a pile of books for them to choose from once a series interested them – this exposed my son and I to series we weren’t familiar with that I think might interest him this year. Finding the right book has been the key lately to sparking reading in him – he is loving the Wimpy Kid series. Extra help with fluency at school is also helping – as reading becomes easier for him, his interest increases. We also have a “in bed by 8:30” rule, and sometimes it gets pushed to 8, but lights can stay on until 9 as long as that time is spent reading – not with legos or other toys – the extra time is for reading or writing or drawing only. The last 2 months my son has chosen to stay up and read vs turning his light off – success!!

  10. Our family just finished two of the “Fireside Readings” books from Lamplighter Publishing. Our children are 10, 8, and 5, and they all asked for the story to be read every night (even with very few pictures.) We are just about to start on the Boys of Grit series, also from Lamplighter. We absolutely love their books, reprinted from 18th, 19th and early 20th century titles.

  11. Our kids all love to read, too. I think that it’s partly because my husband and I both love to read, and that we have lots of books around all of the time. My middle child is just to the point now that she can read very simple books independently. It’s been fun to watch.

  12. I love your ideas. I was a Kindergarten teacher and now a mom to a 14 month old boy. I have read to him everyday since birth. He know picks up books and flips through them. I look forward to many good times with books with my son.

  13. @Kelly – “As many books as you can carry” is our family rule, too! Fortunatley, I have a wonderful partner who will carry my books when I get too excited about too many. πŸ™‚

    And @Tracey – we get quiet afternoons from a morning library trip, too! Isn’t it wonderful?

  14. Great post! Thanks! My little son will be 2 in May and I’ve read to him almost every night since he was born. He doesn’t have a long attention span yet so it involves me reading while he runs around. The past few nights he has actually come over and looked at a few pictures and even sat in my lap and listened to two pages. Oh joy!

  15. Thanks so much for this post, my son hates reading, so I liked some of your tips (of course some of them I do already and it doesn’t work) I’ll try anything, I love to read and it makes me sad that he hates it so much.

  16. We have basically done all of the things listed in your post and are blessed to have two daughters who love reading as much as we do! Instead of date nights at Borders, we have family outings to Barnes & Noble and often look up used bookstores to visit when we’re out-of-town on vacation. If I need a quiet afternoon, we take a trip to the library in the morning and I can pretty much guarantee a couple of hours of silence!!

    I’m also finding that a side benefit of reading is the development of their creative writing skills. My older daughter especially enjoys writing her own stories and seems filled with inspiration from all of the books she reads herself.

  17. When I was pregnant I bought a book for my little baby, “What Does Baby See?” It is a book created by Begin Smart: Books for Brainy Babies. Is a a collection of pictures of animals that are done in black, red and white contrast – what babies can see best at first! Now that my daughter is 5 months old she loves holding the book and trying to turn the thick pages herself.

  18. I’ve always been an avid reader. My husband? Not so much. Although, he has learned to enjoy reading since we married. I read every night in bed and that’s a habit he’s learned.

    Two daughters…oldest one is a book worm. Youngest one? Not so much anymore. She loved books as a little girl and as a family, we’ve done everything you’ve suggested here. She’s 13 and hates the “assigned book reading” in school. I’m hoping that this is just a teenage phase she’s going through and that eventually she’ll come back around.

  19. I love to read. In fact, I rarely do not have a book in hand…I’ve even been known to read while washing dishes (that is what cookbook stands were made for, right?). I am a librarian (although I don’t work outside of the home right now) and we definitely take advantage of our local library. Storytime is one of our favorite weekly activities.

    My daughter (3 1/2) has definitely caught the reading bug. She can’t read to herself yet (although, I think she’s pretty close) but she will sit and be read to for hours. Sometimes I have to cut her off if we are going to accomplish anything else in a day! We are currently reading Charlotte’s Web and are both loving it so much! I’m so excited to revisit my childhood favorites with her.

    My son (11 months) will listen for a little while. We look at board books together and he will listen to his sister “read” sometimes too. I hope he learns to love as much as big sis and I do. I wonder how to encourage him to read…especially since my husband isn’t much of a reader. I hope my son doesn’t start to see reading as an activity for girls! I guess I’m just borrowing trouble here, he isn’t even a year old!

  20. We are big readers too….as a matter of fact, for our oldest daughter, we withhold reading as a punishment (as in, no reading until your room is clean!).

    One of our rules is no TV or game time until reading…..this works great in the summer when there is less going on and they are more drawn to electronics. For every minute of readying time, they get “game time.” This may sound extreme (as in, too much gaming) but really, more often than not, they end up getting sucked into the book or a series of books and forget about the game time! πŸ™‚

    1. That was a necessary punishment for me as a child and it still would be! Until today, I’d never heard of anyone else who needed ‘remedial non-reading”!

  21. We Morris’ are book addicts as well, and we do most of what you discussed above, although I am not good at reading aloud, I just don’t enjoy it.

    Being homeschoolers, we are regular patrons of the library. The children look forward to being ‘mature’ enough to get their own cards. Each child brings a cloth bag to the libray with them, the rule is that you can get as many as you can carry yourself. πŸ™‚

    We also have ‘quiet time’ each day for about an hour where the littles ones nap and the others grab their library books and curl up with a good book.

    Making books a regular part of life doesn’t have to be hard. Kids DO learn from watching the rest of the family. It’s always good for a big laugh when the baby of the family is in their car seat with a BIG book wrapped around their upper body ‘reading’ because everyone else is. What a hoot!

    They have always enjoyed this, however, it puts a little additional pressure on Mom to keep them in ‘fresh’ books consistently. I don’t mind though.

  22. Alas I have done all above but my eight year old does not like to read himself but will still listen to me read all the time – He has trouble reading and I hope as things improve for this little guy (high iq -learning disabled) he will realize what a gift to the world around us reading is – the best advice I have as a teacher is keep reading to them even if they can read themselves as that keeps the imagination fired up!