7 tips for raising kids who love to read

7 tips for raising kids who love to read

This post is sponsored by Brightly, a site that helps parents raise kids who want to read.

Some kids fall in love with reading on their own. Some kids need a little push. As a devoted reader myself, it’s just important to me that my kids end up loving to read.

It’s so important, in fact, that I have to be careful about not pushing too much. That’s how I’ve come to hone the 7 tips below.

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Silas is reading Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss

1. Show them how it’s done.

If you want to raise readers, your kids need to see you reading: not because you have to, but because you choose to. Consider this your permission slip to crash on the couch with a good book. You’re doing it for the kids, am I right?

To make the most of your role model position, opt for paper books over ebooks when your kids are around. This leaves no doubt that it’s not regular old screen time you’re enjoying, but reading time.

2. Be their partner, not their boss.

If you want to raise a kid who loves to read, don’t be their adversary. Don’t make them read books, the same way you make them fold their clothes, or eat their vegetables. Instead, position yourself as their ally: you are in this reading thing together.

Your job isn’t to force them to read because it’s good for them; it’s to help them find the book that will let them fall in love with reading. I can remember the first book that kept me up till 2 a.m., furtively reading under the covers with my flashlight. (It was Emily of New Moon.) My husband didn’t get hooked till he was 17. (His book? The Firm.)

With your help, the kids in your life can find that book sooner rather than later.

reading-books-with-kids-outside-brightly

(What we’re reading: All Four Stars by Tara Dagleish. This got four stars from my kids.)

3. Make reading a family experience.

Books bring people bring together around a common shared experience. So share it! Read aloud to your kids (even if they’re old enough to read on their own). Listen to audiobooks together in the car. Read the same books your kids are reading so you can talk about them together, whether your child is five or fifteen (or, thirty-five, but that’s another post for another day!) You’re fostering a love of reading and you’ll get to have some great conversations with your kids.

A few words about reading aloud: make sure that everyone enjoys the stories, including you. Don’t kid yourself that you’re helping your child by reading a book you’re not enjoying. Kids are smart. If you don’t like it, they’ll know, so set it aside and try something else. (Yep, it’s okay to model abandoning a book. Really.)

4. Let them read what they want to read.

You get to read what you want to read. Kids want to read what they want to read, too. When they don’t get to choose, it feels like school—and most kids feel like they have enough school in their lives already. Reading at home should be fun.

Don’t worry too much about whether your kids are reading the right books. If you want them to be readers for the long haul, don’t worry about whether or not they’re reading Quality Literature. Not yet.

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5. Be strategic.

Fill your house with lots of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks. Dr. Seuss was onto something with that advice.

Literacy experts recommend creating a “content-rich environment” to encourage young readers. In other words, make it so your kids can barely turn around without seeing a good book! Keep books they’re already interested in, or that you think they might enjoy, in plain sight wherever your kids hang out.

You don’t have to be pushy—in fact, it’s better if you’re not. Just leave those books where your kids can find them. At my house, this means on the kitchen counter, on the coffee table, by the sofa, on their nightstands, even in the car.

How to find those books you think they’ll enjoy? For in person recommendations, hit up your local library or bookshop will have recommendations. On the internet, great reading lists abound. I’ve shared about my kids favorites right here on Modern Mrs Darcy. I also love the age-specific book recommendations found at Brightly, Read Aloud Revival, and Imagination Soup.

Finally, I hate that this is true, but here it is: just like the rest of us, kids judge books by their covers. My kids are way more likely to read a book with a pretty cover than a blah one. They prefer shiny new paperbacks to beat-up old library hardcovers with peeling plastic wrappers. They hate the thousand-page treasuries that feature three or five or seven books in one; they’re intimidating and cumbersome. If appearance matters to your kids, work with it.

bookstore shelves

6. Visit libraries and bookstores together.

This is another great way to experience reading together. Treat the bookstore and library as a fun destination. When you’re there, give your kids the freedom to browse the stacks and see what catches their eye. (And make sure you do the same for yourself!)

Help your kids figure out how libraries and bookstores are set up. Show kids how to browse—where to find their favorite genres, or the new releases, or all the books about weather or boats or ballet.  Better yet, have the librarian or bookseller show them how.

Brightly gifts

7. Give wisely.

I love giving books to kids. Books are an experience; books have staying power. Kids can return to beloved books again and again.

But it’s important that those gift books be the right books, or your good intentions can backfire! Here are some tips:

• When in doubt, go with the classics. I don’t necessarily mean the hundred-year-old stuff, I mean the books that fly off the shelves because kids almost universally adore them. There’s a reason Eric Carle, Corduroy, Dr. Seuss, and Madeline are beloved by young readers. Go with it.

• Follow their interests. This isn’t the time to choose aspirational books—the ones you wish they would love. Tempt your kids by giving them books they’re already inclined to be interested in—whether that means a favorite series, beloved author, or topic they can’t get enough of. Remember, be their ally, not their boss.

 Underplay, underplay, underplay. Don’t make a huge deal about how much you loved the book you’re giving. Focus on why they might love it—and then encourage them to leave it out in the open so they’ll remember to read it. (Strategy!)

For ready-made gifts that follow these guidelines, check out Brightly Gifts.

Want more tips? Listen to Sarah Mackenzie and I talk all things kids and reading in this episode of What Should I Read Next.

Have a great tip for raising kids who love to read? Please share them in comments!

7 tips for raising readers

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36 comments

  1. My seven-year-old son loves to read. One of the things that has helped him read even more is having his own library card. We got him his personal card when he was six, and now he is so proud of himself each time he pulls it out at the library. It has given him a sense of ownership in both his own reading and in the library itself. So simple–and free!

  2. Tracy says:

    I have tried for years to get my son to enjoy reading. He is 11 now. Saturday we went to Barnes & Noble and he asked to go to the music section. I let him as I didn’t want to hear the same complaints about how he really dislikes books. Then to my surprise (I almost had to sit down), he came to me with an Audio book he wanted to get. I told him sure and immediately bought it so he couldn’t change his mind. Well we listened to some of it on the way home. We had to go out and buy him a CD player because he liked the book so much. We even enjoyed it as well. It is the first time I have seen him excited about a book.

  3. Felicia Gressette says:

    My daughter, who will be 27 tomorrow, was not a natural reader as a kiddo, and one summer during middle school, I made a rule that she had to read for 30 minutes every day before she could have any fun. She wasn’t happy, but she did it and says now, all these years later, that it was a turning point. When she was in ninth grade, she had an intimidating reading list and so I read along with her – Romeo and Juliet, the Odyssey, A Wizard of Earthsea, lots more – and we’d talk about what was happening in the books. We still joke about the Odyssey, and she is an avid reader as an adult. Your mileage may vary, but this worked for us.

  4. My 16 year old daughter is dyslexic so reading is a struggle *and* we use a literature-based curriculum in our homeschool. This summer we spent 2 weeks in Italy with very limited Internet. She finished 4 books!!! Unheard of at home. She will read for pleasure when it’s something she is interested in (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games). Sometimes what works for us is I will “get her started.” I’ll read the first few chapter aloud. When she is into the story she is able to pick it up for herself.

  5. Susan B. says:

    This post brought up really nice memories! I didn’t do a lot with my dad growing up but I remember going to the bookstore with him. He’d let me pick out a couple books. He said he didn’t care what I read as long as I was reading. Years later when I was pregnant with my daughter, for Christmas my mom bought her a book and wrote an inscription in it with the year. She did the same thing every Christmas for the next 18 years. We’ve passed on many of my daughter’s books as she outgrew them but we’ve kept all the books from my mom. They make a nice timeline of what my daughter was interested in each year of her childhood.

  6. Jeannie says:

    Good Stuff! My older boys, ages 15 and 13 never seemed to get into reading, no matter what I tried. But recently, they have really enjoyed books with a WWII theme, whether it’s fiction or historical fiction. I can’t keep enough of them on hand. (Examples: Soldier X by Don Wullfson, any book by Alan Gratz, the THEN series by Morris Gleitzman)

  7. Samantha says:

    Love these tips! Both my kids really enjoy reading, but I’m finding that with my son, I have to be much more open to what HE wants to read. As much as I could happily never read a Star Wars or Ninjago book again, for my 5yo boy, these stories get him excited about reading. We work in other books as well, but I appreciate the encouragement to emphasize the act of reading over the quality of the books at this stage.

  8. Katie says:

    Oh I am going to LOVE this week!! I love that it is all kid themed!!! While I don’t have any kids of my own, I am a teacher and I am ALWAYS looking for books to suggest to my kids. =) YAYAYAYAYAYA

    P.S. Let be honest, some of the “kids” books are great for adults too! =)

  9. Terry says:

    Reading aloud was key for my son, back in the day (the day long, long ago!). I read above his current reading level – and we read a lot of good books.

    What I found was that after I finished reading a book aloud, he would take it in his room and start reading it to himself. Right away. I thought this was kind of weird at first, but I realized what he was doing – he was reading a book that he probably wouldn’t have attempted on his own, because he would be lost, but because he knew the direction the story was going, he was able to keep up through any hard passages. His skill level increased by leaps and bounds, and it didn’t have anything, really, to do with me – other than reading aloud.

    One of the great joys of my life as a grandmother is seeing my son and his wife reading aloud to their children. It is just that important.

    And I must admit, hearing my son read the voices in a My Little Pony novelization thing (they mix in kid picks with their picks) is more than a little hysterical!

  10. Charmaine Ng says:

    I’m not a parent (nowhere near!) but this post reminds me of my childhood with my parents. I don’t know HOW I became a reader – neither of my parents like reading – but I think they key thing was that they never pushed me to read. To this day, my favourite memory with my Dad is him bringing me to the library weekly, and going to bookstores whenever we were on vacation. It makes me tear up just thinking about it!
    – Charmaine
    http://charmainenyw.com

  11. Anne S. says:

    When our kids were little we started the tradition of giving a wrapped book under their pillows on Christmas Eve. This was the only present they got before Christmas morning, and even now our teenagers get excited about the 12/24 book they know will be under their pillows. It’s tough to find the right book for our 16-year-old son, but we don’t really worry about IF he reads the book but THAT he’s excited to receive it, which he is. The love of and excitement for books is what we’re supporting. And it’s worked!

  12. Anna T says:

    When I was a little girl I really enjoyed my teachers in 4th and 5th grade reading chapter books to the class like Old Yeller, Willa Wonka, and Shiloh. I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my daughter and started reading her chapter books at 4 years old. At that age I read her smaller ones like Junie B. Jones and the abridged versions of Anne of Green Gables, etc. It took a little time for her to be still and enjoy the experience but these books have some pictures throughout and helped her relate to the story. Every night I would read to her as long or short as her attention would hold.
    Now she is 6 years old and loves reading longer books with me. I still choose novels that have at least a few drawings like Socks, Maisie Hitchens Mysteries, etc. It takes a couple of weeks to finish a book and I think it is teaching her to both love to read and patience to wait for the conclusion of a good book. She looks forward to our nightly reads and I do too!

  13. Jamie says:

    Love love love this post! I’ve actually had my two year old tell me, “Mom! Book down!” and then point at the ground when she wants my full attention. Soo…that’s a good thing, right? 😉

  14. Theresa says:

    My two children love to read and are excited about books. Partly, I think, because I was always reading and excited about books. When children see us excited about books and wanting to go to the library and get books, when they and hear us discussing books and reading them books aloud, and when they observe us talking about books as if they are friends, I think it is easier for them to adopt that attitude. Especially when they find books in a topic or category they are interested in.

  15. Susan says:

    The ‘reading aloud to your kids’ – best advice ever! We’ve always read to our sons, every night at a minimum, but when we began homeschooling them in the 7th grade – I know; crazy – I read everything to them. They were already for-pleasure readers and since I needed to read their ‘assigned’ books anyways I read them aloud. Even in 11th grade when we read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for their British Literature, we treasured those times together. I would read aloud and my sons would always, always draw. Their comprehension (and retention) increased dramatically. Such wonderful times.

  16. Elishia says:

    When I have kids, I will be coming back to the post (in years come) but I’m so looking forward to that aspect of parent hood. I hope their love of reading comes naturally, but if it doesn’t I’ll be prepared with these tips. Thanks!

  17. Susan says:

    I used to play audio books in the car when my kids were all in elementary or younger. We didn’t have a DVD player, so it was an alternate method of keeping them entertained. I don’t enjoy reading chapter books aloud, so this was a way to share books so we could all enjoy it. While they give me a little grief about a lack of pop music knowledge, I love that we did this!

    The audiobooks were really a good jumping off point for my son. He was reluctant to read bigger books, but he often flew through a whole series after listening to the first book in the car.

  18. Lindsay says:

    I’m loving this series. I’m a former reading teacher and have always loved reading and it’s one of my goals to pass that along to my boys (ages 4 & 7). Thank you so much for doing this series. My older son is just starting to develop his own sense of self as a reader and it’s so much fun but I am always on the lookout for new books and this post was good reminder on how to keep offer them as choices. I’m a huge proponent of reading aloud to kids (I often read aloud to my high schoolers and even college students) so I loved that encouragement. If there’s only one piece of advice I can give parents is to read, read, read to your kids. It’s the very best thing you can do for both their social and academic development. Thanks Anne, for planning such a fun week of talking about kids and books!

  19. I’d add: Tie in books to family events such as holidays, milestones, and life changes. Capitalize on your kids’ current interests whether it be frogs or the planets. Keep baskets of books in each room and rotate them. Each summer, at the end of school, I gave my children personal book buckets filled with books, magazines, journals, and activity books to kick-off the summer.

  20. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile, quietly. But your admission to getting hooked on Emily of New Moon made me realize we are, indeed, kindred spirits. I kept my old copies of that series because I loved it so. I am reading Anne of Green Gables to my 7yo son right now, btw. Who says books have to fall into gender categories? 😁 Thanks for this post.

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