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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? Check out these 12 terrific books for tween girls, and 40 favorite audiobooks for kids. If you’re a podcast listener, this episode of What Should I Read Next is packed with great info on raising readers (with heaps of recommendations).
Have a great tip for raising kids who love to read? Please share them in comments!