Reading, we know, is one of the most fundamental skills children need to learn to be successful. Research repeatedly shows us that children who enjoy reading have an easier time understanding and learning other academic subjects. Reading develops vocabulary, increases attention span, promotes analytical thinking, and even promotes wellbeing. Familiarity with language, the ability to construct worlds and to follow and build complex arguments – these are all skills that enrich our appreciation of the world, and reading gives these skills to our children.
However, because every student learns and processes information differently, some children display a natural love of reading while others may not. A reluctance to read for pleasure is not uncommon and it is not something that as parents we should panic or feel bad about. There are many strategies that we can use to motivate children to read, the most important one being keeping it light and fun. “We want to get kids reading, but they are under increasing pressure to do so and it can overshadow the joy of this wonderful, shared activity,” says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed. D., a professor emerita at Lesley University I Cambridge, Massachusetts.
She’s right. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that reading should be something that we enjoy. Books should make us laugh and smile, transport us to faraway places or transform us momentarily into something different. We need to treat books like they are magical so that children will grow up believing that they are. If we simply make sure reading is fun, rather than frustrating, our children are more likely to develop a love of reading, encouraging better reading habits and making learning easier.
Perhaps that is sometimes easier said than done. What practical strategies can we employ to try and achieve this? Well first, if your child does need encouragement to read, it helps if you understand why they resist reading in the first place.
It might be that they genuinely find it difficult. If it is a struggle, children probably won’t find reading interesting or enjoyable. This can also be true of bilingual children who find reading more difficult in one of their languages. It is worth identifying exactly what they struggle with. It might be gaps in their phonogram knowledge, or in their vocabulary, or even dyslexia or another learning challenge. Whatever the cause, it is important to identify and address the obstacle. As it becomes easier, they will enjoy reading much more.
For some kids, reading isn’t hard, but it isn’t interesting either. If this is the case, it is likely that they just haven’t found reading material that motivates them. Think about what they love to do and find reading material that piques their interest. It doesn’t have to be traditional fiction.
The first key to encouraging good reading habits in kids is reading with them at home from a young age. By reading together often, your child will learn first hand the joys reading can bring. It’s not always easy; it can be difficult to find the time, or to find the right books, or simply to compete with modern technologies and entertainments (a 2018 study in the UK revealed that household spending on digital entertainment had for the first time surpassed that on the printed word). Nonetheless, here are some simple and fun ways to encourage kids to read and help them along the road to reading for pleasure:
Set a great example:
Act as a role model and read books, newspapers or magazines in front of your child. This shows your child that reading is important and enjoyable.
Make time to read together regularly:
Choose a variety of literature that appeals to your child’s age and interests. And don’t abandon read-aloud time as your children get older—no one is too old for a great read-aloud. It helps children to enrich their vocabulary and to associate reading with relaxation and special time with you. Even if you have a jam-packed schedule, set aside time for reading, free from pressure.
Create a reading nook:
Make a cosy area for your child to read in, with items like bean bag, cushions, a light, and of course a variety of books. Even better, let them help you to plan or design it.
Encourage reading everywhere!
Teach your child that reading is more than just books. Practice reading menus, movie names, road signs, game instructions, and more—show your child reading is everywhere.
Talk about books, and make connections:
Talk to your child about what they are reading. Ask questions and ask their opinion. This will enhance your child’s comprehension skills, and make reading a family activity. Help them apply what they are reading to everyday life. Making connections between books and your child’s own experience can help increase his or her interest in reading.
Keep lots of reading materials in the house:
Give your child easy access to books and other reading materials at home. This helps him or her understand that reading doesn’t only happen at school—it can happen anywhere. When your child decides they want to read, you want to be sure there’s a book at their fingertips.
Introduce lots of different genres:
Explore different genres like mystery, science-fiction, comic books, historical fiction, cook-books, biographies, non-fiction and more to ensure you find something that interests them. The more interested your child is in a subject, the more he or she will be excited to read! And don’t forget that kids love humour! Funny books often work a treat with reluctant readers.
Don’t limit them to books:
Audio books and children’s magazines are also great ways to encourage a child to read. They are also great for long journeys!
Try buddy reading:
Buddy reading, with a friend or sibling, can help improve a child’s fluency and make him feel more comfortable with reading on his own. It might also make it more fun for them. Or perhaps a reluctant reader might enjoy reading easy picture books to younger siblings.
Try a subscription box:
The excitement of receiving a parcel or magazine in the post often motivates kids to enjoy reading more. Many book boxes deliver plenty of thrills with tailor-made activities, fun facts, or unique gifts all designed to make reading fun, as well as enabling parents to check comprehension.
About the Author
Louise Alexander has helped students of all ages along their reading journey, as a classroom assistant and ESL tutor. She runs A Pocketful Of Books, curating fun-filled book boxes for primary school aged children with tailor-made activities that also encourage students to reflect and write their own book reviews. You can follow A Pocketful of Books on Instagram at @apocketfulofbooks
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