Some kids LOVE to read from a young age. My 21-month-old baby, Lily, is one of these. Before she was even one year old she would crawl past toys to get a book in her hands, and then she would sit contentedly for several minutes flipping through the pages. If we ever invite her to read a book with us she comes quickly and excitedly.
Some kids, however, don’t have a natural affinity for books. My four-year-old son, Tommy, is more like this. Most days he would rather play with toys, wrestle, or work around the house than sit and read a book. He enjoys reading sometimes, but it has to be on his own terms.
We all know how important it is to read out loud to our kids. In Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook (a must-read for every parent, BTW), he states, “We read to children for all the same reasons we talk with children: to reassure, to entertain, to bond, to inform or explain, to arouse curiosity, and to inspire. But in reading aloud, we also:
- build vocabulary
- condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
- create background knowledge
- provide a reading role model
- plant the desire to read “
So how do we inspire children to read? Especially those who don’t naturally gravitate toward books? Here are a few things I have learned as I have worked to teach my son to love to read:
- Read books your child enjoys. I can’t tell you how often we read Everyone Poops in this house, but because it’s a classic that my children (and their friends) love, we read it all the time. Often after we read it a few times they are excited to pull more books off the shelf and we end up reading many different books. Tommy has this book memorized. Lily learned to say “poop” as one of her first 10 words. Awesome.
- When Tommy was younger I used to read to him during meals. I had a captive audience! It has turned into a tradition now that my kids love, so we read together most mornings during breakfast.
- Read at bedtime. This is a time when kids are tired and will lie down and listen as they relax. We like to read chapter books during this time so that the kids can just lie in their beds and listen without being stimulated by lots of bright pictures. The Indian in the Cupboard and The Chronicles of Narniaare some of our favorites.
- Share a treat while you read. Note that I didn’t say, “Bribe your child to read by offering them a treat.” Bribing is bad and doesn’t typically work. However, snuggling up together on the couch, sharing some chocolate chips, and reading together is a cozy, fun, bonding activity. Tommy and I do this many afternoons while Lily sleeps. He thrives on tradition and structure, so it’s always a bowl of chocolate chips and it’s always 1001 Pirate Things to Spot. But that’s just Tommy 🙂
- Set the example. If you want your children to love to read, they need to see you reading your own books.
- Change it up a bit and get some books on CD for your child to listen to. Many children’s books have CD’s that the child can listen to while they follow along with the pictures and text in the book. This is a great quiet-time activity. There are also tons of chapter books on CD that you can listen to in the car, while preparing meals, or while doing work around the house together.
- Get your hands on some really fun books that your children can play with like toys. Sticker books, noisy books, and drawing books are great for this. They may not actually “read”, but literacy is so much more than just reading. It’s teaching a child the correct way to hold a book. It’s teaching them how to turn the pages. It’s teaching them that books are fun.
- Read out loud while the kiddos play. Or turn on a book on CD. Even passively listening to a book is good for kids.
And here are a few don’ts:
- DON’T make reading a chore. I cringe every time I see “Read 15 Minutes” on a child’s chore list. Do we really want our kids to associate reading with unpleasant things like scrubbing the toilet?
- DON’T threaten, bribe, punish, or shame a child into reading. If we make it an enjoyable and positive experience they will be lifelong readers. Some kids may take longer to learn how to sit and listen to a book, but they will get there if we are patient and make it fun. They won’t ever get there if we make it miserable.
- DON’T compare your child’s reading abilities to those of any other child. Nobody likes to be compared to someone else. Each child will learn to read when they are ready and it doesn’t help to know that their cousin or their best friend is already reading.
Do you have other thoughts on how to inspire children to read? Please share!