Let’s face it. Some kids just aren’t naturally drawn to reading, and will choose almost any activity over picking up a book and reading. At the same time, however, we know that reading is important, and deep down, some kids might know it as well. So what can we do to make it more likely that our reluctant readers will spend time reading?
1. Choose books in your child’s area of interest
There are so many good books available on so many topics, both in fiction and non-fiction, that there’s no need to force your child to read any particular classic or book that you loved from your childhood. Just have a conversation about what he or she is interested in, and guide them to a book that relates to his or her interest.
2. Empower your child to pick out his or her own book
Take your child to the library, the bookstore or shopping on amazon, and let your child choose for him or herself. Having some ownership over the process will probably lead to less opposition on the part of your child. If parental concerns about wholesome content are an issue, try to ask around about authors that other parents trust, or try to find out more about books at a site like common sense media.
3. Set up a nice spot to read
Your children could have the most interesting book in the world, but if there isn’t a place to read that is quiet and free of distractions, it’s going to be much harder to get pulled into the story. As much as you can, try to create a comfortable space for your child to begin reading a book. If you’re comfortable with your child snacking while he or she reads, all the better. Once kids really get into a book, they’ll make sure to seek out their own quiet spaces if the initial one isn’t available.
4. Give books as gifts
If books are portrayed as valuable commodities, your child might come to treasure them as well. That doesn’t mean that he or she won’t leave them strewn on the sofa or the floor, but you’d probably rather have that problem than have a child that won’t read.
Not on the catwalk! Parents are children’s ultimate role models. If children see that their parents ascribe importance to reading, they will likely assimilate this value as well.
6. Consider alternatives to books
Not all kids need to develop a love of reading by starting with traditional story books. Magazines, newspapers and comics strips can be other ways of getting your kids to engage with the written word.
If your child likes stories, but not the reading part, audiobooks can be used when on the go, or in the home, even in conjunction with books. While the use of audiobooks helps more with listening comprehension than reading comprehension, it’s certainly better than nothing. And who knows what it can lead to?
7. Let the kid stay up late to read!
Some kids have earlier bedtimes than others. If your child has a relatively early bedtime, consider letting your child try staying up a little later—on the condition that he or she spends that time reading.
One parent told me that she has a specific formula for hooking her children on reading: she begins an exciting book together with her child before bedtime, and right before the climax of the story, she stops the story, turns out the bedroom light, but manages to “forget” the book and a flashlight in the room.
8. Read together with your child
Parent-child reading time enriches your child’s literacy skills, and quality time for the both of you. It’s time well-spent, and likely to lead to your child’s own independent reading habit.
9. Turn on closed captioning
Yes, you read that correctly. Turning on closed captioning on your children’s favorite shows leads them to engage with the words on the screen, whether they like it or not. This helps build literacy and vocabulary, studies show. I wouldn’t recommend turning on these shows expressly for the purpose of building literacy, but if the screen is on anyway, it’s worth it to have closed captioning on.
10. Know when to back off
If you like to give points, rewards and prizes for reading, go for it! It probably can’t hurt. Don’t push too hard, though. Making reading into an issue about which you fight with your child, or something you force him or her to do will only backfire in the end. Every parent is an expert on his or her children, and needs to know when the moment is right for gentle pushing and encouragement, and when it’s more appropriate to take a break.
Not all children are born loving to read. Some pick up the habit eventually, and some people go through life never truly enjoying books. Will trying the above suggestions guarantee that your child will become a bookworm? Probably not. Nevertheless, a parent’s investment early on will likely pay significant dividends as your child grows, matures, and is forced to deal with the rigors of the education system and professional training.