Learn five tips to motivate your kids to read, including how to pique their interest, modeling positive reading behavior, and making it a daily habit.
Here’s something we all know to be true: Kids don’t always appreciate what is good for them. Getting kids to do things like eat vegetables, take baths, or even sleep at night can seem like a daunting challenge.
Likewise, getting kids to read can sometimes be a frustrating battle. We all know that reading is extremely beneficial in language development, critical thinking skills, building focus and concentration, and even deepening the empathy of the reader by putting him inside the minds of the characters. Reading can broaden a person’s worldview, teaching the reader about people and places he may never actually be able to visit.
Still, kids don’t always appreciate the opportunity to reap these benefits, and sometimes need a little encouragement to develop an interest in reading. Here are some tips to help you motivate your kids to pick up a book and dive into the worlds that can be discovered through reading.
1. Set a good example.
The best way parents can motivate kids to read is by reading! When kids see their parents enthusiastic about reading, they’re more likely to also pick up a book.
Find something you love to read and plan on joining your kids in cultivating a love for reading. Let them see you spending time reading and they’re more likely to want to be included in something so important to you. Tell them what you’re reading about, or even read them a line or two from a book you’re reading.
2. Provide interesting material.
A great way to inspire kids to read is by having a wide array of reading material around the home.
A tactic we use in homeschooling is called “strewing.” It’s kind of along the lines of sneaking veggies into a smoothie and hoping the kids won’t notice they’re actually consuming something that is good for them. Strewing is just intentionally leaving interesting reading material lying around in hopes that kids will notice it and read it.
This tactic has really worked well in my household. Every so often I will leave something new lying on the coffee table and the kids will pick it up and look through it.
The library can be a great, free resource for new reading material. Thrift stores also often have a good selection of inexpensive books. If you know of a specific topic that your kid is interested in, try to locate a few books about it and leave them in a place where he will be likely to pick them up.
3. Respect their choices.
Chances are, your kids may not be interested in reading the same types of things you are. Although I sometimes cringe at some of my kids’ favorite things to read, I try to remember that some reading is better than no reading.
Discover what sparks an interest in your child, whether it is nonfiction, comics, or sci-fi, and then help them obtain reading material that will really speak to their interests.
Every night before bed, my three-year-old twins each get to pick out a book for me to read to them. I’ll be honest, there are a few books that I keep meaning to “conveniently” lose. Some are unbelievably lengthy for children's books, and some are so annoying that I think the authors must have had a plot against parents when writing them. But my goal is to respect their choices even if they wouldn’t have been my choices, and to remain positive about whatever they ask me to read to them.
4. Make it a habit.
Give your kids clear reading goals you hope to help them meet, whether it be a certain amount of time for them to read each day, a certain amount of pages, or a date when they hope to have finished a book. Set a timer, create a comfortable, quiet space for them, and make reading time a regular part of your routine.
Smaller kids who can’t read yet can still flip through pages and look at pictures. Letting smaller kids take a book into their beds for nap time can encourage them to begin looking through books at an early age.
If your kids are begging for screen time, tell them they have to set the timer and read for 20 minutes first. A little motivation will go a long way, and you might just find your kid engrossed in a book long after reading time has ended.
5. Take advantage of opportunities to read.
Bring books along while on car rides or listen to audiobooks. Use free time waiting in doctor’s offices to look through magazines with your kids. Even younger children can enjoy flipping through a magazine, finding pictures of things they can name. When my twins were potty training I would leave a stack of board books in the bathroom for them to look at while sitting on the potty.
I have even found opportunities to add more reading time into my day. I got back into reading regularly when I was spending excessive amounts of my day attached to a breast pump. I decided that instead of dozing off or looking at my phone, I’d use pumping time to read. When people would ask me how, as a mom of infant twins, I was able to finish The Count of Monte Cristo, a book of well over 1,000 pages, I would tell them my secret – pumping time is reading time!
Now that I’m no longer pumping, I wake up early in the morning to make sure I have time to read at least 10 pages a day. My point is that there is always time that could be used for reading, even if just for a few minutes.
Everyone has something that interests them. The key to motivating your kids to read is to find material that speaks to their interests and tastes, engages them, and leaves them wanting to read more. It may take some trial and error, and there may be times when they just really aren’t interested in a book.
The good news is that there are more books in the world than there is time to read them, books are relatively inexpensive, and the wealth of knowledge and benefit to be gained from them is endless.
Natalie Downey is a stay at home mom to six rambunctious but lovable kids. Her two-year-old boy/girl twins were the surprise of her life and keep her on her toes. She gets by with lots of help from coffee and yoga and enjoys literature, spontaneous dance parties with her kids, and playing guitar.