10 Tips to Help Get Your Child Reading for Fun
It’s usually around back-to-school time that parents begin to worry about their children’s reading habits. Indeed, many children go the length of their school holidays without practicing their reading at all. While there are those who put all responsibility for their children’s reading habits on teachers, we’ve found that children tend to read better when parents take matters into their own hands and make an effort to get their kids reading for fun.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, and many children don’t take to reading quite as naturally as we'd hope. With that in mind, we’ve put together the list of ways that you can help get your children reading recreationally as early as possible.
Start by Reading Them Stories
This might seem like the most obvious way to ensure that your children appreciate a good story, but the truth is that many of us start reading to our children while they’re young, only to stop shortly thereafter.
Reading to your children helps to build an appreciation of narrative and ties their fondness for storytime to the physical object of a book itself. That might seem like a small thing, but it’s a fine first step in making sure that your child is positively disposed to books as a whole. Reading to your children also gets them used to following a story from day to day, preparing them for those inevitable moments when reading a book in which they’ll read a paragraph and think, “Wait, what was happening here?”
It’s important to let yourself get “carried away” from time to time, reading a little later than your children are used to because you’re swept up in the story. This establishes reading for your children as something so engaging that you can lose track of everything else.
Good books to read to children of all ages:
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince
Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince
EB White’s Charlotte’s Web
Get your kids to read to you
If you handle things well, you can build into this very naturally from reading to your children. Once you have firmly established an evening storytime, you can occasionally feign being “just too tired to read tonight.” When they protest, you can ask if they would mind reading to you, since you’re so sleepy.
Encouraging your children to read aloud is a fantastic way for you to supervise their progress, and make sure that they are properly sounding out words they don’t recognize, building their vocabularies. It’s also an excellent opportunity to ask them questions about the story, making sure that they are engaging with the narrative as they read.
Any of the books listed above are fine choices in getting your child to read to you, but if you’d really like to build their vocabularies (and their confidence), you’d be hard pressed to find something better than Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
Let Them Choose for Themselves
Sure, letting your kids run loose and choose their own books feels a bit like it’s letting them ‘choose a book by its cover,’ but getting them to choose their own reading material engages them in the reading process that bit earlier. They become more active readers for it.
Moreover, letting them choose their own books means allowing them to feel like they're in control of what they read, rather than just having someone set homework for them. It's only a matter of time before your child brings you a book that's a little beyond their ability. This means you'll have to hum and haw over whether or not you think they can read it… ideally in such a way as to encourage them to exceed expectations and do their best to read it anyway. Obviously, you’re going to need to exercise a little judicious parenting here, nobody wants their ten-year-old reading Jaws, but it’s good to have them aiming high.
Set Reading Times (and Reading Treats)
Reading is a skill like any other, it can be trained and developed with practice. Many parents encourage their children to take up an instrument, recognising the need for daily practice in order to nurture their budding musician.
Just as you would with a child learning to play the piano, you can make sure that reading becomes a habit by setting a firm “reading time” each day. At this point, it’s worth pointing out that you can also help reinforce the habit with some reading treats, some sweet snack that your child can enjoy while reading. These could be as simple as boiled sweets or lollipops, which will last long enough for your child to sit and read without being distracted.
Perhaps most importantly, this combination establishes reading as a process to make time for, rather than a means to an end.
Read Around the House
Sometimes, the most important part of making sure your children do something is making sure that they see you doing it. Like it or not, you are the adult that your children see most. You can tell them to read until you’re blue in the face, but if they never see you reading then you can hardly blame them for thinking it’s something they won’t need later in life.
It might seem simple, but too many of us stop making time for reading as we get older. If your children see you reading around the house as often as possible, they’ll associate reading with relaxation and fun, something pleasurable to do during their downtime, rather than just some rainy day activity you keep encouraging them to engage in (but don’t seem to care for yourself).
Let’s face it, we’re none of us perfect role models, but we can at least make sure that reading is something we give our children a positive impression of.
Encourage Opportunity Reading
This might seem minor, but it can prove essential in guaranteeing that your child has something readable to hand at just the right time. Who knows how many moments of boredom slip by in which your child might choose to read, only for something else to catch their attention before they can reach for a book?
Give your child every possible opportunity to pick up a book. If this means filling your house with children’s literature so that there’s something within reach wherever boredom strikes, then by all means consider it. It could be something as simple as ensuring that books are not “tidied away” entirely out of sight. Instead, you should try to always keep some books out in the open, even if that means they seem to be littering the house with books.
Out of sight is out of mind, and for small children, out of mind might as well mean “entirely forgotten.”
Get Children to Think Critically About Their Reading
A big part of enjoying reading comes from doing more than just sitting back and letting the story unfold. You should encourage your children to think critically about what they’re reading. Something as simple as asking your child what they make of a book after they’ve finished it can encourage them to think more critically not only about what they’re reading, but about reading in general.
Asking your children questions about a book they’ve read (that aren’t specifically addressed by the book itself) will encourage them to engage more deeply with its content and characters, and to make an effort to examine different aspects of the story independently.
Once they’re old enough, you can encourage them to write down their thoughts about the books they’ve read. From there, it’s a short step to getting your child writing their own stories, and from there directly into the frightening world of literary criticism.
Start a Family Book Club
Depending on the age range of your kids, this one can be a little tricky, but if you handle it well a family book club can be a great way of getting all of your children reading and then discussing their books together. This is particularly useful if you have one child reading already and a number of other children who just don’t seem to be getting it.
Once you’ve navigated the obvious difficulties of choosing books suitable for all concerned and accounting for the different reading ages involved, you’ll often find that your children bring something unexpected to the books they read. As a result, you can get into the meat of a book with them and discuss their differing approaches to the same text.
A family book club encourages reading and thinking about books as a social activity, and has the added benefit of getting everyone in the family together and talking about the same books.
Push Them Into a Good Series
Once your children have a well-established fondness for reading, you can give them a gentle push towards reading a series of books. While many children’s book series are criticized for adhering too closely to a formula, it’s worth noting that children haven’t yet read widely enough to recognize these failings. Even as adults, most of us still have fond memories of the first series of books we read (oh, the long winter hours spent reading Willard Price’s Adventure series of books).
The joy of a good book series is that, if all goes well, you won’t have to struggle to find something for your child to read for a while; they’ll come to you already knowing what the next book they want to read is. Indeed, if you play your cards right here you may be able to paint the next book in a series as a bit of a treat, perhaps to be earned on completion of a book by a different author.
Moreover, when they’ve finished a series of books, your child will know the grief of searching for a book that suits their tastes as well as the books they loved.
Some recommended book series for children:
Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Berenstain Bears
KA Applegate’s Animorphs
RL Stein’s Goosebumps
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter
There are those who will tell you that you should set solid ground rules to ensure that your children read a certain amount. They’ll encourage you to do things like mandate one hour of reading per hour of video games or TV for children. While these kinds of suggestions come from good intentions, they can have the unintended side effect of constructing reading as an unpleasant act that your children have to complete if they want to do something fun.
It’s an approach that certainly guarantees that your children will be reading in the short term, if only so they can get back to Minecraft, but it also paints reading as an activity that should be shirked where possible. Moreover, you can encourage your children to read around their other hobbies, especially with things like Pokémon or Minecraft, where so much knowledge exists outside the games themselves.