Most little kids, from babies to kindergarteners, delight in listening to stories. This is a good thing as reading is important for a child’s development, learning, and future. However, for many older children, reading can start to feel like a chore, especially once electronics start to compete for their free time.
School and parents often mandate reading time for kids, but this does not mean the kids fall in love with reading. In fact, sometimes, attempts to get your child to pick up a book can fuel conflict and negativity about reading.
Luckily, there are many effective strategies parents can use to help their child actually enjoy reading rather than dread it. "Parents who facilitate positive book and reading experiences set the groundwork for a love of books, reading, and learning," explains Dana Reisboard, PhD, a professor at the College of Human Services at Widener University in Pennsylvania.
Ahead, learn more about how to raise a child who genuinely loves to read.
Why Reading Is Important for Kids
In many ways, reading sets the foundation for life skills children will need as they grow up. It is an integral part of school and academia, as well as an important factor in fostering greater awareness of the world around us. Plus, it can help improve mental health.
Literacy skills and reading go hand-in-hand. "Reading to your child develops letter awareness, word consciousness, and the alphabetic principle," says Dr. Reisboard.
It also functions as the basis for success in so many other subjects. All other subjects and academic areas are learned through reading, says Claire Cameron, PhD, associate professor and director of the Early Childhood and Childhood EdM and PhD programs in the Department of Learning and Instruction at the University at Buffalo (SUNY).
Additionally, children who are stronger readers tend to have better academic achievement and performance. This can include other indicators of school success, such as teacher-reported ratings, says Dr. Cameron. Moreover, early reading skills are connected to graduation rates. "Nearly 20% of children who read below grade level at grade 3 don’t graduate from high school," she says. "Whereas only 4% of proficient readers at grade 3 fail to graduate on time."
More than 20% of children who read below grade level at grade 3 don’t graduate from high school. Whereas only 4% of proficient readers at grade 3 fail to graduate on time. — CLAIRE CAMERON, PHD
Connection to Society
Research shows that the many benefits of reading extend well beyond literacy, including greater emotional intelligence and even a longer life span. Reading provides connection, access to knowledge, and inspiration. It also strengthens a multitude of developmental, academic, socioemotional, and cognitive skills, explains Molly Ness, PhD, a literacy specialist and associate professor in childhood education at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education in New York City.
Reading can also foster curiosity and connection about the world around us, explains Hirokazu Yoshikawa, PhD, Courtney Sale Ross Professor of Globalization and Education and Department of Applied Psychology professor at New York University Steinhardt in New York City. "It is a critical social activity that rests at the foundation of our society and its future," he says. Additionally, reading enhances vocabulary, builds background knowledge, and promotes understanding of others.
Mental Health Benefits
Reading may also make us calmer and happier. "Studies show that reading activates portions of the brain associated with language," says Dr. Ness. "Even cooler, studies show that reading lowers blood pressure, builds the neurochemicals associated with pleasure, and helps slow down heart rates."
Also, crucially, sharing books with your child can make you closer while your child learns. "Reading aloud promotes emotional bonding between a parent and a child and supports early language and literacy development," says Sophie Degener, EdD, a literacy expert, former elementary school teacher, and associate professor at National Louis University in Illinois.
How to Encourage a Love of Reading
"Kids need three main things to help cultivate a love of reading: curiosity, time, and modeling," says Heather Mansberger, a reading specialist with over 25 years of experience working with elementary school-aged kids in California and Oregon. Make reading together a fun, exciting bonding time each day.
Read Aloud to Them
Experts agree that simply reading with your child is the best way to foster a love of reading. Aim for reading to be a social activity, not a solitary one, so it builds relationships as well as knowledge and curiosity. "It should be fun, interactive, and the basis for lots of asking, listening, curiosity, and connection," explains Dr. Yoshikawa.
[Reading] should be fun, interactive, and the basis for lots of asking, listening, curiosity, and connection. — HIROKAZU YOSHIKAWA, PHD
Additionally, if your goal is to encourage a love of reading, do not think of reading time as a time to teach literacy skills. Instead, focus on the pleasure of reading and hearing stories. Your child will benefit simply by listening.
In fact, children will naturally pick up key literacy skills just by engaging in the read-aloud with you, Dr. Degener explains. "The books parents can read aloud are more complex than what new readers can read, so by reading aloud, you are continuing to build vocabulary, listening comprehension, and emotional attachment," she says.
While it is necessary to read to younger kids, you should also continue to read to older children, even after they are proficient readers themselves. "I encourage parents to read aloud to their kids nightly through fifth grade," says Mansgerger. "As they get older you can increase the length and sophistication of the text. This will challenge their imagination and build their vocabulary and comprehension."
This is especially important since reading can begin to feel like homework for some older elementary students. Reading the book aloud to them lets your child simply enjoy the story—and experience the fun side of being immersed in a book, explains Mansberger.
Children not only benefit from having books at home but having them read aloud with excitement and enthusiasm. — HEATHER MANSBERGER, READING SPECIALIST
Try to make sure that time spent listening to you read is engaging, too. "Children not only benefit from having books at home but having them read aloud with excitement and enthusiasm," says Mansberger. "They will feel your energy. The goal is to spark their curiosity and get them hooked so that they can grow into independent readers and life-long learners."
You will know when to stop as your older child will likely let you know once they've outgrown having you read to them. "As far as when to stop reading aloud, follow your child's lead," advises Dr. Degener. Another option for tweens is to set a family time for kids and parents to read their own books, possibly followed by a read-aloud time, she suggests.
Talk About Books
When reading aloud to babies and little kids, spend time looking at the pictures and talking about what you see, recommends Dr. Degener. This approach will promote greater comprehension and engagement. You can also use your tone of voice to bring the story to life.
While reading, pause and ask questions, suggests Mansberger. Ask your child to predict what will happen, summarize what's happened so far, or give their thoughts on why a character did what they did. Talking about the stories can help bring them alive—and will help build engagement, comprehension skills, critical thinking, and overall enjoyment, says Mansberger.
Additionally, if you read something that may be unclear to your child, you can stop to talk about that, too. "In so doing, you model for your child that it is okay to stop and think as you read," explains Dr. Degener. Plus, talking about what you're reading builds a deeper level of understanding and can create connections between the text, the child's life, and the world around them.
Promoting routine, consistency, and repetition will help reading become a habit says Mansberger. Aim for reading time to happen throughout the day when possible. This should include kids looking at or reading books alone, or having an adult read a book to them. In addition, aim for 15 to 30 minutes of daily reading at bedtime.
Read to your young child even if they are not always fully engaged. "For younger kids, building the habit of reading is important, even if at first they have little or no interest," advises Dr. Degener. Once reading becomes a reliable part of their day, kids are more likely to do it on their own—and start enjoying it.
Do not give up or expect your child to like reading right away. It can take time for them to get hooked. "Reading is like many other activities, the more one does it, the better one gets at it, and the better one gets at it, the more one likes to do the activity," explains Dr. Cameron.
Reading is like many other activities, the more one does it, the better one gets at it, and the better one gets at it, the more one likes to do the activity. — CLAIRE CAMERON, PHD
Build Curiosity and Interest
Pick books that reflect the interests of your child, whether that is butterflies, sports, tools, fairies, frogs, or superheroes. This will help keep your child engaged in reading. You can also let your child pick their own books. If you are not sure where to start, ask for recommendations from teachers, friends, librarians, and other parents.
Additionally, make sure you find books with characters that look like your child and family. "If your family speaks a language other than English, it is absolutely beneficial to read aloud in your native language or find books that are written in English and your own language," says Dr. Degener.
Investigate a Dislike of Reading
If your child is particularly negative about reading or having you read to them, it might be a sign of an underlying learning issue. "Any time children show frustration behavior about reading (avoidance, crying, etc), it is time to ask if there’s a reason behind their responses," explains Dr. Ness. So, be sure to check in with their teacher if you have any concerns and/or to rule out issues like dyslexia.
That said, check your expectations on when your child will learn to read. "This might happen by first grade for some children but not until third grade or later for others," explains Dr. Cameron. Know that this is all within the normal range and does not necessarily indicate a problem with your child's literacy skills.
The experts agree that it is key for your child to see their parents routinely reading for pleasure. When you can, take time during the day to relax, sit, and read. Seeing you reading imparts the idea that reading is a pleasurable, lifelong activity. Also, know that what you read does not have to be a book. "It can be the newspaper, recipes, food labels, etc, in print or online," Dr. Degener explains.
The bottom line is to read, read, read in front of your kids.
Children imitate their parents. If parents read, their children will read.
— DANA REISBOARD, PHD
Engage in Literary Activities
Focus on keeping literacy fun and social. "If you keep reading activities with your children interesting and supportive, children will have positive emotions around reading when they enter school," explains Dr. Reisboard. This goes beyond books.
For children ages 4 to 6, rhyming games, singing, and talking about the sounds in language help build awareness of letters and words. This will help them "crack the code" of reading with greater ease, suggests Dr. Cameron.
You can also keep reading from getting stale by heading to the library. "Trips to the library are highly encouraged," says Mansberger. "Getting a set of 'fresh books' each week is so exciting to young children!" Plus, librarians are a great resource for finding books your child is excited about.
Mansberger also suggests parents narrate their activities to younger kids as they go about their day. "For example, while taking a neighborhood walk, point out and talk about everything you are seeing," explains Mansberger. "At the grocery store, involve children in choosing items, noticing the words on the packaging and inviting questions and curiosity about their natural surroundings."
Listening to music and singing songs also help to reinforce language skills and the connection between words and meaning, says Mansberger.
Other beneficial literary activities include book clubs and reading with friends, suggests Dr. Yoshikawa. You can also encourage your child to make their own books.
Books to Get Kids Hooked on Reading:
Board books for toddlers::
"The Very Hungry Caterpillar"
"The Big Hungry Bear."
Picture books for preschoolers:
"The Kissing Hand"
"Where the Wild Things Are"
"The Giving Tree"
Silly stories for kindergarteners:
"Giraffes Can't Dance"
"Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus"
"The Kissing Hand"
"If You Give a Mouse a Cookie"
First chapter books for elementary school:
"Frog and Toad"
"Henry and Mudge"
Longer chapter books:
"My Father's Dragon"
"Little House on the Prarie"
"Magic Tree House"
More advanced series:
"The One and Only Ivan"
"Land of Stories”
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
"James and the Giant Peach"
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