I met a lot of reluctant young readers when I worked in the children’s department of my public library. I also met a lot of frustrated parents who were trying to instill a love (or at least a tolerance) for reading in a world that has so many other distractions. Here are a few things I learned from first-hand experience about what it takes to raise a reader. (And if you need ideas on what your kid should read, check this out.)
1. Nagging doesn’t work.
Every child comes to reading at their own pace, in their own time. Give your kid a chance to discover their love for reading without too much nagging. Yeah, I know it’s hard, especially when those school reading logs start coming home, but nagging will only make them even more resistant. Reading should be fun! So read to them, encourage them to read to you and give it time.
2. Kids need to choose what they read.
As often as possible, encourage your kids to choose their own reading material. Outside of mandatory reading lists from school, what your child chooses to read should be up to them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s “Harry Potter,” American Girl Magazine or a joke book, every reading experience is an opportunity to learn something and improve their reading skills.
3. Books need to be easily accessible.
They may bring home a book or two from the school library, but you can never have too many books around if you want to encourage their interest. Get a public library card for them, if they don’t already have one, and make weekly trips to the library. If they fall in love with a book, series or author, take them to the bookstore and let them buy their own copy to keep forever. I still have some of my favorite childhood books and I love sharing them with my kids.
4. When it comes to reading, it’s really okay to indulge them.
Your kid wants to bring a book to the restaurant? Say yes. Your kid packs three books you know they won’t have time to read on a weekend trip to Grandma’s? Let them. Your kid asks to stay up past bedtime to finish a good book? Hand them a flashlight and tell them to have fun. Some of my best reading memories from childhood are those times when reading felt like breaking the rules. Don’t tease the child who has their nose in a book — this is how you build a love of reading.
5. Reading should be a shared interest.
Ask your child about their reading material: What do they like to read and why? What do they want to read next? Is there a subject they’re interested in learning more about? Ask them questions about the plot or topic of the book they’re reading right now (but don’t interrupt them while they’re reading!). Talking about books is a great way to bond and it shows your child that you respect their interests and opinions. You can even buy or check out a second copy of whatever book they’re reading and read along with them.
6. You have to teach by example.
It’s really this simple: Kids who love reading have books in the house and parents who read. Put books front and center in your house, in every room, and let your children see you read as often as possible. Model good reading habits and your child will follow your lead.