I get asked a lot how to get kids to read. Friends with kids, blog readers, students’ parents, random people on social media–everyone wants to know how to help their kids fall in love with reading.
The answer to that is really simple and really difficult.
The short answer is give them books to read. Give them good, engaging, relevant books to read.
The long answer is filled with schools that hurt more than help when it comes to fostering a love of reading. The long answer is learning struggles and challenges that make giving up easier than powering through. The long answer starts when kids are acquiring language as babies and their home environment.
Sorry, did that just get really overwhelming all of a sudden?
That’s the problem. Reading shouldn’t be. Reading should be fun. So start there. Make it fun. Make it easy. Start with books that mirror what your kids like to watch on TV. Make the books short and make them relevant.
Have your kid start small with a fifteen minute reading session on the couch with whatever they want to read. Then move on for the day. Do it again the next day and the next day and the next day. After a while, bump the time up to twenty minutes. Just like anything else, reading for longer periods of time takes stamina.
The great thing about fostering a love of reading in a child is that it’s so much more than just giving them a good book to read.
What are you, the adult, reading? Do your kids see you reading? Do they see you engage in a novel, laughing out loud when something tickles you or shedding a tear when things get too sad? Do you talk about what you’re reading and what you’re excited to read next?
I can’t make my kids understand the importance of good nutrition and eating their fruits and veggies if they never see me eating my fruits and veggies. It’s the same way with reading. They’re watching you more than listening to you so show them how to be a reader.
If you’re rolling your eyes right now and saying reading just isn’t your thing, you’re part of the problem. Reading is everyone’s thing. Reading makes us better citizens. Reading makes us better at critical thinking. Reading makes us more empathetic. Reading grows our world, our awareness, and our compassion.
I mean, you don’t have to read heady, stuffy non-fiction that puts you to sleep. What do you like to watch on TV? The same rules apply to you. If you like action-packed thrillers, find that genre at your local bookstore. If you’re obsessed with home remodeling shows, head to the do-it-yourself section. If fantasy and fairy tales interest you, there are so many great books to read. Like a steamy romance movie or something that makes you afraid to close your eyes? They make those in book form too!
If all the options seem like too much and you can’t commit, head to the library. There are passionate book lovers swarming that place. Some of them work there and some of them are just creepers who like to touch all the books and offer unsolicited advice on what you should be reading based on what shoes you’re wearing. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I’m just thinking out loud here.
I want us to spend February snuggled up on our couches with our kids and a stack of books and nowhere to go. I want every kid to open a book on their nightstand and every adult to download one to their e-reader. (Okay, actually, I want adults to have legit books in their hands too, but I’m trying to be hip and cool with all the technology people are using these days. I just love the feel of a book in my hands, and I want to collect a million of them on my shelves and you just can’t do that with an electronic copy. But whatever, just read a book please. I don’t *really* care about the form.)
Oh, one last thing. One really good way to get kids to read is to tell them some books they’re not allowed to read. Kids are kids and very predictable. I used to introduce books to my classes this way. I’d tell them that some of them aren’t mature enough to read this and some of their parents might not want them to read it, but I was going to let them if they kept it quiet. This was partly true because I liked to push boundaries of what kids are allowed to read (down with banned books!) and partly this was just me being sneaky and hooking them. Use this trick to your advantage. “Accidentally” buy a few books and then “realize” they’re scary/too violent/too adult/whatever and see if they don’t magically disappear when you’re not looking.
Reading is that important. Lie your way to success. #1 parenting tip from Mary Graham. You’re welcome.
This post was first published in December 2016 on TrustyChucks.com
Mary Graham is a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, Indiana. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog, Blue. During the day, she teaches high school English and at night (after the girls are asleep), she writes for The Huffington Post, Pearson's Teachability, For Every Mom, her own blog TrustyChucks & various other print and digital outlets. In her spare time, she likes to read, travel, eat chocolate, run half marathons, and then eat more chocolate.