Establishing a Love of Reading

Posted by Kat McGrady, ED.D., LCPC, NCC. and Boys Town Press Author on Mar 10th 2022

When it comes to children and their entertainment preferences, books are like cilantro. Some children fully take to reading and embrace every opportunity to sprinkle it into their day. Some children balk at the notion of reading for fun. While reading for pleasure may feel like a polarizing concept, the fact that reading is fundamental for whole-child success, is not. Establishing a love of reading in children will set them up for multi-level success. Amongst other invaluable essentials, reading builds:

  • Overall knowledge and a desire to continuously gain new knowledge
  • Creativity and the ability to maximize on imaginative ideas
  • Self-confidence, sense of self, and independence
  • Essential skills in vocabulary, grammar, and communication
  • Cognitive skills and improved memory
  • Daily life skills such as concentration and critical thinking
  • Empathy, social skills, and the ability to decrease stress or anxiety

You may be thinking “Yeah, but how do I get my child to put down the game and to pick up a book?” or “My kid HATES reading! I can’t fight that battle every night!”.

I hear you and can assure you that you are not alone in that parental struggle. So, let’s talk about how we can shift reading from the cilantro, to the ice cream of your child’s entertainment options (because let’s be real... ice cream is a universal harmonizing taste).

First, it is important to understand the possible root causes of a child's aversion to reading. Some possible explanations include:

Reading or processing issues.

Children oftentimes are so resilient and adaptable, that they are able to perform in such a way that possible reading issues or learning disabilities go unnoticed. When this happens, they exert so much energy trying to keep up, that they have no more energy to find pleasure in reading.

Have not mastered basic reading skills and strategies.

Sometimes, children struggle with basic reading concepts and skills. While they learn reading foundations in school, they may still struggle, which leads to a lack of enjoyment when reading.

Reading books that are either too hard or too easy.

If I had a nickel for every time a child reading at the Frog and Toad level picked up a Harry Potter book, or every time a child reading at the Frog and Toad level picked up an early emergent book. I fully believe in allowing children to explore books. When introduced correctly and purposefully, books that are too hard can be motivating and intriguing, while books that are too easy can be good for building confidence and increasing reading fluency. Still, it is of utmost importance to provide ample engaging “just right” level books that are of interest to your child. These books meet your child where they are, are challenging but not intimidatingly so, and engage in a way that a book that is too hard or too easy cannot.

Too busy.

We live such hectic lives. Work, school, clubs, sports, social engagements, camps...the list goes on and on. As adults, we often feel like we don’t have enough hours in the day. Imagine what it feels like for children going with that flow. It leaves little time to sit down and fully enjoy the comforts of a good book.

Too many distractions.

Gaming (the #1 source of distraction that parents share with me), Netflix, YouTube, social media outlets, seems like modern day distractions are endless and mind-numbing. While these distractions may take away from the desire to open a book, we can actually use them as a tool to promote reading (more to come…)!

Lack of reading for pleasure being modeled to them.

We tend to lose ourselves in the daily to-do’s and stressors, which again, leaves little time to just sit with a good book. If we aren’t doing it, how can we expect our children to learn the joys of reading?

Not being exposed to various reading platforms.

As stated above, allowing for exploration of books is a good idea. This also includes exploration of reading platforms. All genres of books, online magazines, posters, comics, graphic novels, wordless picture books, reading apps, reading games on the computer, books on tape, even reading on devices (texts, communication in the gaming community, social media, etc.), are all options for expanding your child’s reading ability and desire to read.

Reading books that do not relate to their interests or style.

Some book topics and styles just don’t match a child’s interests. They may pick up a book with an eye-catching cover, but the book theme may be a total snore-inducer for them. They may pick up a book that hits every area of interest, but the format and writing style may make them more inclined to use the book as a frisbee rather than a source of reading fulfillment.

Feeling pressured to read or as if reading is a punishment.

You may remember D.E.A.R. time in your early school years. Maybe your school took part in those awesome reading challenges that ended in free pizzas or other epic treasures to celebrate your embracing of books. These reading experiences are engaging, laid back, and allow for the power of choice. The last thing you want to do is force reading for pleasure. Later, we will talk more about increasing your child’s time spent reading in a zero pressure manner but for now, keep in mind that forcing the issue will lead to the opposite of your desired outcome.

Once you have a solid understanding of the root cause(s) of your child’s reading trepidation, you can focus on how to counter it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Increase confidence, basic skills and fluency.

  • Ask your child’s teacher, school media specialist, and local library to suggest and/or allow you to borrow books that are at your child’s “just right” level (the teacher can provide you with your child’s #/letter level, which the local library will be in-tune with).
  • Play Word Search or I-Spy on daily outings by picking a specific letter or word and searching for the chosen on posters, billboards, signs, car bumper stickers, grocery labels, etc.
  • Read aloud to your child often, asking questions and allowing ample room for (developmentally appropriate) deep and dynamic discussion.
  • Create a shared verbal story extension (using a narrator's tone, take turns saying aloud story predictions, alternative endings, and getting as silly or as profound as you’d like).
  • Avoid intimidation or embarrassment by taking turns in shared read alouds.
  • Listen to audiobooks and take every opportunity you can to talk enthusiastically about the story together, to make connections between the story and real life, and to make connections between various books you’ve listened to together.
  • Have a dedicated time for special guest readers (in-person or virtually) like grandparents, siblings, neighbors, parents of friends, etc.
  • Use apps and games that strengthen reading fluency and comprehension.

Allow reading to become a healthy habit.

  • Embed reading for pleasure into your list of daily priorities.
  • Just as your family settles their bodies and minds before bedtime, be sure to create a daily ritual to settle bodies and minds for reading (fun fact: reading and bedtime rituals go together like cake and our universal harmonizing cream).
  • Make visits to the local library or book stores a frequent and exciting adventure.
  • Allow for book exploration with minimal intervention/let your child choose books and decide on their own how they feel about their selection and what this means for their next book choice.
  • Normalize daily breezy book chats and display genuine interest in what your child is reading.
  • Place a variety of books throughout your living space and within eye/reach of your child.
  • Allow opportunities to switch books if they are not interested in their current book selection.
  • Make reading special by allowing your child to designate, design, and decorate their own reading nook.
  • Switch up the reading scenery sometimes by reading on a blanket in the park, reading outside at night, under covers with flashlights, etc.

Make reading even more fun.

  • Ask your child about their current likes, hobbies, favorite shows and games, gather information to help pick books that will spark their interests.
  • Use the distractions of modern technology discussed earlier to search blogs and community forums for top books, fan stories, etc. to read together (be sure you monitor internet usage).
  • Create themed days around books that your child is reading (dress like the characters, take related field trips, eat like the characters in the book, etc.)
  • Check out the fun book-related events at your local library.
  • Actively participate in your child’s school reading nights, book fairs, reading challenges, and other events they may bring in to promote a community of young readers.
  • Use apps that spark more reading joy.
  • To add another dimension of connection once a book has been read, allow your child to donate or trade those that they no longer want.
  • Read the ideas in our children’s blog post on making reading fun for more creative and fun ways to increase the magic of reading.

With some discussion and observation, you can figure out the main causes of your child’s reading hesitation. Then, with a little extra effort and enthusiasm, you can make reading for pleasure a household norm and a treat to look forward to!