Thoughts on helping your kids to love reading

Reading in the Car

I have kids who are passionate about reading.  I get asked about it all of the time, and would like to share what I did to get my kids started on the path toward loving to read. It is not so complicated.  It starts with sitting down and reading a book.

Books have a lot of competition, how do we help our kids fall in love with them?

It is difficult to make reading to your kids a priority, yet nothing can replace reading aloud to your child.  Not reading computer games, not reading Leap Pads, not educational TV shows.  It comes down to making reading to your child special, something you can both look forward to, and choosing great books.

Make reading to your kids a part of your daily routine.  Bedtime is an obvious time to read to your child.  It helps soothe them, and can be very relaxing for them.  It also helps establish a bedtime routine.  It is great for kids to have their dads read aloud as well, so this is something he can do.  As they get older- say 4 years old, you can move towards more advanced chapter books, such as Charlotte’s Web or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My husband often has the kids summarize what they read the night before, which they love.  You can and should continue to do this, even after they are reading to themselves.  My kids are 8, 10, and 12, and Brett still reads to them at least a few times a week.  They are currently going through the Fablehaven series.

Reading to Jonah and Baby Abbey

I found that I was often too tired to read to the kids at that time of day, so when I had preschoolers I would read to them after breakfast.  I started really young, at around 18 months, and expected them to stay focused all the way through a book.  Young kids tend to want to turn the pages really fast, but make them wait until you are done reading all of the words, and then let them have the job of turning the page.  Don’t just summarize.  Read every word, the same way every time.  This helps build their vocabulary, and they start to learn the words themselves.

Make your reading time fun and special  My youngest loved to play with her books.  One time I found her putting her books around the edge of the coffee table, and we started calling it her “circle of books”.  She loved to make her “circle of books” every morning, and then we would light a candle, put on some soothing music, and read as much of the circle as we could.  It was a very special time we had together when her older siblings were at school.

Elie and her Circle of Books

Kids love repetition, and getting to know their books very well.  You will find that they want to read the same books dozens and dozens of times. They will often memorize their favorites.  As they get older, let them “help” you read.  I would often read most of a phrase, and let them fill in the blanks.  They almost always knew the words I left out.   As they get older, you can have them “read” every other word.  It is amazing how well they know the books.  This gives them a lot of confidence towards reading for themselves, especially when you get very excited about what “good readers they are”.  Another game you can play while reading is changing certain words or names in their favorite books, making them crazy and outrageous.

Read with animation.  Kids really love it when you read with a lot of inflection.  If you want to go there, you can add silly voices for different characters- but be prepared for them to ask for it every time.  Sometimes, when you are tired, you will find that you have read an entire page and don’t remember reading it!  I almost fell asleep many times while reading aloud.  I don’t think the kids even noticed.  Stay engaged with what you read as much as you can.

Every child is different, but find ways to make reading aloud relaxing, cuddly, and fun.  Your kids will start to really love that time with you and associate reading with positive, cozy feelings.

Brett reading to the kids

As a parent, you have control over what your child is doing for entertainment.  Put books everywhere that your child has access to them.  Turn off the DVD in the car.  Take books with you when you go out rather than Nintendo DS.  Try books on CD for the car.  You can find these at the public library.  Put books in the bathroom.  By the bed.  Give them every opportunity to become exposed to books.

Abbey reading to her sister

A lot of frustrated parents tell me that their kids don’t like to read.  It is kind of like a magic switch- sparking that love of reading.  It can take a while, but I believe with encouragement, every child can find it.  As a parent, it is your job to do your research.  Find out about great, recommended books for their age.  Get involved.  Ask them what books they have liked.  Look for books that are similar.  Ask your school librarian for ideas.  If they haven’t liked much of what they have tried, try different genres.  A lot of kids love mysteries.  Boys tend to like fantasy.  Try a non-fiction book.  Try something funny.  Comics like Calvin & Hobbes are great for getting into reading.  A lot of kids love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Some kids love Greek Mythology.  Talk to other parents about what their kids have liked.  Take your kids to the public library and spend time there just looking at books.  There are often wonderful, knowledgeable children’s librarians who will have great ideas for new series to try.  We utilize that resource often.

The kids at the Getty museum gift shop- of course, reading

Read a chapter book with them.  This can help with the intimidation factor.  Have them read a chapter, and then you read it after they go to bed.  The next day discuss it with them.  Kids love when you engage with them and show interest in them.  This is as important, or more important, than attending their sport games.  You can also try reading aloud every other chapter with them to encourage reading to themselves.  A friend of mine tried that recently and it helped get her daughter over the hump.

Turn off the TV, and read yourself.  Kids learn from example.

Last, but not least, here is the biggest one, and I cannot emphasize this enough:  limit video game and TV time.  Make video games and TV something they earn.  I have my kids clean their rooms, do homework, reading, exercise, and piano, before they can even think about video games and TV or any handheld electronic device.  However, reading has always been free.  For boys, video games are probably the number one thing that draws them away from books.  It is more immediate, and exciting, and also addictive.  If used as a motivator, then there isn’t as much frustration on your part, if they have done the things you want them to do first.

Jonah reading with some old friends

Happy, happy, reading is what I wish for your kids!


Here is a short list of some of our book favorites:

Board books:

Sandra Boyton books
Good Night Gorilla- Peggy Rathmann
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle
Good Night, Little Bear-Richard Scarry
Good Night Moon- Margaret Wise Brown

Picture Books:

Corduroy- Don Freeman
Blueberries for Sal- Robert McCloskey
Ferdinand the Bull- Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Eloise Wilkin Stories
The Best Mistake Ever, Bedtime Stories, Please and Thank You Book- Richard Scarry
Beatrix Potter, The Complete Tales
Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin- Paul O. Zelinsky (beautiful illustrations)
The Best Nest- P.D. Eastman

Early Chapter Books (great for traveling):

Little Bear (series)- Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Frog and Toad (series)- Arnold Lobel

Favorite chapter books and book series:

Fablehaven Series- Brandon Mull

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths-  Ingri d’Aulaire

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales- Brothers Grimm

Warriors Series- Erin Hunter

The Complete Chronicle’s of Narnia- C.S. Lewis

The Complete Little House Set- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Hans Christian Andersen Complete Set- Hans Christian Andersen

Anne of Green Gables Series-  L.M. Montgomery

Harry Potter Complete Set- J.K. Rowling

Betsy-Tacy Series- Maud Hart Lovelace

The Secret Garden- Frances Hodgson Burnett

Percy Jackson Series- Rick Riordon


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