How can you help your kids love to read? Here are some ideas:
- Read aloud to them. When you read to them, change your voice for different characters. Get excited during an exciting part, get sad during a sad part, and get bewildered during bewildering parts! You can change your rate of speech (how fast you talk or how slow you talk) to match the tone of the story.
- Help make sure your kids understand what they read. Whether you read aloud to them, or if they read by themselves, check their comprehension. Ask simple questions, such as, “What’s going on in your story?” or “Who are the main characters in your story?” or “Do any of the characters remind you of someone you know?” If a child cannot answer these questions, they might need help understanding the story better.
- Help your child find books that are accessible. Choose books that are not too hard for them. If you are not sure, there are leveled books, based on reading level (they have numbers in the corner on the cover). Do a search to estimate your child’s current reading level, and then try to choose books at or just below his/her level. Reading books at their level helps them feel confident that they are understanding what they are reading, and it helps them have more fun while reading because they are not missing/skipping important details due to reading ability.
- Have a bookshelf full of good books. Do your children have enough options when it’s a rainy day and they want to read? Have they read all of the books in your “home library?” Whether it’s a basket, shelf, entire bookshelf, or room full of books…are there some newer books there? Do you have some books that they have always loved and could read again? Collect books of varying reading levels for your collection. Some very easy books (ones they liked 1-2 years ago), some books at their level, and some books a little above their level. Choose interesting concepts that really stretch them to learn more. Have some factual books (e.g., learn about sea otters, learn about ecosystems). Choose topics they might not have ever asked you about; then when they pick up the book, they will get a little excited to find something new. Have classic books; choose books that you loved to read at their age, and books that you wish you had read at their age. Choose books about a topic they love; whatever their current favorite toy, or activity is, get books on it (e.g., Legos, soccer, baseball, ballet, sewing, etc.).
- Go to the library every week or every two weeks. Stock up on books. If you have a child who is reluctant to pick out books, say, “You must pick out ten books.” If the child has trouble choosing, ask, “What do you want to learn about?” or “What is your favorite book series?” You are teaching your child the skill on how to find good books that are relevant to his/her likes and interests. As needed, you could say, “You must pick out 10 books from this section” (and choose a section where you know he/she will find some books he/she will like).
- Have quiet reading time every day for 10-20 minutes. If you have never required this, you will probably need to start with 5-minutes per day and work your way up. We have quiet reading time after lunch. I say, “It’s quiet reading time. Get your book bins and pick out 5 books and sit in the living room.” Other times, we don’t use a book bin, and the kids just grab a few books. Even if a child is reading a chapter book, I like if he/she can pick out a few really short picture books, a book that can be flipped through (e.g., a recipe book, a woodworking book, etc.) or a new magazine from a grandparent (e.g., Ranger Rick, Highlights). Set a timer and establish that the children are not allowed to talk during quiet reading time. Another good rule is to put away the books (and book bins) when quiet reading time is over.
- Establish a routine: when you leave the house, grab a book. This not only helps a child get used to having a book around most the time, but it helps pass the time while in the car/van.
- Read in front of your kids. We homeschool, right? We are with our kids almost all the time. I give you permission to read a novel while your children are awake. It’s ok, really! It’s good for you, and it’s good for them. Hopefully it can inspire them to want to be like you and read. When you regularly read in front of them, you are teaching them, “It’s normal for an adult to read a book.” You can read during “quiet reading time,” or during their playtime. Try to let them see you. When you bring your children to the library, pick out a few books for you!
- Talk about what book everyone is reading around the breakfast table or the dinner table. Everyone can say something about the book they are reading. This will hopefully launch good dinnertime conversations. This shows children that we don’t just read to entertain ourselves, but it is fun/interesting to share what we read with others.
- Some children are reluctant readers because they need more instruction on how to read (e.g., need to complete a program that thoroughly teaches phonics and sight words). Reading is complex. It involves many areas, including phonemic awareness, comprehension, and fluency. If you started a formal reading program with your child, and stopped halfway through, but did not start a new program, it would be wise to complete a program. We homeschool. Delays in a program happen, but reading is delicate (in my opinion). Put in the time consistently, and you can get through a reading program with your child. Keep the end goal in mind: a confident, fluent reader! If you never started a program, I highly recommend The Reading Lesson.
- If you suspect an underlying condition, such as dyslexia, get help. Some children are a reluctant reader because of dyslexia. They have gotten very frustrated with their lack of success, and it’s understanding that they might not want to read by themselves. If your child has dylsexia, it is not something a child “grows out of.” Usually, your child will need help to be successful. Many, many people have sought help for dyslexia and lead good, adult lives in a wide variety of jobs and vocations (teachers, doctors, therapists, wives/mothers, husbands/fathers, etc.). Unless you are very knowledgeable about dyslexia, don’t diagnose your child with dyslexia and tell everyone….what you might think is dyslexia, could just be a normal reading developmental pattern, or a non-dyslexia diagnosis. Try to see if your child’s pediatrician can recommend a reading specialist who could screen your child for dyslexia. Or look for a reading center, such as Lindamood-Bell. It is a gift to help your child learn to read. If your child needs help for dyslexia, it is a great act of love to provide that help. Reading is very important for future academic and life success.
- Be encouraging, not discouraging. Say things like, “You read three books this week? Wow!” Or “You seem to really like that new books series. That’s great!” Or, say to your spouse when he/she comes home from work, “The children read ____ books today.” Then your spouse should show enthusiasm/encouragement, too!
- Have your child read aloud to you, a younger sibling, a pet, or a stuffed animal. This can help build confidence when it’s a book that is very easy for him/her to read. This also builds the skill of reading fluency.
- Have your child write more. When learning to read, studies show that when children are also learning to write, they have more reading success.
- Know what to expect from your child and what not to expect. Don’t expect your kindergartner to read The Hobbit independently. Don’t expect your 1st grader to read an adult version of the Bible aloud with perfect prosody. It’s great if your young child can, but that’s not what a child that age typically can do. Research what children typically read by certain ages, independently. Acknowledge that there is a wide range of normal. Most kids do not just “teach themselves to read.” When a child is matched with the right kinds of books for their interests, and with enough success to build confidence, many children take off with reading in time.
- Maybe your child is a great reader, but just doesn’t want to read? Have you tried introducing your children to specific genres? As part of your homeschool assignments, require a book report on science fiction, fantasy, British Literature, American Literature, myths, fables, mystery, plays, poetry, etc. Then help your child see if ones of those genres was a favorite, and then help him/her find more books within that genre that are age appropriate.
- If you have tried many strategies and forms of encouragement, you could consider taking a break from working on reading. Limit screen time, keep a big stack of interesting books in piles where the child frequently is (e.g., living room, kitchen, bedroom), and hopefully those interesting books will be inviting.
While you are “waiting” for your child’s reading to take off (if your child is not yet independent), be patient and enjoy reading aloud to your child. Cherish this time when your child is dependent on you to hear about amazing stories from this world that God has created. In a few years, your child will be reading independently most of the time for learning and enjoyment. Hopefully when that time comes, you will still read aloud as a family, but it won’t be the same as this special time. This special time is when you can watch your child magically bloom into a reader.