Dr Seuss said it best:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
The numerous ways in which reading aids children’s academic and personal development is widely known and supported by research. As an English teacher, I’ve seen first-hand how the benefits of reading translate into the classroom. Reading helps build vocabulary and language skills, fosters imagination, develops confidence and teaches empathy. As a first-time mum, the importance of reading really hit me. My paediatrician advised me to start reading to my daughter when she was just two weeks old. Starting early with regular reading to and with your kids is ideal. But even if your child has never responded to books or seems to have lost their love of reading, it is never too late to encourage them.
As a teacher, I’m often asked ‘how do I get my child to read?’ It can be exasperating for parents. The truth is, you can give our child every opportunity to develop an interest in something. From there, it’s up to them. Here are some gentle ways you can nudge them towards a love of reading.
Open a dialogue
Begin by having an open and honest discussion about reading. What are your child’s thoughts and feelings about reading? Do they find it boring, difficult or a waste of time? Understanding why your child is reluctant to read may help to uncover any assumptions you have about their relationship with books. It could be they have never found a book they’ve connected with, feel they don’t have the time, it is not a priority, they find it challenging or perhaps they feel self-conscious. Getting to the root of the issue helps them feel heard.
Perhaps they do want to read more but just don’t know where to start. Talking about their interests and then finding texts to match is a good starting point. Sharing your experiences of reading may get the conversation going. I have shared with my students that I used to be a slow reader, which made me self-conscious and hesitant to read. Discussing the many benefits of reading, including how it will help their school work, may also be a motivator and create a sense of empowerment.
Disrupt any preconceived ideas about ‘reading’
Remember that reading can take many forms and is so much more than fiction. If non-fiction science, dirt bike magazines, Japanese manga or e-books are what your child is into, embrace it. If they find reading challenging, giving them a pile of novels will likely be overwhelming and off-putting. If your child loves art, consider graphic novels or picture books, which are so much more than books for young children. Many picture books are targeted at young adults and contain very complex ideas. If your child likes talking about current events, subscribe to the newspaper (print or digital) and get him/her reading (and writing) letters to the editor. Audiobooks are another fabulous option and can be suitable for readers of all ages with differing levels of proficiency. Encouraging your child to follow along with the physical text as they listen to the audiobook will help language skill development. Get creative with how you use audiobooks too. Start by playing one in the car when you’re stuck in traffic.
Regardless of what you offer and what they choose, celebrate the win of getting your child reading! Giving them a voice in what they read and choice in how they read it are important parts of creating ownership and establishing a new habit.
Stay up to date with reading trends
Knowing what the popular texts are amongst kids is useful. If a child’s friends are all reading a book it may just be enticement enough. Share book ideas with fellow parents at the school gates or online in a Facebook group. Chat to your child’s teacher or librarian for recommended texts based on your child’s age and interests. Having your child participate in this conversation can be helpful. Many schools also have lists of recommended books for students organised by age or genre. Local libraries have sections dedicated to popular reads. If your child has enjoyed a movie based on a book, encourage them to read it. If they are not a big reader, being familiar with the plot and characters of a story may inspire confidence in picking up the book version. Lastly, explore series of novels, designed to hook kids and encourage them to keep reading.
Model reading at home
Forming a new habit often starts at home. If you want to establish the practice of reading as an enticing, enjoyable experience, you need to model this for your child. Building reading into the everyday routine and making it a priority is important. Creating a nice space at home for reading, whether it be indoors or outdoors, will help reading to become habitual and routine. Equally important, set up a small library of texts at home, housing a variety of books and different genres. This might include books you like to read and a balance of modern and classic texts.
Keep reading to and with your child
Health and education specialists advocate reading to children from a young age to aid cognitive development. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria has published a study which highlights that “the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct causal effect on their schooling outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment.” However, often this practice of reading to children ceases once kids learn to read for themselves. An article published in The Conversation discusses the importance of continuing to read to and with children throughout their schooling years to aid comprehension, vocabulary and listening skills. It also suggests that shared reading practices can serve to establish reading as a positive experience and one of connection. For older children, consider reading their books yourself so that you can talk about them.
Engage with the social side of reading
Reading challenges and readathons can be enticing ways to encourage your child to read. Explore the MS Readathon, Premier’s Reading Challenge in your home state or websites such as Read Brightly from Penguin Random House, that offer reading challenges you can implement at home. Many schools also offer book clubs where students can make new friends through the practice of reading. Lastly, establish visits to your local library as an experience to relish. If children can look forward to going to the library where they can browse, choose their own books and even sit in a beanbag for a while to read, they’ll experience the true joy in reading.
Don’t make it a chore
Most importantly, keep reading a positive experience. Once you have offered your child the time, place and material to read, you’ll need to hand the reins over to them. If they are still uninterested, let it go and return to it at a later stage. If reading becomes a forced activity that feels laboured or ‘checked up on’, it will remove any enjoyment. Helping your child to take ownership of their reading is one of the best opportunities for future enjoyment and growth that you can give them.
Adopt some or all of these strategies to help your child create positive reading habits. But remember, just like with all childhood development, each child will have a different approach to reading, enjoy different kinds of texts and will develop as a reader at their own pace.