As a kid, I had a voracious book reading habit. I vividly remember my 4th grade teacher requesting a special conference with my mom because I would regularly read a book during recess time instead of playing with the other kids. And while I definitely also needed they physical activity and socialization, I’m so thankful I had a good reading habit that’s lasted through my life. So when I became a mom, one of my top priorities was to raise kids who enjoy reading, too.
While it’s nice to be a skilled reader, more than anything, I wanted my kids to enjoy reading! I wanted them to delight in the pages of books – in their stories, in their people, in their truths. Having a love of reading connects to so many other academic pursuits, hobbies, and human connections. I’ve been so grateful to have a habit of reading as well as a love for reading, and it was important to me to find ways to pass that on to my children.
Here are some tips for raising kids who love to read – who genuinely enjoy it and choose it. I hope it’s helpful!
Read Aloud To Kids Of All Ages
From the time my kids are tiny babies, we do lots of read alouds. We read board books and have audiobooks playing and do our best to make it an enjoyable time. Sometimes that means my kiddos are playing with something else while we read, or sometimes it means never finishing one book but hopping through 10 different ones as my baby grabs them away. That’s okay!
Sometimes it feels like it needs to be a perfect reading experience to be beneficial – curled on the couch under a blanket, reading a classic start to finish. But it doesn’t need to be that way! It’s okay to read character books and coloring books and anything that interests your child. It’s okay to start and not finish, or to begin halfway through. It’s okay to read board books, picture books, and chapter books – to any age. Continue this even after they’re proficient readers themselves – there’s something really special about having someone else read aloud!
Make It Connective
Going along with the reading aloud to kids, it’s so wonderful when that reading time can be a time of connection and joy. Especially when my kids are little, we look forward to reading time as much to be together as we do the actual story! It’s so nice to snuggle or to giggle together or to ask and answer questions. Try to make it a focused time to be together, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Keep Books In Sight
We spend most of our family time in the playroom. It’s where we have toys, crafts, and where we do family movie night. It’s also where we have almost all our children’s books.
By having the books available and accessible, they’re so much more likely to reach for them than if they need to go to another room to get them. Of course, they get more worn this way than if they were just in a library – but that’s okay! A little wear means they’re actually being read and loved.
Another thing I love doing is having a book display on top of one of the shelves. I rotate it by season or holiday, and it’s a great way to keep new books fresh and visible with their covers – so enticing for little readers.
Look Beyond Age
There are a lot of guidelines out there for what age kids “should” and “should not” read certain books. Of course, some of those guidelines are based on appropriate content – definitely consider things like language and behavior.
That said, sometimes those guidelines are based on something being “too young” or “too difficult” for a certain age child. If your newly reading 6 year old wants to read a “baby” board book over and over – that’s fine! If they are “past” the point of easy readers but still really love them, that’s okay! It’s fine to try to mix in some more challenging content, but honestly, if they are enjoying the reading process with “easy” books, it’s completely fine to let them continue with them. Kids take comfort when they master skills and processes and it builds confidence for progression. It’s highly unlikely they’ll continue to read those books forever so let them enjoy them while they do.
On the flip side, some books are considered “too old” for some kids. Again, sometimes this is due to actual content reservations. But sometimes, it’s just because something seems like it would be too challenging. My two oldest kids had both read the first 3 Harry Potter books on their own by the time they finished kindergarten. I had them wait on the next 4 books due to more intense content, but then they finished them within a couple months of me allowing them when they turned 8. We discussed some of the themes, but they understood them fine and LOVED reading them. It helped them feel really excited about reading and it worked great for our family. Figure out what will help your child enjoy reading and go with it. (Here’s more about when our kids read Harry Potter.)
Focus on Interests
Similarly, really consider what your child loves to read. I personally enjoyed fiction almost exclusively when I was a child, and assumed that’s what my kids would love, too. I had my first two children and they followed in my fiction-loving footsteps.
But my 3rd kiddo took a little longer to learn to love reading. He was very capable but just didn’t enjoy it quite as much. Doing the Savvy Reading program for a few months was wonderful for helping him learn to enjoy it more. But the biggest difference came when I started offering him nonfiction books.
Once he got his hands on books about dinosaurs and other animals, he was hooked. He’d sit for hours poring over encyclopedic volumes of text and images of critters from around the world. It was the kind of stuff I couldn’t fathom enjoying for days on end, but he loved it. Similarly, he started to enjoy other nonfiction works. Figuring out his interests, both in terms of genre and theme, was so helpful in allowing him to enjoy the reading process.
Audiobooks are another wonderful way to help kids love to read. Kids can often understand much more complex vocabulary and storylines than they can actually read on their own, so it’s a great way to allow them to read something a bit more involved. It’s also a great way to enjoy time in the car, quiet time, or while they’re doing crafts or LEGOs. And kids who listen to audiobooks often become stronger readers later on!
We get a lot of library e-audio books through the Libby app, and Audible Plus is a great way to have access to thousands and thousands of audiobooks for free.
Give Them Reading Skills
Pretty much all of us enjoy doing things that we’re good at. No one really wants to spend tons of time on activities where we feel like we’re pretty terrible! That’s true for kids and reading, too.
That definitely doesn’t mean we need to teach every child to read at 3 years old – far from it. Instead, we should work on building pre-literacy and literacy skills through conversation and exposure to a variety of texts. Then when they’re actually ready and excited, we can start introducing ways to actually build those reading skills. It’s usually very exciting to get to practice an emergent skill!
Here’s more about what age to start teaching your child to read, and here are some of favorite books to teach kids how to read.
Let Them Choose
Choice is so important, especially with young kids who often feel like they have little control over their days and lives. Letting them choose their reading material, even if you think it might seem uninteresting, is so important in letting them develop autonomy and actually enjoy reading. Of course, this may mean offering books within a certain reasonable ability or content level, but giving them freedom within those boundaries can be so great for developing a love of reading.
This may look like making a trip to the library to pick books out, or even scrolling the library’s website from home. Or it may mean a special trip to a bookstore to choose a book to bring home. It could even mean picking a book from a home library to take to share with a classroom!
Have Scheduled Times/Places For Reading
We love having some scheduled reading times during our day. The afternoon is one of those, usually after school. On Sundays, we have a special family quiet reading time with blankets and hot chocolate. It’s delightful and we all look forward to the time to enjoy reading together.
In addition to that, we do a family read aloud most nights before bed. It’s a great way to connect and wind down and we all know to anticipate it.
It can also be helpful to have a special reading spot, especially for younger readers. When my kids were tiny and we would do set storytimes or joy school with friends, we had a “magic carpet” – just a rug we’d lay down and all sit on for storytime. It took almost no extra effort but felt special and exciting and helped them to sit and listen.
Have Options Accessible
I love having a variety of diverse books for my kids to peruse. In some seasons, it looked like bringing stacks home from the library. Other times, it’s meant having a fuller home library. This is especially great for kids who are still feeling out their interests. Having a variety of genres of text as well as books from different countries, cultures, holidays, and seasons makes it like an exciting treasure hunt to find something interesting. This also lets them change their interests easily and still find something fun to read.
Here are some of my favorite options for diverse picture books – there’s one for each letter of the alphabet focused on a different country! (There’s even a free printable passport to go along with them!)
Let Them Stop
I used to feel that if I started a book, I had to finish it. Otherwise it felt like quitting! But what that meant in practice is that I’d put off reading because I didn’t feel like reading that book, but felt like I couldn’t move on to anther one. All that meant was that I just didn’t read as much!
The same happens with kids – sometimes they feel pressure to finish one book so don’t move on to anther, but then just don’t read as much. I like telling my kids that they can start a few chapters to see if they enjoy something, but don’t have to finish it. I also remind them that not every book has to be their favorite of all time. It’s okay to enjoy books or learn from them without having it be a number one favorite.
Finally, actions speak louder than words. Me showing my kids that I love to read is one of the most impactful things in helping them know reading is a fun and relaxing activity. When they know I enjoy reading with them, it helps them want to be present! It makes it more fun for everyone if it’s something we can all enjoy.
I’d love to hear any other tips you have to help build a reading habit!
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