Parents and teachers alike know the struggle well: making kids read is an undertaking akin to getting an energetic puppy to stay still. With television, social media, video games, and good old-fashioned playtime to distract them, the modern kid has a plethora of entertainment options that are, quite frankly, more fun than sitting inside and reading a book. This creates a uniquely challenging problem for anyone invested in getting a kid to read.
Reading is an important skill for young people to learn. It takes many forms—books, road signs, directions, nutrition and medication labeling—and it is, therefore, crucial for successfully navigating the world. Those who cannot read above the lowest literacy level—which describes about 21% of American adults1—are disadvantaged in the job market, have limited access to health information, and tend to report lower rates of life satisfaction.2
Reading from a young age supports a kid’s:
- Cognitive development
- Learning language skills
- Academic success
- Concentration and discipline
- Imagination and creativity3
- Building sense of empathy4
But, of course, a kid’s academic performance is where an inability to read is the most detrimental. According to Literacy Project, “one in six children who are not reading proficiently in the third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.”5 68% of fourth graders in America do not read at the proficient level, which has startling implications considering reading’s massive impact on academic achievement.5
So how does anyone get their children or students to read in today’s increasingly distracting world?
Read Aloud Together
Reading aloud turns what was once a chore into a fun, relaxing activity, and it is especially beneficial to children who are very young. Studies suggest that “the number of words an infant is exposed to has a direct impact on language development and literacy,”6 which means that the more words a baby is exposed to, the more sophisticated their language and reading skills become later.
Kids should also be encouraged to read aloud themselves. Adults and kids can take turns reading, or, in a classroom setting, students can sit in a circle and practice reading aloud consecutively. Past teachers of mind have used “popcorn reading”—when students read a portion of a text before calling “popcorn” and selecting the next reader from their peers—to make reading a group activity and require students to pay attention to the material.
Various programs allow kids to read to animals. Many animal shelters offer opportunities for this, providing a space where kids can comfort and befriend lonely shelter animals while improving their reading. Reading to an animal builds literacy skills and confidence. In this way, pets at home can serve as great study buddies!
Lead By Example
“Do as I say, not as I do” is unfair and does not provide adequate direction kids. Parents and teachers should learn to lead by example. Parents, instead of watching TV or scrolling through social media in their free time, can unwind with a good book, preferably where their children can see them. Teachers can read during quiet reading time or display the book they are currently reading in the classroom to show kids that adults read too—and enjoy it!
Kids often want to mimic their parents, and, hopefully, they look up to their teachers. Modeling the behavior one desires to see in their kids and students sets an example and can make them more willing to try reading themselves. The adult who can make reading seem fun may even get their kid to think likewise.
Engage and Question
Requiring active participation in the reading process is good for three things: holding the kid’s attention, preventing boredom, and developing critical thinking skills. Especially when kids have energy or have other activities they’d rather be doing, focusing on a book can be quite challenging. Engaging deeper with the text stops kids from “just sitting there” and takes their mind off distractions.
Ask questions beyond, “what was this character’s name?” or “what happened next?” Encourage kids to analyze and reflect on their reading—of course, in an age-appropriate manner that doesn’t ask more they are capable of at their level of education and intellectual development. Parents and children can talk about books together as part of their reading process. Meanwhile, classrooms can facilitate much larger and more robust discussions among groups of students, with the teacher serving as a guide as kids talk among themselves.
By thinking deeper and truly considering what they are reading, kids develop their critical thinking skills, lengthen their attention spans, and strengthen their comprehension abilities. Of course, engaging with the text should not be at the expense of having fun. Too much of this may make It feel like homework, so keep it entertaining!
Obviously, read the book first! However, many kids would rather watch a movie than read a book any day. Reading a book with the intention of watching the movie afterward provides motivation to finish the book, rewarding them with some relaxation and popcorn for their efforts. Movies also serve as a chance for deeper engagement. While watching the movie, adults and kids can analyze the differences between the novel and the film adaption, or they can discuss which one they prefer and why.
Remember, any reading counts. Kids don’t have to labor through novel after novel to become proficient readers. Other forms of reading, such as comic books or magazines, offer a more visual approach to storytelling and are more fun for young readers. Allowing kids to find their preferred form gives them a sense of autonomy, making reading a choice instead of an assignment.
Cookbooks are another way to integrate reading into a kid’s day, especially an active kid who has a hard time sitting still. Kids can be on their feet and engaged in a hands-on activity while also reading the directions and ingredients (and working with numbers too!). Also, cooking rewards kids for their efforts, exchanging their reading for the tasty treat they made.
Merely giving kids a choice can be a powerful tool to influence their behavior. Ordering a kid around and requiring them to read creates resistance, as no one likes to be told what to do, especially children. However, giving them the choice, such as by allowing them to choose between a novel, a comic book, or cookbook recipe, creates the illusion that they are in charge and encourages cooperation.
Listen to Audiobooks
Kids may tune out audiobooks if this is the only form of reading they are exposed to, and it certainly doesn’t engage them the same way reading text on a page or reading aloud does. However, it is another way to integrate books into a kid’s day. Exchanging music for an audiobook occasionally or playing an audiobook in the classroom while students do independent work gives books a presence in kid’s life and introduces them to another story-telling medium.
Here’s a chance to combine reading, writing, and art. Kids can create their own picture books as a rainy-day activity or classroom project. This teaches the components of a story as they write their own and allows them to engage in a different way with characters, plot, symbolism, and other literary elements, as well as giving them a story they are guaranteed to love! Their creations can then be read aloud or shared between members of a class when they’re done.
Build a Personalized Reading Nook
Having a dedicated spot for reading allows kids to personalize their reading nook to their tastes, making it as comfy as possible and enjoyable to spend time in. At home, kids can construct their own reading fort, or decorate a corner with a comfortable chair and some posters of their favorite characters. In the classroom, an area rug with some beanbag chairs and a bookshelf can delineate a dedicated reading space. In this case, the reading corner can serve as an oasis from hard classroom chairs and workspaces, giving them a place to unwind with a book at certain times during the school day.
Giving books as presents builds kids’ personal libraries and shows them that books should be cherished. This is an opportunity to select books based on a kid’s likes and try to find one they’ll enjoy. I still remember when my first-grade teacher gifted me Clementine as a birthday present. I loved that book, and read it again and again until I inevitably outgrew it, but never forgot it.
Make It Easy
Don’t make this harder than it has to be. Pick genres that kids enjoy and a reading level that is appropriate for them. Kids should not be challenged with overly difficult books that will frustrate them, and that would only deter them from reading. Set aside certain times of the day for reading, so they expect it, instead of fighting with them at random intervals, when they would rather be playing or relaxing. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. Reading is meant to be fun!
Getting kids to read—and certainly getting them to love to read—is a challenging feat. No one should feel discouraged if getting their kids or students to read feels like an uphill battle. However, applying some of these tips makes this task more manageable and will hopefully get some kids to crack open a book for once.
- “Adult Literacy in the United States.” Data Point: U.S. Department of Education. Jul. 2019, Data Point: Adult Literacy in the United States
- “The Benefits of Literacy.” Literacy Worldwide. The Benefits of Literacy (literacyworldwide.org)
- “The Importance of Reading to Your Children.” Children’s Bureau. 3 Mar. 2017, Benefits & Importance of Reading to Children | Children’s Bureau (all4kids.org)
- Collier, Ellie. Why is Reading so Important for Children?” High Speed Training. 24 May 2019, Why is Reading Important for Children? | Developmental Effects (highspeedtraining.co.uk)
- “30 Key Child Literacy Stats Parents Need to Be Aware Of.” Literacy Project. 14 Feb. 2019, 30 Key Child Literacy Stats Parents Need To Be Aware Of – Literacy Project Foundation
- Paul, Pamela et al. “How to Raise a Reader.” The New York Times. How to Raise a Reader – Books Guides – The New York Times (nytimes.com)