14th February, 2022

Bookish Stuff: Raising Readers - How to motivate kids to read

Reading is an important skill and the basis for participating in all kinds of social aspects of life. It’s not just about being able to decipher street signs or the menu of your closest take-away, reading is necessary to succeed in school and at work. It’s no wonder therefore that we all would like our kids to become competent readers. But what can you do if your child is reluctant? Here are a few tips for raising readers that I recently discussed with fellow colleagues and other mums.

Very important: Before you force your kid to read or establish firm reading times, ask yourself where the child’s unwillingness to pick up a book may come from. As adults we are so used to the printed word that we easily forget what a complex process learning to read actually is. Reading is exhausting if you’re not used to it!! If a child still has to painstakingly decipher every letter, syllable, word and sentence, it’s no wonder that reading loses its fun quickly. Until a child is able to read fluently and to make sense of what they are reading, there is a lot of practice and patience needed.

It’s vital that the kid’s motivation is kept up during this time. And reading should always be fun – as soon as the activity is connected with pressure or even force by the child, they’ll lose interest quickly. All in all, especially for beginning readers, it helps if the book has large print and lots of pictures. This way, the kid will feel like they are making progress.

At the same time, it’s crucial that we function as role models. If a parent never touches a book or magazine and never talks to their kids about what was read, the kid won’t either. A good strategy here would be to get comfortable with a book and to let the child see how much you’re enjoying it. Reading together is equally important. Let the child pick the book and let them dive into the story with you. Get cosy, cuddle and enjoy the story together.

There is a prejudice that boys don’t like to read. This is something I can’t really confirm. In our son’s class, the three most voracious readers are all boys. Of course, finding the right book is crucial – which is the case for both boys and girls – and of course it helps if the boy's father also serves as a role model so that reading isn’t subconsciously associated with being a “girl thing”. Our son loves to read in bed before lights out and it’s the perfect ending to the day when he can wind down and relax. First one of us reads to him, then he has about half an hour in which he reads by himself.

With reluctant readers, it sometimes helps to stop reading to them during a particularly exciting passage and let them continue themselves. This is how our son transitioned to longer texts with fewer pictures. His dad had been reading to him when he received an important phone call he couldn’t ignore. Our son couldn’t wait to learn how the story would continue and by the time his dad had ended the phone call, he had finished the rest of the chapter. 

All in all, I think the main message is: make it fun! Make it exciting! Show your kid what an adventure reading is, and let them choose their own reading material (even if it’s “just” the kind of comic books you personally hate). It will foster their love of stories and will set them on the right path to becoming a book lover. And always keep books in easy reach. Have them lying around the house and trust me, there will come a moment of boredom when they'll pick one up. And if it's the right story at the right time, they'll be hooked. :-)

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All texts and photographs are mine, unless indicated otherwise.