How To: Encourage Reading in Your Kids

How do I make my children love reading?

I’ve heard this question multiple times. 

In one sense, I can’t make my children love reading. I can read to them and make them listen to books, but I can’t force them to enjoy an activity. My job as their mother though is to create an environment that lends itself to fostering a love of what is important. In our family culture, reading and books are important. I read aloud often to my children so I know they will hear many good books over the course of their education. However, my goal for them is to go further than that; I want them to enjoy reading on their own as well.

How do I encourage reading in my home?

First make books available. They are literally in piles around our home. The children’s books are on shelves that make it easy for kids to pull them off and look through them. In our home, books are meant to be enjoyed—which means pages get torn and covers are ripped. Books have been chewed on—literally—and they have been colored in. Having books available is important in encouraging a love of reading. 

Books bring our family together. It’s not uncommon for me to walk into a room and to see children huddle around a book together. At the time I’m writing this, I only have two independent readers. But that doesn’t stop all of my children from enjoying books together. My non-readers are just as likely to pull out a book to share with a sibling as my readers.

My children are so familiar with stories and reading that they will turn the pages in a picture book and either retell the story or make up a new story that goes along with the pictures. It’s wonderful to see the books pull them together and create the bond of shared stories.

Second, stories are read together. Audiobooks and read alouds are important. It allows children to enjoy good stories that are above their reading level. New readers are capable of enjoying good stories…but they can’t read them fluently. Making them read books at their level means they aren’t getting in-depth stories. Level 1 readers are important to learn to read, but they aren’t the best for encouraging a love of story. Give your kids stories that will capture their imaginations…which will mean you’re reading aloud to them. 

“Books . . . were regarded as everyday essentials.” — Joan Bodger in “How the Heather Looks”

It’s important to me as a mother to read books to my children that are above their reading levels. Their story comprehension level is much higher than their ability to sound out the words and decipher the story. To create a love of story, they need to be able to immerse themselves in stories. This means that I read aloud . . . a lot. I pick books that will feed their minds, their imagination, their hearts, and their souls. For example, I recently read The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien to my kids. My oldest daughter could have read this book on her own, but the rest of my kids aren’t at a reading level where they could have read it. But they were old enough to enjoy the story. So I read it to them. Now the characters in the story are some of their favorite imaginary companions, and they are playing hobbit games all the time.

One thing you *shouldn’t* do is force your kids to read solo. This is closely related to the second point above. Making kids read when they’re struggling to decipher words is one of the quickest ways to make reading not fun. In our home, reading lessons are separate from reading for fun. We do our reading lessons (no longer than 10 minutes a day) and then we’re done. When it’s time to enjoy a story, we just enjoy the story. 

“Either we create a space where reading is something that is done for the joy of it, where the imagination is cultivated and allowed to wander and stretch and grow, or we deaden our children’s natural love for the written word.” — Sarah Mackenzie in “The Read Aloud Family”

My goal for my children is for them to love stories and then ultimately love reading. For our family, this means that I keep the pressure to read independently as low as possible. Reading is fun. It’s not a chore. To keep it from being a chore, I keep reading lessons lowkey, and I let my children learn to read as they want to.

My oldest daughter learned to read independently between her second and third grade years. She was reading some before that, but after we finished her school for the year, she wanted to read books on her own so she did. She just started reading and reading and reading. Her desire to read motivated her to learn the skill of reading independently.

My oldest son learned to read independently at the end of his second grade school year. For him, phonics was going slowly . . . very slowly. He got to the point where he could read beginning readers–the kind with words that only have tree letters. Then I read aloud The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum. After that, I started reading Nordic Gods and Heroes by Padriac Colum. Those stories captured his imagination, and he wanted to read about Norse gods all on his own. So he did. He jumped from three letter word books to reading Norse mythology. I read alongside him for the first little bit, but before long he was reading the stories independently. Just like my daughter, his desire to read motivated him to learn.

For both of them, I could have pushed and pushed and pushed them to learn to read in kindergarten and first grade, but I didn’t. We moved slowly through phonics all throughout first grade and second grade. We kept the lesson short. Then when they desired to read, they motivated themselves to learn. The jump from sounding out words phonetically to reading entire stories when smoothly and relatively quickly.

Does this mean you may have “late” readers? Yes. But if it helps your children love stories, it will be worth it.

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