There is no secret or magic in helping children develop a pleasure for reading. Parents and caregivers have a tremendous effect on learning by being actively involved in their children's education, and the same applies to reading enjoyment. Beginning from birth, parents can nurture early language and vocabulary skills before the baby speaks their first word. Sing, talk, and read aloud – simple! Exposing children to a wide variety of words, even if the meaning is unknown, starts them on the path to early literacy.
Reading motivation is about creating a fun reading culture at home where words, language, and stories are blended into the time families spend together. Raising strong readers means fostering the pleasure of being absorbed in the pages of a good book. Consider these easy strategies for growing children into zealous readers.
Children become “readers” before they learn to read.
~ Harvard Graduate School of Education
Inspire a reader (by age)
Birth - 18 months
As you read, your baby learns. Being close and listening to you helps your baby to make the association between you and reading.
- Talk and sing rhymes, songs, play peek-a-boo, and respond to baby's needs with soothing words.
- Take advantage of daily routines to tell stories while changing your baby, bathing them, going for a walk, or being held. They need to hear your voice teaching about things in their world.
- Read board books with faces, animals, and items that you describe and add lift-the-flap books around age 1.
Toddler (18 months - 3 years)
Children build critical language skills in environments with an abundance of talking and listening to words.
- Talk, read, and play together giving your undistracted attention. Listen, ask questions, help them learn new words and ideas.
- Integrate books and reading aloud into your daily routine.
- Ask your child to "write" or draw a story and explain what is happening. Inspire them to think of more ideas to add.
Preschooler (3-5 years)
Scribbles, pictures, and attempts at alphabet letters by children are significant precursors to writing and developing strong literacy skills.
- When reading with your child, encourage "pretend reading" parts of the story they've memorized. Ask questions and urge them to tell you more.
- Talk about letters and sounds and ask them to find letters they know on menus or street signs.
- Relate stories you read aloud to people, places, and things your child experiences during everyday activities.
- Sing, read, and invent rhymes together, emphasizing specific sounds and letters. Call attention to words that begin with the same sound.
- Prompt your child to tell you stories, asking questions that will help them add more thoughts while you write them down. Then read the story you wrote together.
Early Elementary (gr K-2)
Positive reading experiences beget more and better reading.
- Rereading favorite books builds confidence and abilities.
- During screen time, assist in choosing programs that are both interesting and educational for your child. Ask what they've learned and check out library books about favorite subjects.
- Expose your child to new information and experiences and encourage conversation about what they see.
Upper Elementary (gr 3-5)
From 4th grade, teachers expect students to read books independently and gain information from what they read.
- Children need encouragement, praise, and patience. Comment on positive attributes in their work and prominently display completed assignments.
- Read aloud books they can't read on their own to introduce new topics and ideas.
- Keep a supply of reading materials around the house that they enjoy.
- Be involved in their education: talk to the teacher about what students are learning in class and how you can support your child at home.
Read aloud together. Turn daily shared reading into a game and make it playful. Emotional and developmental benefits of reading aloud continue even after a child reads fluently on their own. Connection and physical closeness fulfill every child's need for love and security.
Make shared reading interactive. Dialogic reading is a participatory technique that scaffolds learning for all ages and reading levels. Have conversations about books, mix up prompts with straight reading, and choose prompt content that interests your child. Ask questions such as "what do you think will happen next?" or "can you think of another way the book could have ended?" Prevent read-alouds from feeling instructive or mechanical by adding enthusiasm and voice variation, or try alternating paragraphs, pages, or character voices as ability increases.
Read pictures. Decoding, interpreting, and evaluating the meaning of an image or visual narrative helps to develop parts of the brain used to read words and text. Heavily illustrated novels or wordless stories can also serve as a break from the rigor of high cognition and fuel reading pleasure.
Read widely with a growth mindset. Inspire your child to push past comfort zones and read with an open mind. Experimenting with new genres, content that makes you uncomfortable, or stories that appear too long or challenging promotes literacy growth. Reading books by authors from diverse cultures and backgrounds or set in different parts of the globe promotes empathy and can launch new interests.
Eliminate comparison with other readers. Refrain from labeling books as "easy" or "hard" around your child and discussing their reading level with others. Resolving to set aside judgment in general and support the book selections your child chooses will remove unwanted pressure.
Embrace re-reading favorite titles. Reading beloved stories over and over feels like the comfort of visiting an old friend. In addition to emotional benefits, reading the same book multiple times will enhance reading fluency, comprehension, character perception, and more.
Get social about books. Books are meant to be shared. Have family book talks, enthusiastic discussions about books, and genuine conversations about the books your children choose to read. Encourage them to talk with their peers about books. Participate in book clubs at your library or organize informal, outdoor book chats with their friends. The best way to get a child to read is for friends and classmates to endorse a title!
Stock up and stack up!
~ Ann McCallum Staats
Your role in the learn-to-love-reading journey is to cultivate the joy of story for your child. Support and guide with gentleness and patience. Pushing or demanding will have the opposite effect of the end game you want. Sustain the pleasure and comfort of reading together – cherished books as well as new finds.
Create a text-rich environment at home with books at the ready in your house. Read every day, offer children their choice in story selection, and nurture a growth mindset around reading. Bravo for cultivating a reading lifestyle for your family!
Paul, Pamela & Russo, Maria. (2019). Part Two: Your Emerging Reader. How to Raise a Reader, opens a new window (pp 45-65). New York, NY: Workman Publishing.
Staats, Ann McCallum. (2021, April 10). Reading the extreme: 10 tips for amping up your reading game!, opens a new window Nerdy Book Club [book blog]
Tamer, Mary & Walsh, Bari. (2016, March 1). Raising strong readers, opens a new window. Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Sketch from children's book illustrator and artist Dow Phumiruk with permission