Encouraging Kids to Read

Student reading to two little girlsAs a teacher, I believed the most wonderful thing I could do for students was to share my passion for children’s books. As a parent, I was often exhausted after a day in the classroom, sharing that passion! However, my son knew that story time came before bedtime, and he demanded his books if ever I suggested skipping them. I’d like to think I was devoted to being a good parent, but the truth is, I was mostly too tired to argue.

Everyone knows how important it is for kids to learn to read. I believe the single best thing you can do to help your kids learn is read aloud to them. Combine that with some of the tips below, and you’ll be giving your children the very best chance you can.

Tips to Encourage Reading

  • Make reading aloud to your child a daily habit. Babies can absorb the rhythms and sounds of language and they enjoy your undivided attention. Toddlers can listen, imagine, discuss, look at pictures and acquire pre-reading skills. Older kids can absorb your own enjoyment of a book, participate in reflection and discussion, and wind down before sleep.
  • Encourage your child to choose a book for your shared read-aloud time. I used to have one book I wanted to read aloud, one book my son wanted to have read to him, and perhaps we would have another one “just because”. We chose from local library books, his bookcase, school library books and caption books, sent home for reading practice once he started school. The latter can be dull if a child can already read, so we would play games with them, make up new stories to fit the pictures, or try to trick each other by using a rhyming word instead of the actual word on the page.
  • Always read so your child can see the text. Put a toddler on your lap, and hold the book where he can follow your finger sliding under the words, when he wants to. Or lie next to your child, and hold the book so he can see the words.
  • Have limits on children’s screen-time, so that get plenty of opportunities to run around outside and play creatively. But when you ARE watching TV or movies, turn subtitles on if they’re available. This is a great way for kids to SEE words as they’re being said, and reinforces both reading and spelling.
  • As kids get older, maintain that precious read-aloud time, but encourage kids to “read” their own books too. Having books within children’s reach is important. In my home decoration philosophy, any room needs a bookcase! Encourage quiet reading before bed from when kids are young, and that will become a habit you’ll be grateful for.
  • Introduce your little one to the library. Libraries are magical places, with new worlds waiting to be discovered inside the covers of books. Make a library visit a regular habit, and get to know librarians as friends.
  • When kids LOVE reading, it becomes something they want to do more and more. Books become their friends and open up new worlds for them. They learn to love words and what we can do with them, which in turn fuels their writing, and all their communication skills.

Reading Aloud Hints

*** I believe that stopping every page or so, during an oral reading, is a sure-fire way to ruin the listener’s enjoyment. Imagine if you were watching a movie, and they stopped frequently to check on your understanding, or asked you what colour hat the schoolboy wore? I like to read to the end of a section before I interrupt the flow. That means to the end of a picture book, to the end of a chapter in a chapter book, or the end of a sequence. Sometimes, before the page turns, it’s just begging for a question like “What do you think might jump out of the box?” Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, especially if you pick up that children are not understanding or engaged. But I’ve seen stories ruined for little listeners by someone constantly trying to “teach” or “preach”. Often it’s because that person has a different agenda to the reader.

Above all, reading aloud is supposed to be enjoyable for the listener, and that’s best encouraged by not interrupting the fictive dream too much. If I want to guide the reading, I tend to do that during a second read-through. We might discuss the pictures, look at some of the textual features, share opinions. But I try to make the first read-through as dramatic and interesting a performance as I can. My aim is to turn kids ON to reading.

*** I use facial expressions, particularly my eyes, and engage my audience with them when I read aloud. A child’s gaze will swing from the illustration to me, back and forward. My dramatization, my expressions and voices, will all contribute to his enjoyment of the story.

*** I look for clues from the text and illustrations when I choose a voice for each character. I sadly admit to forgetting or swapping voices during a reading, and did I ever hear about it from my son and my students! Fortunately, experience and concentration improved my skill. It’s not necessary to have voices for book characters, but I think they’re fun.

*** Racing through a story was often a real temptation for me as a young mum, especially if I was tired, or it was the 43rd time I’d read that book aloud. Or, okay, if the book was anything to do with characters from a movie! I truly believe it’s crucial to allow children time to reflect a little about each page. If you’re reading a picture book with complex illustrations, or a book that’s new to your audience and not an old favourite, it’s even more important. If I’m nervous, I notice I tend to speed up, so I always take a deep breath and consciously slow my reading speed down.

*** I enjoy adding props to my read aloud performance. I’ve worn flippers and goggles for stories about the sea, pyjamas for bedtime books, and silly hats just because I’m silly. Sometimes I have a puppet or toy to help me read. Sometimes, I bring in an interesting box that contains something related to the book’s subject matter. Often, we’ll play a guessing game about what’s in the box. Later, we’ll pass around whatever used to be inside it. Props are just my way of adding a bit more fun to reading aloud, maybe giving some kids a focus, or providing a way in for kinaesthetic learners.

*** If you’re looking for resources to support your child’s reading, check out my Gallery: Websites that Help Make Reading Fun. You’ll find more ideas at The Book Chook blog in the category, Reading.***