All parents want their children to be a good readers, but it can be tough to know exactly how to make it happen. Independent reading can significantly help when it comes to academic success, but actually getting your kid to read can be a challenge. Maybe they’re afraid of the work, or worried about succeeding. However, turning your kid into an avid reader might be easier than you think. It just takes a little research and preparation, and a willingness to meet them where they are. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Find Out What They Like
This is such a simple step, but it’s one parents might overlook because at the adult level it happens automatically. When you’re looking for a book to read, you never have to stop and wonder what kind of book you actually want; you just know, and so you go get it. Kids, though, need help navigating libraries and bookstores, since the sheer volume of books available can be a little daunting. For a novice reader, it can be hard to know exactly where to start. Chat with your kids about what kind of story they’d like — funny, scary, exciting, etc. — and think about their interests while you’re browsing the stacks with them. By pairing them with a book that speaks directly to their passions, you’ll increase your odds of getting them something they’ll enjoy, and that will make them more eager to come back for more.
Set a Good Example
Kids imitate the behavior they see every day. If you encourage them to read, but you don’t actually model that behavior for them and show them what it looks like to enjoy reading, they won’t believe you when you try to talk about how fun or great reading can be. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to make yourself into a world-class scholar, or that you have to start plowing through “classics” just to try and look good. It does mean that you should develop reading habits that kids can pick up through observation. Read the news online or in print; dig into long form stories and journalism through magazines and apps; curl up with novels, histories or any other genre you enjoy. This takes reading out of the abstract and shows children what it looks like to actually read every day.
Buy Books, Not Toys
If you tell your kids to read more and then turn around and buy them a stack of video games, well, you shouldn’t be surprised how things turn out. Don’t just rely on school libraries, public libraries and trips to the bookstore to stock your home with reading material. Buy your children books as birthday gifts, holiday presents, or for other special occasions to show them how much you value reading. The books then become the kind of special treat they can keep on their shelves and revisit for years, long after they’ve aged out of the fad toy they thought they wanted.
Regulate Screen Time
This is related to the previous point. In order to encourage today’s children to read, it’s imperative that you set reasonable limits on-screen time, meaning the amount of their day they spend focused on their phones, computers, tablets and games. How you do this is up to you: maybe you’ve got the TV and computer in a room where you can monitor usage, so you can keep easy visual tabs on what the kids are doing. Additionally, many e-readers and tablets have parental controls that let you block certain programs and content, and even automatically shut down after the child uses a certain feature (e.g., games) for an allotted amount of time. This can be a great way to make sure your kids have the opportunity to read free of distractions. Tablets and e-readers are the good kind of screen time.
Set Aside a Time to Read
Again, it’s all about habits. Read to your children on a regular basis — bedtime’s obviously a favorite — and make literature a part of your lifestyle. Maybe it’s half an hour or an hour in the evenings, or a special family reading time on Sunday afternoons. Whatever works for you. The key is to be consistent and emphasize the value of these shared reading times.
Get an Early Start
The sooner you make books a part of your child’s life, the better. A 2011 study showed that children whose parents read to them at an early age were still showing benefits at age 15, which shows how important it is for long-term development to introduce books as early as possible. Read to your kids regularly, get them books, and teach them from an early age how important — and fun — it is to read. By ingraining the habit early, you can help their academic and social skills for years to come.