How do you raise a reader? How is it possible to instil a lifelong love of reading? It’s certainly a daunting sounding task and one with a lot of responsibility, but this blog post aims to ease some of your worries.
Whilst we cannot absolutely ensure that a child will become an avid reader in later life, there are certain actions we can take to help our children love reading.
To be clear, this isn’t about getting your child to ‘free-reader’ level at school. It’s not about breezing through the Oxford Reading Tree levels.
There have been a lot of articles recently on how to raise a reader, so I thought I’d add my two cents to the pile! All three of my children love reading right, but it hasn’t been a straightforward journey. Whilst my daughter took to reading like a proverbial ‘duck to water’, both of my boys initially took longer to learn to read.
Reading is a subject that is close to my heart: I studied the subject of boys and reading engagement for my Masters’ assignment whilst training to become a teacher. Some of that insight helped me with my children’s own reading journey, but it’s also been trial and error both in the classroom and at home.
How to Raise a Reader: 12 tips to try
Whilst you don’t have to try all these ideas, here are my favourite ways to raise a reader. My advice is to try ‘just one thing’ to begin with – whatever is easier for you and your family.
Raise a Reader Tip 1: Start them young
First stop for raising readers, start them young. I bought my eldest son his first book when he was just a few weeks old. The husband thought I was crazy: how is a baby who barely opens his eyes able to engage with a book? Anyway, I persevered and read the black and white ‘Animal Sounds’ book every day.
Eventually, my young son could take an active interest, helping me to turn the pages and even point to the animals. In time, he moved onto mimicking the animal sounds and naming the animals themselves. Books have a direct impact on language development. Perhaps, more importantly, sharing a book is a really lovely way to spend time together. Starting young helps them with school readiness in later years.
Raise a Reader Tip 2: Read daily
This comes in many forms: read to your child, share read a book or let them read to you. Also, show them good reading behaviours by reading a book yourself. Children will quickly catch on if you don’t read, but are asking them to! Now you might simply read one book, one time through, but if mine are anything to go by, you’ll repeat Dear Zoo or The Hungry Caterpillar several times over. Young children love the repetition and this also helps them to learn.
Raise a Reader Tip 3: Make bedtime stories part of the routine
I guess this really links in with the above, but read your children a bedtime story until they no longer want one. Your kid will love this special time with you, and it’s also a brilliant part of the bedtime routine. A comment from a boy I interviewed for my MA will always stick with me:
‘My parents say I’m too old for a bedtime story. I miss that time.’
I honestly felt heartbroken. I found it pretty hard not to dissolve into tears right in front of him. Now I’m not actually judging his parents here: they must’ve genuinely thought he was too old – perhaps he was an excellent reader and deemed independent enough to read by himself? However, I resolved to always read a bedtime story to my children unless they told me not to. Currently, we are reading our way through the Michael Morpurgo back catalogue.
Raise a Reader Tip 4 :Read Aloud Story Time
Whilst this is like reading aloud at bedtime, there’s no reason you can’t read aloud to your children at other times – for example, whilst creating art or when they are occupied in the play space. If you’re too busy to do this, try another option such as an Audible story or by purchasing a kid-friendly audiobook device such as the Tonies box.
Raise a Reader Tip 5 : Share read
When your children are older, share books with them. By this I mean read a page / paragraph each or take on the roles of different characters. This can make reading, for emerging readers in particular, much more enjoyable. By becoming characters (through expression of voice), emphasising particular words and even stopping for punctuation, you are providing your children with the skills to read aloud.
There may be days when the kids come home from school exhausted and reluctant to read, so instead of pushing a reluctant reader, you can try the shared technique.
Raise a Reader Tip 6 :Forget about levels
Seriously, it’s the best approach to surviving those early years. Admittedly, I was a little preoccupied with Harrison’s levels when he first started school (as a year 6 teacher I was all about data for a while), but when we eventually abandoned home readers in favour of his own choice of books, we all had a much more enjoyable time of it.
Ironically, it was when my son started school that he got turned off reading. He didn’t get phonics (he still doesn’t use the strategies despite being a really fluent reader now) and absolutely HATED the levelled readers. Hardly surprising since most were published in the 1980s! That being said, please communicate any worries you have over reading with the class teacher.
Raise a Reader Tip 7 : Hand over the power
To raise your reader, let your child choose the book. Visit the library or go to the bookstore, but let them have the ultimate power. I once saw a man shout at his son and get completely furious all because he disapproved of the book choice. Now, if that’s not a way to turn off a young reader, I don’t know what is!
That’s not to say you can’t influence the choice at all. You could get them to choose between three or even check suitability by asking them to read a few lines first. If the book would currently be too mature or too difficult, you could always try saying ‘That’s a good choice but let’s leave it until you’re a little older’ or ‘That book looks wonderful, we’ll read it as our bedtime story.’
Raise a Reader Tip 8 : Join the local library
Once your child gets the reading bug, they’ll get it full on! If you’re not careful, you’ll be bankrupt within a few weeks, so sign them up to the local library. Most libraries are tragically under-used, meaning you’ll also be doing your bit to save them! You will not believe the amount of brand new books we’ve picked up from the library recently. The pressure is off to a certain extent too because it doesn’t really matter if they don’t like the book either.
Raise a Reader Tip 9 : Make reading relevant
Don’t ignore the non-fiction. Going on holiday soon? Bring out the atlases and world maps – it’s all reading. Just been on a visit to the zoo? Check out some books on mammals. Is your kid asking some random question about the weather? Try browsing through books rather than immediately reaching for google. You’ll also be teaching some superb research skills! On a recent holiday to Britain, we got out all the travel book we could get our hands on.
Raise a Reader Tip 10 : Find a series or genre and run with it!
The first book that my eldest son read all by himself and LOVED? ‘Bad Guys’ by Aaron Blabey. He quickly worked his way through the entire series, then the Weirdo novels by Anh Do followed by Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Treehouse books.
The common theme is that they’re all hilarious (to an 8 -year- old) and still contain illustrations. Never underestimate the power of illustrations – it doesn’t mean the book is too easy, but it does certainly help young readers to engage with the book.
Raise a Reader Tip 11 : Turn books into projects
Engagement through art? Yes, please! Sometimes you just need another avenue and themed weeks or projects are a great way to do this. When we focused on ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ one week, both kids (aged 18 months and 8 years at the time) got so much out of it.
Alternatively, try a book basket or activity themed around a favourite book as seen in the photograph below:
Raise a Reader Tip 12 : If all else fails, try another way
I fully believe that this should ONLY be used as a last resort, when you’ve tried all the above and more, but if your kid is still hating on books, try an e-reader. I would only recommend this for older children because I think that ‘real’ books should be used in the early years (I’m also not a fan of reading apps on iPads). However, for full transparency here, I have a Kindle and I absolutely love it!
Helpful Preschool / Starting School Posts to check out next:
Is your child starting school soon?
Head on over to my membership, ‘How I drink my Coffee Hot’, to access the ‘Starting School’ mini course.
Topics covered include:
- Building Independence
- Social-Emotional Readiness
- Foundational Academic Skills
- Your Readiness as a parent