If there’s one thing I’m intentional about in my homeschool, it’s making sure to encourage a love for reading.
With my first kid, it was easy. She was driven to learn how to read at an early age and was a natural. I didn’t even have to try. I thought I had it all figured out.
Boy, was I wrong.
Each child has been so different in what he or she needed. My next two kids have been struggling readers. My fourth seems to be right on track (whatever that means), and my fifth is young and just happy to play.
We’ve had to deal with challenges running the gamut from mild dyslexia to a sensory aversion to the feeling of paper. (How in the world do you encourage literacy and a love of reading in a child who can’t stand to touch paper?!)
Somehow we’ve managed to muddle through.
Can you believe it? Every single one of my kids love books and reading. Some read more voraciously than others and some prefer audio books. But they all read or are read to every single day, and enjoy it!
One of my struggling readers expressed complete disbelief when a neighbor boy said he hated reading. It was like meeting a kid who didn’t like candy or birthday parties. In that moment, I felt such gratitude for the outcome of my consistent intentional choices.
I know there will be many new challenges ahead, and I am far from having it all figured out. But I do have a few tips that I think all families can benefit from.
How to Encourage a Love for Reading:
Let Your Kids See You Reading
Kids are naturally wired to want to do what they see us doing. They’re not hungry until they see us eating, and then they insist on taking “bites.” You sit down at a table with the craft supplies, and before you know it, you’re swarmed with little ones who want in on the action.
This may only be a small part of the puzzle, but don’t discount its importance.
Reading for pleasure in front of your kids will make a difference.
It’s tempting, especially when you have a gaggle of small kids, to try to wait for quiet time alone and read behind closed doors. But reading in front of your kids, even if its for little snatches of time, is highly encouraging.
You may have to read knowing you won’t get much out of it. It takes time and growing space to teach kids to allow you the practice. You might have to reread later or choose more consuming books for time alone. But taking opportunities for kids to “catch you” reading may just help ignite their own curiosity.
Reading aloud is one of the most important things you can do to encourage a love of reading in your kids. It doesn’t need to be for long stretches at first.
When your toddler is sad, instead of automatically turning on the favorite TV show or reaching for the fruit snacks (we’ve all been there), try scooping him up and reading a fun board book. I’ve done this with my two youngest, and even though they’re not reading yet, they associate the act of reading with comfort and enjoyment.
Read aloud to your older kids, even when they are capable of independent reading. Reading one on one with older kids or all together as a family are both effective ways to encourage a love of reading. You can build shared memories, inspire deep discussion, and acquire inside jokes or quotes that have sincere meaning to your family.
If you don’t love reading aloud and don’t get around to it as often as you’d like, try audio books! Gather your family for fifteen to twenty minutes and enjoy a story together. Make it something to look forward to. Snuggle up and break out the snacks. Keep it light. You won’t be sorry.
Practice Buddy Reading
Sometimes, for more social kids or struggling readers, the act of going off alone to read silently can feel like an insurmountable task. Insisting on this when there is intense push back, melt-downs, and tears is a sure fire way to kill the love of reading. They will only associate it with the feeling of being “punished” or sent to time-out. Even when done out of love or with the child’s best interest in mind, it has the potential to back-fire.
If your child enjoys reading alone, encourage it! But just know that some kids need more time to grown into it than you may think is reasonable. And some kids will never have the temperament suited for long stretches of sitting and getting swept away in solitary reading. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed!
I’ve found that buddy reading has been an invaluable practice for my family.
This is one on one reading time with your child. Choose a book with this particular child in mind. Make it something you think he or she will really enjoy. Take turns reading to each other.
Maybe you read a paragraph and he reads a paragraph. Or you read a page and he reads a page. Maybe you read a page and he reads a paragraph! You might have to start slow and build up to it. But doing this consistently every day makes a world of difference.
They get practice with reading, but still get to feel the flow and pace of the story while a more experienced reader fills in between. They feel supported and enjoy sharing the experience instead of feeling isolated. This has worked wonders in our family. Keeping it light, short, and fun at first is key. Before you know it, they’ll be asking for just one more page.
There Are No Educational Emergencies
I love this advice from Julie Bogart of Brave Writer: There are no educational emergencies. Know that there is always a way your child can adapt. You can advocate for your child, and there are plentiful resources for struggling readers.
Resist the knee-jerk impulse to fly into panic mode and fill your child with your anxiety. Try not to put out the vibe that something is wrong with your child if he doesn’t enjoy reading or she struggles with phonics.
You may have a weak moment behind closed doors where you fret all night over it. You spend hours scouring the internet for sound advice. But hold back the urge to fill your child’s day with extra high intensity drill and kill practice or to resort to panic bribery to get him to read something, anything.
Relax, and take a deep breath. Put on a smile and resolve to take baby steps towards the goal at hand. Breathe. Smile. Encourage. Support. You can do this! Both of you.
Choose Quality Books
Contrary to some opinions, I believe the quality of the books your child reads makes a difference in developing a love of reading. Some people would say, “Well, as long as he’s reading, it doesn’t matter what it is.”
To a certain degree, I suppose that could be true. It’s at least comforting to know your child is capable of reading and making the choice to do so. But being intentional about exposing your kids to quality books will help your child’s love of reading to grow.
I think the key to this is not to be pushy, judgey, or over anxious about it. Allow your kids choice in what they read as well. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and you don’t have to make sweeping changes all at once.
Take comfort in the fact that exposure breeds taste, and the more you find ways to share quality books with your kids the more capacity they’ll have to enjoy them. Maybe at first, your child won’t want to read anything that’s not his idea. Fine. Start by reading aloud a book of your choice. Keep it fun. Show your own excitement and enthusiasm. The right choice can help a reluctant reader take off. You could even start by reading aloud the first book in a series, but not the rest. Your child may just be inspired to read more.
If you’re not sure which books to choose, there are many many resources online for choosing quality books.
Here are just a few:
Follow Your Kid’s Interests
Here is an opportunity for you and your child to partner in book choices. You can use your child’s preferred topic as a starting point, and search for a high quality book with relevant content. It can be a great compromise and lead to the best of both worlds.
Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. While there are plenty of high quality non-fiction books for children, there are also great works of fiction that contain detailed information wrapped in story. Experiment with both, and see what resonates with your particular child.
You can order a second hand book for cheap, use your library, or read public domain children’s classics online. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Books for e-readers are also usually significantly less money than hard copies. And if you’re interested in building a home library, you’ll be surprised by how far you can get in a year by setting aside a little book money each month.
Build a culture of reading in your home. Make reading a part of your days and inject it into your routines. It can become something your family just does. If you haven’t done this before, it’s never too late to start. Your kids may show some resistance at first. But little steps consistently over time can redirect attitudes and change perceptions.
Not sure where to begin? Try building on a habit you already have. Meals are a great starting point because they happen regularly. Do you usually sit down to breakfast together? Tell yourself that you’re going to read aloud at the breakfast table before everyone goes their separate ways. Do you drive your family to activities throughout the week? Try listening to an audio book in the car. Does your family go for a walk every evening? Let everyone know that after the walk, you’re going to get comfy in the front room and have a quiet reading time.
Give it a try and keep going!
Thanks for listening, friend.
Learn about how to encourage a love of poetry in your homeschool by reading more here.