Once upon a time, there was a little girl who hated reading. One sunny afternoon, when she was five years old, the girl approached her mother, who was vacuuming the carpet, with some news:
“Mommy, guess what?” Her mother switched off the vacuum.
“I like reading!”
A smile spread across the mother’s face. “You do?!”
She had labored, day after day, teaching her little daughter to read. This news was the encouragement she needed.
“Nope. Just joking!” Ha ha. Good one.
I was that little girl. As you might suspect, I never became a comedian. But eventually, I became an avid reader. Now thirty years later, I don’t like reading, I love it! It was my parents’ efforts to make reading a fun, consistent part of my childhood that made the difference.
Maybe your child is like I was: he doesn’t naturally enjoy reading. Not to worry! With some strategic planning and persistence, reading can become enjoyable for him—maybe even delightful! Here are eight strategies for turning reluctant readers into happy readers:
Turn off the screens and read.
Given a choice, most kids will spend hours on their devices, not in a book. Screens are so accessible, so enticing, so addictive—they’re almost impossible to resist. Your child needs your help: Carve out time every day for him to unplug, and read a fun book.
Allow your child to choose fun books.
Don’t worry if your child chooses The Hardy Boys and Jedi Academy over something more challenging or sophisticated. Remember: the goal is joy and pleasure. If the Hardy Boys make reading more exciting, they are your new best friends.
If your child needs book recommendations, the children’s librarian at your local library will be a wonderful resource. Also, the Read-Aloud Revival has many recommendations for kids of all ages, including several lists of titles geared towards boys.
Allow your child to read “below” his reading level.
Maybe your child often chooses books below his grade level. That’s okay! Reading below his grade level will teach him that reading isn’t always hard work. Especially for the struggling reader, easy books build confidence.
Reward your child with books.
Use books to reward or surprise your child. Take him to a bookstore and let him choose a book on his birthday. Or take him to a library book sale and let him fill up a bag of books. Offering books as gifts and rewards will train him to treasure them.
Make the library a home-away-from-home.
While books from the bookstore are like a delightful delicacy, books from the library are like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—a yummy part of everyday life. Taking a weekly trip to the library weaves pleasure reading into your child’s routine.
Bonus idea! Pair your library trips with a special treat, like ice cream or a tasty drink. (I am completely serious—pull out all the stops to help your child associate fun, joy, and pleasure with reading!)
Let your child stay up late—to read.
I heard this idea from another parent, and I think it’s brilliant: Allow your child to stay up 15-20 minutes past his bedtime, but only if he’s reading. Otherwise, it’s off to bed as usual.
Bonus idea! Buy your child a “reading flashlight” to keep next to his bed for late-night reading.
Read aloud and listen to audiobooks.
Reading aloud and listening to audiobooks are additional ways to offer your child the pleasures of reading without the hard work of reading. Listen to Harry Potter as you drive your kids to their extra-curricular activities. Have a family read-aloud night regularly, kind of like a movie night. Pop some popcorn, fix your favorite snacks, and enjoy a good novel together.
Become a reader.
If our children are going to believe that reading is worthwhile, they must see us reading. My dad’s example was significant in my development as a reader. The set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings that my dad grew up reading sat on our bookshelves, shrouded in tales of how he read them every summer as a teenager and young adult. It was a ritual that earned him the nickname Gandalf in college. Such stories fueled my desire to be a reader like my dad. (Sad to say, no one ever gave me a cool literary nickname.) Do you need book recommendations? Check out Modern Mrs. Darcy.
Bonus idea! Get book recommendations from your child. He will be thrilled to see you enjoying his favorite titles!
If this sounds like a lot of planning and effort—and it is effort!—read “Six Reasons to Prioritize your Child’s Reading Life.” A robust reading life will enrich your child now and for the rest of his life. And as you can see, it’s a journey the whole family can enjoy together.
Do you have suggestions for making reading more enjoyable? Please post them in the comments section below!
About Our Guest Expert:
Bethany Bowen-Wefuan is a wife, mom, and teacher. After receiving her PhD in German Studies, she began teaching German at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She loves teaching in the college classroom and loves being home with her son Simeon. When he’s napping, she’s either writing or reading.