Reading habits established early in a child’s life will continue into adulthood, and children who learn to enjoy reading usually become lifelong readers. But with so many things competing for kids’ attention — television, video games and extracurricular activities — introducing kids to the pleasures and rewards of curling up with a good book can sometimes be a challenge.
Keep reading to them
Reading with your child is a great way to spend time together and is something many parents do when their kids are very young. Continuing to read to your child throughout his or her elementary school years strengthens positive associations with reading by making it a bonding activity, and it also allows your child to relax and focus exclusively on the imaginative aspect of reading. In addition, continuing to read to children bolsters listening skills and lengthens young attention spans.
Give them a choice
How often would you read if someone else chose books for you? Allowing kids to select material that interests them will increase their enthusiasm for reading. And remember, many kids are more engaged by nonfiction than by storybooks — meaning books about ancient Egypt, outer space or dinosaurs may have more appeal than a book that features talking bears.
Kids who’ve grown up with the internet and digital media devices may naturally gravitate toward reading from a screen rather than from a page. E-readers, smartphones and computers can be great tools for capturing kids’ interest.
For better or worse, kids tend to replicate the behaviors of parents and caregivers. If they see you reading for pleasure, chances are they’ll want to try it, too. Discussing what they — and you — are reading demonstrates how reading can stimulate conversation and makes reading a social activity. (“I’m reading a book about Abraham Lincoln. Tell me about your book.”)
Visit the library
Check to see what kind of activities and programs your local library offers for children. Puppet shows, games and other library-sponsored activities for kids help them associate literacy with fun. Additionally, many libraries have summer reading programs that offer incentives and rewards for young readers.
Have your child read road signs, billboards and restaurant menus. Enlist his or her help in gathering information from these sources. (“Can you help me find the exit for Southern Avenue?” “Which hamburger sounds best?”) This encourages independence and demonstrates the usefulness of reading skills.
Consider alternative sources
Kids who find books intimidating may be engaged by other printed material, such as magazines and newspapers for young people. The photos and activities inside can stimulate their interest, and the arrival of a regular subscription in the mail gives them something to look forward to.
Receiving a card or letter in the mail makes you feel special, at any age. Personal correspondence can be a great way to encourage reading and improve writing skills. Solicit a family member in another town to send letters to your child — and encourage your child to respond in kind. Alternatively, help your child to sign up for a kids-only pen pal service such as Students of the World.