How to Develop Your Child’s Interest in Reading

Teaching kids to love reading - photo

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy

Reading is something that almost every child eventually learns.  Our schools do a pretty good job of building a child’s basic reading skills.  But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about teaching kids to really enjoy reading.

Personal story:  My oldest daughter, Anne, was born very late in the calendar year, meaning that she started school as one of the youngest kids in the class.  She’ll always be very young compared to her classmates.  In the junior grades, a year is a big deal.  She was slower to learn to read.  But after Grade 2 she suddenly fell in LOVE with books.  She devours them.  She reads nearly a full chapter book every night before going to sleep.

When you enjoy reading, you get smarter faster.  You end up being more successful.  Who doesn’t want that for their kids?

The Benefits of Reading Include:

Better vocabulary. When a young reader comes across unfamiliar words, he’s more likely to ask what it means or look it up in the dictionary (or in Google these days!).  This helps kids learn new words.  Or if they don’t look up the word, they eventually learn it through context, just as we learn language by speaking.  Nobody tells us the meaning of words.  We learn them by hearing them and figuring out their meaning.  Reading exposes kids to new words.

By the way, some some people think only writers benefit from an increased vocabulary.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  The writer rarely looks up new words.  Se writes from her existing vocabulary.  You learn new words by reading, not writing.

A faster brain.  Reading is very much like a workout for the brain. Reading (and comprehending) makes your brain focus on the words.  But to make sense of them inside of the brain, the reader has to turn them into a visual representation (like a mental movie) or imagine the words being read aloud.  When the brain learns to focus, kids can think on their feet and learn quickly.

A powerful imagination.  Reading lets your imagination soar without the over-stimulation of TV.  When you watch a movie or a television show, your imagination is limited to what you’re seeing.  If Edward Cullen is shown with Robert Pattinson’s face in the Twilight movie, then that’s all that you’re getting. You’re force-fed the full visual and auditory sensations.  With a book, the human brain gets to create whatever scene it wants.  The words get turned into a wonderfully imagined movie complete with sounds and feelings.  Modern TV is problematic because the scenes change so fast.  It is designed to over-stimulate our minds.  It is not restful.  Reading is great before bedtime.  TV is not.

Quality entertainment.  You can let the hours float by while reading a book.  Once kids move past basic reading, a good chapter book can last for hours.  Compare this to a TV show or movie that has a much shorter duration.  Books can be enjoyed longer.

Flexible thinking and being open to new ideas.  Reading is fantastic for letting you learn from stories.  Kids get to discover conflicts of opinion, emotions and different ways of solving problems – all by reading someone else’s experiences!  When kids learn to see both sides of a story it helps them to be more emotionally intelligent.

Better discipline. Kids who read benefit from the skill of focus. Kids who can focus on tasks require less discipline. And for those times that discipline is required, they’ve got the skills to cope.

Better performance in school. I put this last because I don’t think we should measure our kids based on grades. But it sure is nice when they do well on their report cards. Kids who read will be better problem solvers. Surprisingly, they’ll do better in math and science compared to kids who don’t read. My own daughter started getting amazing math scores ONLY after falling in love with books. As a father who’s first university degree was in engineering, I really want my kids to learn to love math, so I was proud!

How to Raise Kids Who Love Reading

Ok, so we agree. A love of reading is one of the most amazing gifts we can give to a child. It’s also budget-friendly. You’re giving your child the power to visit castles, islands, rivers and oceans. They can dance with kings and sail with pirates, or travel to outer space. Reading allows your child to experience a lot of things without having to be there. It’s a rare magical feeling that only people who read can experience.

How do you make it happen?

Read in front of your kids. Kids love to copy their parents.  So even if your child can’t read a single word, go ahead and show your kids that you read books.  Curl up with a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and enjoy a book.  Have some kids books (picture oriented) in the same room.  Your goal here is simply to show your child that you love reading.  No pressure.  You can even encourage your child to sit beside you and pretend he’s reading too.  Children are such great copycats.

Here’s a part of an email sent to me by my reader:

“I’ve always been a wide reader myself, and I never specifically intended to teach my children to read but they’d always see me with a book. They started just sitting with me while I read until they ask for their own books when we go to the bookstore and now they’re both readers themselves.”

Everyone says this, and it’s true:  Read with your child from an early age! Make reading out loud to your child a part of your daily routine. Studies have shown that listening to sounds is one of the earliest ways a baby can learn, especially when the sound they hear comes from their parent. When you read to your child, you are not merely talking but you are also incorporating a visual aid (by pointing to the pictures). Learning is just much easier when you’re both listening and watching at the same time.

Keep books all over the house. Give your child easy access to books by having books around the house. Have a couple of books on her bedside table, in the living room and other places she frequents. Exposing your child to books is one of the best ways to develop her interest in reading. Don’t be surprised if your child has a favorite and wants to keep coming back to the same book.  That’s fine!  The point here is to ENJOY the reading.  If your child is picking a book himself you’re winning at this goal!

Let your child drive the bus.   It would be helpful to have your child choose which books she likes when you go to the bookstore. Engaging your child in decision-making when it comes to books/ reading will make her feel that you are asking for her approval and not merely pushing her to read books. You can also have your child flip the pages of the book and make sure to give her enough time to look at the pictures and ask questions.

Interactive reading makes it FUN.   Young children have short attention spans, so you need a couple of things on your side.  First – pictures!  Kids love pictures, and the visual stimulus helps hold their attention.  Second – use interruptions to reset their attention!  Stop the story after a couple of pages and ask questions about what’s happening, or talk about the picture.  Resetting a child’s attention helps re-establish focus after, while keeping it fun.

Choose books according to your child’s interest. Children always have something that they’re crazy about – dinosaurs, dolls, Dora the Explorer. Choose books that you know your child will be interested in reading. It will be easier to interest them in a book about dinosaurs, if that’s what they’re into, instead of making them read books about planets.  My own daughter is a MAJOR dog lover.  She started reading a series of books called “Puppy Place”, and they never grow tiresome for her.  Every book has beautiful pictures of dogs on the cover.

But Be Careful About…

Immediately correcting your child. While teaching a child to read, be careful about correcting mistakes.  Remember that your goal is to establish a belief in your child’s mind that reading is FUN.  Anything you do to wreck the fun will wreck the formation of this belief.

Proper lighting.  Read with enough lights on, or in daylight.  You don’t want your kids reading in the dark, straining to see the pages. I’m no doctor, but I got this advice directly from our eye doctor.

Being pushy and setting expectations.  Nothing good ever comes out of pushing a child to do anything – the more pressure you put on your child, the more it will make her want to fight you.  You’ll get more flies with honey than with vinegar (as my mom always taught me).  Keep your child interested by making sure that reading is an unconscious cue for a positive emotional state.  If reading is fun, your child will want to read.  The fun is attached not just to the books and the words.  It’s attached to everything that contributes to their feelings.  How YOU act is perhaps the biggest factor here.

Books We Recommend

0-2 Years Olds

Squishy Turtle and Friends – Squishy Turtle and Friends is a Cloth Book, popular for integrating cloths of different textures into the drawings which help toddlers and babies develop sensory awareness. What parents love most about this book is the rhyming text which helps kids improve their listening skills.

Pat the Bunny – Pat the Bunny is a classic, and you can never go wrong with classics. Pat the Bunny is an interactive book which encourages toddlers to do different activities like patting the bunny’s soft fur, playing peek-a-book and look in the mirror.

Goodnight, Good Night Construction Site – There’s something big machineries that children love. This book has such great illustrations of trucks and bulldozers that children from all over the world adore it. Hey, it didn’t become a bestseller for nothing!

3-5 Year Olds

Where the Wild Things Are – Where the Wilds Things are is one of the most popular children’s books of all time, and it’s time that you pass this gift to your child. The illustrations are amazing and it’s a great way to inspire imaginative play in your kid.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today? – Through simple prose and vivid illustrations, this heartwarming book encourages positive behavior as children see how rewarding it is to express daily kindness, appreciation, and love. Bucket filling and dipping are effective metaphors for understanding the effects of our actions and words have on the well being of others and ourselves.  As all of my Talking to Toddlers audio course customers know, metaphors (stories) are a powerful way to change someone’s behavior.

The Going to Bed Book – For a little one who is reluctant to go to bed, sometimes a silly book is just the ticket. And when it comes to silly books, Sandra Boynton is the undisputed queen. In The Going to Bed Book, an ark full of animals watches the sun go down and then prepares for bed. They take a bath (“in one big tub”), find pajamas, brush their teeth, do exercises up on deck (imagine an elephant jumping rope, a moose lifting weights, and a pig doing handstands), and finally say good night.

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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26 Responses to How to Develop Your Child’s Interest in Reading

  1. Eunice October 17, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    That is great

  2. TeacherMom October 17, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Don’t forget what a magical place the library can be. We go every two weeks. My three year old daughter has become obsessed with chapter books and loves to take them everywhere and flip through the pages. They love looking through shelves of books and choosing as many books as they want. I will sometimes recommend a book, but I never say no to one they’ve chosen.

    • Chris Thompson October 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

      Yes! During the summer my oldest daughter really got into reading and the local library was an amazing resource. She was devouring one full book per day, so imagine the cost of this without a library? It was like a candy store for her. She went through about 40 books in a Fairy series in about as many days. Weekly trips with 7-8 books coming home at a time. And of course we didn’t need to rush her to pick books. We let her take her time. I joked that she was reading far more than I was.

  3. annmarie October 17, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    my kids love reading books of all sorts,my eldest daughter who is in primary 2 has now started picking up my books like ian rankin etc to read through the words.my youngest sits with her books too.

  4. luwam October 17, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Yes!!!!

  5. paleesa October 17, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I’m impressed that’s all I can say for now. Thanx

  6. Nataya October 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I enjoyed this article ! Thank you so much for all your emails!

  7. Kathryn October 17, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

    My two boys, now aged 8 and 6, are both avid readers. They have both been read to from birth (literally) and their father and I are both readers. They have been surrounded by books and have always seen us read – newspapers, books, cereal packets. They both do they same now. My eldest reading and comprehension has been tested at an 11 or 12 year old, and my younger son is heading in the same direction, already reading chapter books aimed at older children. The possibilities open to our children are endless as a result of this. We still read at least one story to them every night, and they spend much of their spare time reading. It is a pleasure to watch and to know that we have helped to give them a great start.

  8. Cecilia Eow October 18, 2012 at 12:23 am #

    Thanks Chris, I was having this trouble in putting my girl to focus or live reading. She has been always asking for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Cartoon. I am worry for her eyesight and the attention span. She is 2 years old now. A hyperactive child. Thank you so much for the tips specially on leading by example and putting books around the corner of the house for her to easily access to it. I also dont know that the expectation may push her to fight. I thought commandment is good technique for such a young child. Your articles really help me out lots. Make me understand the importance of reading since young and how we, the adult, should do it in a positive way that influence her to read. Thank you so much.

    I now have a problem here which I hope you could advice me. I started to cultivate her reading habbit by reading together. Yet, I find that she loves to take over the book I am reading and refuse to read her book which I borrows from the library. She just want to sit on my lap and take over what I am doing. Is this an act of seeking attention. She is the only child in the family. I wonder if we have accidentally spoilt her. Kindly advice.

    Look forward to hear from you. Thank you once again for this articles that you wrote. I will forward it to my book club member. It is a great tool for young parent. Thanks.

    • Chris Thompson October 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

      Hi Cecillia,

      If you’re reading with her, sounds like she’s already getting the attention. So I’m not convinced this is an attention seeking behavior. She may simply be trying to exhibit control, sort of a “I don’t need your help” kind of attitude. Hard to say without seeing the situation with my own eyes.

      Anyway, if you’re reading to her and she takes over you have two choices.

      1) Stay put, just be quiet while she does whatever she’s doing (reading)
      2) Politely get up and walk away, just mention to her calmly that if you’re not doing it together, you don’t need to be there.

      With #2, just keep in mind that the reading should be interactive, not her listening while you read. Involve her as much as you can (I don’t know her age, so it’s age-dependent how much she can actually do here)

  9. Juliana Jones October 18, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    Wonderful article, very helpfyl.
    Thanks.

  10. Irene October 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I love this article. Thanks a lot. My girl is only two and a half but loves reading and would like you to read to her even if the lights are off. She can even complete some of the sentences of her favourite books. I think this is a good habit parents should encourage in their children

  11. connie October 18, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Yes, I enjoy reading this tips and suggestions. I’m excited to show the sample books to my kids. Thank you for continues ideas you are sharing. It’s really helpful.

  12. Rena (An Ordinary Housewife) October 19, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    My daughter is 2 1/2 and very independent. She likes me to read to her before bed and can recognize one or two letters. Do you have any advice on how to proceed with teaching her to read? She likes to look at books, but sometimes tears them up.
    Great article, by the way. :-)

    • Chris Thompson October 26, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      Read to her. Ask her to point out any letters she recognizes. If she treats the books as you describe, immediately stop reading, and leave the room (with the book) for a couple of minutes. Tell her calmly why you’re stopping. Be consistent about it so she learns that you won’t accept her ripping up or otherwise damaging books.

      • Loic November 25, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

        How exciting! P 3/4 has been one of my kids’ (all 4 of them, even my 10 yo’s) all time faitorvue! The Harper Collins collection above all. That huge book has been dragged through the house, and we’ve read all the stories over and over and over again. My 4 yo knows many of the stories by heart.Enjoy your adventure!

  13. Revathy October 19, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    Wonderful article! Feeling really happy to see more techniques to make my children become knowledgeable and smarter reading as they grow up!

    Thanks!

  14. PAULINE October 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    My seven year old daughter reads alot and three weeks ago she got a budge from her class teacher wrtten on ” BEST IN ENGLISH”, which she wears everyday on her school uniform and i have heard her tell her friends that she’s the best in English because mummy buys her interesting story books. Thank you for your educative articles.
    Pauline

  15. LATREIA@malaysia October 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm #

    Thx Chris for the article. It’s always my belief that reading will take us very far in all that we do. I always read & I have kiddy books everywhere my toodler can reach. She just turned 2 & amazes everyone (myself included) that she can sight read about 100 words both in English & Chinese, that a teacher commented some of her 7 year olds cant do that.
    She would have a book in her hand all the time from the moment she awake, without anyone asking her to. I am proud of her but I also want to know if there are more that I can do to help her learn, especially to develop her multiple intelligence. Thx again Chris & I truly appreciate your guidance..

  16. Jackie October 22, 2012 at 4:41 am #

    Great article – A couple of other fun book suggestions are:
    The Gruffalo
    The Gruffalo’s Child
    Room on the Broom
    The Snail and the whale
    All of the above are by Julia Donaldson. They are great stories written with Rhyming and cadence that makes it fun to read aloud. My 3 year old will often quote from these books as she plays. Worth checking out at either your library or bookstore.

  17. yomi October 31, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    what a great articles do you have here..

    my niece , she 4 years old. I try to introduce books to her ,but seems , she ‘s really no interested…
    she just walks away… and turns her face….. her attitudes are really getting my nerves. she more enjoys her dolls, than reads books.
    so can u help me what do i have to do?

    • Chris Thompson November 7, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      Have you used all of the ideas presented in the article already? It’s impossible for me to know based on your comment, so I’d suggest going back and reading the ideas a few times. Pick something and use it in your family. The main part to REALLY understand is to make sure that reading is fun, not something you pressure your child into. If you make it a chore, it will be something they hate.

      • Jaisree September 18, 2014 at 3:49 am #

        Hi Chris,
        My son is 2.1 year old and i have been reading books since his 1.5 years of age. I am not making it interactive everytime. When i take a small story with pictures, how to really tell him and get his input to grab his attention. He too picks the book every nite and ask me to read. I just tell him the story as we tell to elder people. I show him the pictuers and actiions what they are doing. your reply is highly appreciated.

        Thanks
        Jasree

        • Chris Thompson June 2, 2015 at 10:37 am #

          You’re doing great! Just keep reading to him. That’s what matters.

  18. joanie November 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    Chris,

    I realy enjoy reading your advice and articles. Its working for us.

    Thanx for the e-mails I realy appreciate it.

  19. Naziya February 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    I FEEL REALLY GLAD SEEING ALL THESE COMMENTS. I TOO AGREE WITH THIS. MY LITTLE PRINCESS STARTED READING THREE LETTER WORDS BUT SHE HATES READING BOOKS IF I SIT FOR READING BOOK JUST TO INCULCATE READING HABIT IN HER SHE REFUSES ME TO TOUCH THE BOOK I MEAN SHE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE ME HOLDING ANY BOOK .IN THIS CASE MY DEAR FRIENDS CAN YOU PLEASE SUGGEST ME SOME THING .SO THAT I CAN IMPROVE MY PRINCESS READING SKILL.

    AND THOMPSON THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR REGULAR UPDATES. I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE SOME MORE THINGS WITH YOU.HOW? WHEN? YOU CAN LET ME KNOW EAGER MOTHER
    SORRY FOR MY POOR ENGLISH

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