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7 Ways to Turn a Reading-Averse Kid into a Frequent Reader

Encourage kids to become—and stay—readers with these tried-and-tested approaches.

I don’t need to make a case for encouraging kids to be readers, do I? Research in the U.S. shows most kids ages 6-17 agree reading is very important, and yet, the same study finds that, on average, only 32% of kids are “frequent” readers who read for fun at least 5 days a week (this proportion drops from 47% of 6- to 8-year-olds to a low of 17% among 15- to 17-year-olds). So what can you do to move your kid into the frequent reader group, or keep your young frequent reader there when she becomes a tween?

1. Be a reader yourself! I don’t know about you, but when I get too busy, one of the first things that falls by the wayside is time for beloved but “discretionary” activities like reading for pleasure. But, I’m forcing myself to fit it in when I can, so I can model being a reader for my kids (and I love doing it, anyway). Nothing encourages kids to be readers more than the example set by their parents and other role models.

2. Read to your kids. Many parents know it’s important to read to babies, toddlers and pre-readers. However, there are benefits of reading to older kids as well. Even if you can’t actively read aloud often, try getting involved—ask kids questions and have conversations about the subject matter. You could also listen to audiobooks together.

3. Integrate reading into life. It’s not just books that count. Find ways to read for information/learning with your kids, or get them to read for everyday life. They can follow a recipe, read instructions for making a robot, research a topic they’re wondering about or compare reviews of products you’re planning to purchase.

4. Help your kids find reading material they relate to. Many kids can be turned on to reading by topics of interest to them. Pop culture may spark their reading habit: books and articles on—or by—sport stars, musicians and famous inventors can draw in some reluctant readers. So may stories featuring diverse everyday characters who resemble your reader, her family and her peers.

5. Experiment with different genres and formats. While many kids and adults just like good compelling stories with relatable, interesting characters, there are now more avenues than ever for kids to get hooked on reading. Figure out what attracts your kids. Non-fiction genres—biographies of famous people or accounts of interesting events and places can be highly engaging. Satire and humor may be more appealing to your kid. Other kids eat up fantasy. Poetry and song lyrics can be riveting, too. Or, perhaps the graphic novel format (used for many genres) is more their thing.

6. Try e-readers and tech tools for older kids and teens—or kids with learning difficulties. Ebooks with too many interactive bells and whistles are a no-no—they’re too distracting, but plain e-readers (or the free ebook app that’s connected to your public library) travel well and give teens the flexibility and privacy they may want. Even young readers—with guidance—can benefit from good digital options like Reading Rainbow’s Skybrary and similar apps. There are also several excellent technology options for kids with reading-related learning issues.

7. Support them with access and time for reading. Make books and reading material easily available to your kids—there are many free resources (like physical and digital libraries and encyclopedias), and relatively inexpensive magazine/app subscriptions that can ensure a steady supply. When asked about gift ideas for your kids, suggest books or bookstore gift cards. Help kids set aside time for reading: especially as they get older, the demands of school, social life, jobs and extracurricular activities can quickly replace the “luxury” of reading for fun.

Written by Seeta Pai PhD for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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