When it comes to raising readers, you know the drill: start young, share books aloud, visit the library, and be a good role model. Excellent advice, all of it. But what if you’ve toed that line and your child still hasn’t caught the spark? Or you’ve ignited a flame only to see it fizzle as he gets older and busier? Here we offer a host of creative suggestions and quick tips readers, all tested and organized into seven simple strategies for inspiring both new and veteran readers. So turn the page — and watch your kids do the same.
Hook them on the story. A good yarn can reel in even the most reluctant reader.
Start it together: Read aloud the first few chapters (or pages of a shorter book) to get your kids interested in the story, then let them finish it on their own. Molly Cross of Temple Terrace, Fla., simply makes an excuse to step away. The Winns, of Vacaville, Calif., start audio recordings on car rides, then make copies of the book available for their four kids, ages 7 to 13, to finish.
Pique their curiosity: When her son, Jess, hit the tween years and stopped reading, Nan McDaniel would sit near him, quietly reading something she thought he might like. As she hit a particularly interesting part, she’d exclaim or laugh aloud, then share a compelling tidbit. It worked like a charm, says the Charleston, W.Wa., mom: “Before I could blink, the book was in his hands and being read with curiosity and delight.”
Alternate print and screen: To help her 9-year-old son, who has ADD and struggles with reading comprehension, pay closer attention to stories, Laura Burnes of San Clemente, Calif., finds books for which there’s a movie available online, and she and her son alternate reading a chapter with watching the film. “It’s like a game trying to figure out what changed and what was left out of the movie,” she says. “It’s amazing how much he retains from the book when he knows he’s going to be looking for differences in the movie.”
2. Keep it fun. Present reading as a game, and kids will be clamoring to play.
Prediction board: The Reikofskis of Omaha, Nebraska, have turned reading books aloud into a game. Mom, Dad, and the six kids guess what will happen next. They record each person’s predictions on a large whiteboard and award points for correct guesses. The family member with the highest tally at the end of the book gets to pick the next read-aloud title.
Midnight movie quiz: There’s nothing quite so exciting as going to the midnight opening of a movie based on a book you’ve loved. The Reikofskis require both kids and adults to take a quiz on the story in advance. If more than half of them fail, they all read or listen to the book again, racing to beat the opening-night deadline.
“The kids love this,” says mom Aunesty.
Fact or fiction: Jennifer and David DiValerio of Newtown Square, Pa., and their daughters, ages 4 and 8, keep an eye out during the day for intriguing tidbits of information in everything they read. Then they mix the facts with made-up information and quiz each other around the dinner table to see who can guess what’s real and what’s fake.
Make it social. Everything’s more fun with friends.
Read to a pet: When Carolyn Halliburton’s daughter was young and struggling with dyslexia, she was happiest reading to the family dog, “who never corrected her,” says the Plano, Texas, mom. For 10-year-old Annie Harbison, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., the audience of choice is a crew of very attentive stuffed animals.
Family readathon: Melody Sobers of Clinton, Utah, occasionally cancels bedtime to read into the wee hours with her sons.
The gatherings may be planned — say, when a long-awaited title is released at midnight — but sometimes, “we just can’t put a book down,” says Melody. In Champaign, Ill., the Odoms favor a “Lazy Butt Reading Day,” when they all climb onto one bed or sofa “like a pile of puppies” with books and magazines and share passages aloud as the spirit strikes.
Offer books as treats. Make reading a reward, and kids will pick up on the excitement.
Tempting tableaux: During her daughters’ toddler and preschool years, Erin Jettenberg of Anchorage, Al., occasionally set up little themed reading areas for them to find: a tea-party hideaway with snacks, stuffed animals, and books about friendly critters or a tent stocked with flashlights and books on camping, bugs, and animal tracking.
Book fairy: When the Lodge kids of Timonium, Md., were young, their house was frequented by a book fairy, who left surprise reads hidden in their playroom. At the Judkins’s home in Farmington, Me., the Tooth Fairy brings a book for the first tooth lost, and even a leprechaun has been known to leave texts behind.
Mystery book bag: When Nicole Farrar of Plainfield, Ill., gets new books for her children, ages 9 and 5, she hides them in a special, decorated canvas tote bag. The kids must ask questions to guess the series, title, or theme before they can open the surprise.
Think outside the book. If your kids go for information, there are lots of ways to get it.
Fuel their passions: Heather Buquet of Bourg, La., supplies her kids with a variety of reading material on their favorite subjects: animals for Natalie, age 11, and fishing and boating for Clint, 16. “If they’re interested in something, kids will gladly read all about it,” notes Heather. Each child has subscriptions to niche magazines, such as Cat Fancy and Yachting, and Heather makes a point of regularly scanning newspapers, magazines, and websites for articles that might appeal to them.
Mix up the media: For kids who’ve grown up with computers, an e-reader or tablet (such as a Nook, Kindle, or iPad) can be an instant draw. After trying everything they could think of to get their youngest son, 12-year-old Andrew, to read for pleasure, Debra and Paul Weaver of Carteret, N.J. bought him a Nook Simple Touch. “He started reading almost immediately and continues to do so,” says Debra. Audio books, which allow restless kids to play, draw, or otherwise move about while listening, can work similar wonders.
Log the laughs: Danielle McCartney of Troy, Mo., keeps a rotating supply of quick reads, including joke collections and animal almanacs, in a tote in her car’s backseat. Her son, Scott, age 8, enjoys flipping through the pages and sharing facts and funnies as they roll.
Read AND write. Sharing their own ideas on paper can inspire kids to read what others have written.
Send fan mail: Colby, Catie, and Zachary Tomasello (ages 11, 9, and 6) of Land O’ Lakes, Fla., mail letters to their favorite authors. They keep a copy of each letter, along with the replies, in a “Dear Author” notebook. Now, says mom Heather, “When they finish a good book, they can’t wait to write the author and let him or her know.” They find addresses online (usually in care of the publisher), and over the past three years, every single writer has responded, much to the family’s delight.
Pen your own: Laurie Goldstein of Morganville, N.J., encourages her two boys, ages 10 and 13, to rewrite the endings of books they’ve read, make up stories to go with drawings they have made, and write their own tales. The payoff? Her older son has even gone so far as to write a whole book and self-publish it online.
Bring books to life. Get kids interacting with the story, and they’ll stay engaged to the end.
Pick a personality: The Thomases of Dallas, G.a, like to read aloud, then “jump into the book” by acting out characters and imagining how they would behave with one another.
Make sound effects: Eight-year-old Ikaika Kaahanui of Waimanalo, Hawaii, supplies the appropriate background noises, such as footsteps and closing doors, as his mother, Amanda, reads aloud.
Change it up: When reading old favorites, Darren and Noelle Bolstad of Martinez, Calif., switch words, while their young sons try to catch them at it. The Brodies of Fort Worth, Texas, rename characters to match family members and friends.