I’ve been helping kids create a love of reading for 25 years.
Some days, I think I’ve nailed it. Others, it’s more of a struggle.
Yesterday, for example, my 8th graders rushed into class babbling about the first chapter of The Pearl; they couldn’t believe it when the chapter was over, and how fully Steinbeck had loaded it with intrigue. And it’s an assigned text.
That’s a win.
Over the last month, though, I’ve been helping one of my struggling readers build up his confidence. He fought me. He pretended to read. He insisted he understood what he was reading. And one day, he broke down in tears.
We had a talk. We found books that were at his reading level (four grades below) and that had interesting topics. And he reluctantly started to read.
He didn’t stop until he had blown through three books and asked if he could try something longer.
This week, he’s pushing himself.
The struggle for the win.
Finding ways to get kids to love reading takes some tenacity, some audaciousness, and a bit of luck. I’ve noticed that the faster we’re accustomed to acquiring information, the less interested many kids become in persevering through a text. They want the answer now, the ending fast, and want to be entertained all the way through.
Kind of like a video game.
So as a middle school teacher, figuring out how to hook kids often makes me feel like an entertainer, a magician, and a task master all rolled up into one tired teacher.
It’s a good thing I like a challenge.
I’ve come up with 5 ways I’ve found to create a love of reading in children. Some are simple, some will take more effort on your part. But all of these will work to develop children who love to read.
How to create a love of reading:
- READ every day.
This is sometimes easier said than done, but it really is the number one way to create a love of reading. Think of reading as part of your routine. If your children are pre-readers, read to them. If they are independent readers, schedule blocks of reading time. Teach them that reading time is relaxing, not rigorous. Let them choose what they read, and watch what happens:
It all adds up. Supposing a kindergartener reads/is read to for one minute a day. By the time they reach 6th grade, they will have read for a total of three school days, 8,000 words per year.
If they read five minutes per day, they will total up to 12 school days or 900 minutes and 282,000 words per year.
But if they read my suggested amount of 20 minutes a day, between kindergarten and 6th grade, they will have read for 60 school days, 3600 minutes, or 1,800.000 words per year.
With all those words and all that time, they will be hooked.
2. READ all types of text.
Read all sorts of things – not only books but also show them print in all forms. Re-read their favorites over and over – when they (and you) have it memorized, they’re internalizing story structure, language skills, and feel successful. Read greeting cards and magazines and board game directions and recipes. Don’t worry if they’re not reading ‘classics’ – just keep trying until they get hooked. Older kids are quickly engaged by graphic novels and books about sports or hobbies. Whatever they’re interested in, find something about it in print and READ.
3. LABEL everything.
My kids went to a Spanish Immersion school, and to increase vocabulary in their kindergarten class, everything was labeled in Spanish. Do the same thing in your house. Start in their room, and write labels for their boxes of Legos and art supplies. I used index cards and covered them with packaging tape to make them durable. READ the labels as you move around your house. You don’t have to do everything at once – make it a game, and see if every day they can spot the new labels. Pretty soon they will have a huge vocabulary of sight words!
4. Go to the library.
Make library visits a regular part of your calendar. Schedule a day each week, if you can, to spend an hour browsing and playing. When your kids are little, have them pull out a stack of books and find a cozy spot to read together. As they get older, you can bring your own book to read while they look around. Find out about storytimes or programs you and your child can participate in. Create a ‘library play group’ with a few other kids and take turns being the parent in charge. Celebrate the day they’re old enough to be issued their own library card. Going to the library will open the door to a world of opportunity – and it’s all free!
5. Create your own books.
Staple together a few pieces of blank paper (or better yet, purchase a bound sketchbook) and help your child draw pictures of their day. Cutting up magazines is also an option (and often old magazines are free at the library). If they’re able to write, have them create a caption. If not, they can dictate it to you. Creating books is a fun way to document a trip, a special day, or just the extraordinary, ordinary life of being a child. Make sure to date the pages- you’ll appreciate that when they’re older. Teens will enjoy having a special journal to draw or write in – a spiral notebook works just fine, and they can customize the cover with cut-outs, stickers, and photographs. Cover with packaging tape to make it durable, and they have their own personalized book.
Even if your child already has a love for reading, adding in new and exciting opportunities to explore text will enhance their abilities and open up new ways for them to learn.
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