How To Help Your Children Fall In Love With Reading
Reading was by far my favourite thing to do as a child. My mum regularly chased me out of the house on sunny days because she worried her bookworm of a kiddo wasn’t getting enough Vitamin D. (No-one needs a nerd with rickets, right?) I rebelled by learning how to ride my bicycle one-handed, leaving the other hand free to hold a book. Yep. I was that cool.
So, I’m probably a bit biased when it comes to children and books. We have plenty of favourites in our home, and although I like to introduce new books and older, classic titles, I refuse to be a book snob. One of my children adores comic books, and as long as he’s reading, I’m not going to nag him about the format. My hope is that I can instill a lifelong love of reading in them, and maybe relive a few of my childhood favourites along the way.
Inspired by advice from the New York Public Library, here you go with some of my favourite tips for choosing books that will help your children fall in love with reading, too.
Selecting Books Your Children Will Love
See if you like it
Great books appeal to readers of all ages. Share your childhood favourites with your children, but let them introduce you to new books and authors you can share, too. We’ve recently enjoyed Charlotte’s Web, which I adored when I was younger, and the Ruby Redfort series by Lauren Child, which is brand new to me.
Look at the illustrations
I am slightly obsessed with picture books, and will be sad when my children outgrow them. Pictures matter as much as words, and help you interpret the story together. Books with few or no words at all give kids the chance to create their own tales and expand on what they see. It’s a fun challenge for them, and enormously entertaining for you.
While books for older children obviously have fewer pictures, the simple line-drawings used as spot illustrations in books like Alice in Wonderland or Ballet Shoes shaped my experience of reading them and stick in a child’s memory as much as the story itself.
Rhyme and repeat
There’s a good reason younger children in particular love watching the same cartoons and TV shows endlessly (Peppa Pig, I’m looking at you). Many of the words are still new to them so repetition is reassuring. Books with repeating and rhyming lines make it easier for your children to join in and read the story with you. In our home, the more bedraggled a book looks, the more we have read and love it.
Encourage children to pick their own titles
For reasons of finance, I generally stick to more certain ground in bookshops, while letting my mini-readers go nuts with their choices in the library. This arrangement works well for us, though, and many of our most-loved books started out as library loans before we bought our own copies. It’s interesting to observe what your children choose when they have free choice, and see their tastes evolving over time.
Understand reading levels (but be flexible)
Reading levels are mostly determined by the vocabulary and complexity of the story, not your child’s age. It’s helpful to note the publisher’s recommendation on the book jacket, but don’t let it restrict you. As a general rule of thumb, if your child has to look up more than five or six words per page, the book is probably too complicated for them. The same might not be true of the story, however. If they show a real interest or determination to keep reading, join in and read it together or share it as a bedtime story.
Know when to give up.
On the other hand, regardless of reading age, if your kiddo seems bored with a story, set it aside for later. Switch to something that captivates them or revert to an old favourite. Books should never feel like a chore and it’s especially important to keep story time fun.
Look for the familiar . . .
Younger children in particular like reading about things they can relate to their own lives and interests. Books can be a great way for them to explore things like welcoming a new sibling, visiting grandparents or starting at a new school.
. . . but engage in fantasy, too
Make-believe characters and worlds have a magic all of their own. I remember being 5 or 6 when I discovered The Adventures of the Wishing Chair and it was the perfect book to spark my (admittedly fevered) imagination. Fantasy has had a huge boost in recent years, thanks to Harry Potter, and there’s something out there for just about every reader.
This type of fiction can also provide a safe way for children to explore darker or more scary themes, and encounter monsters in the safety of their own home. It’s a great way to talk about and prepare for the unexpected in real life, especially if you have an anxious child.
This one can be tricky, but once you get started it’s really interesting for parents and kiddos alike. Popular books from or about different countries are an ideal way to introduce your children to new cultures. You can read about what life is like for people in other parts of the world, and explore all sorts of different ideas and concepts. We haven’t found a huge number of books in translation, but it’s worth asking your librarian or seeking them out online. You’re also likely to find a wider range of titles if you look at non-fiction as well as stories.
Complete the series
If you’re stumped about what to read next, book series make life much easier. They’re also helpful for reluctant readers who can find it comforting to stick with familiar characters and settings. Look out for series which already have multiple titles published so you’re not waiting for the next one to drop, unless your kiddos are particularly patient. We’re big fans of Louis Sachar’s Wayside School stories here, and have just started collecting A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.
Find favourite authors
As with series fiction, this can be a great way to find titles you’re certain kids will enjoy. I try to offer them a good mix of the new and the familiar to balance things out. My sneaky hope is, of course, that they’ll find more favourite writers through the new books, and be encouraged to read ever more voraciously.
Be format agnostic
As I mentioned earlier, I have no qualms about letting my children read comic books and graphic novels. I adore books, but also read plenty of eBooks on my phone, and know they’re likely to do the same as they get older. I’d be sad if they didn’t enjoy traditional paper books, but at the same time, we love picking out audiobooks to listen to in the car. It’s a different way to enjoy old favourites and experience new books together.
Don’t overlook non-fiction
Some people are happier reading non-fiction, and this is particularly true of autistic or neurodiverse children. Don’t fight against it; reading is reading, and there’s nothing wrong with taking more pleasure in learning and collecting facts than in stories. Plenty of children enjoy both types of book, and it’s amazing to watch and see which facts grab their interest and shape your conversations.
Reading with your children creates pleasure, builds their language skills and knowledge base, and helps them to do better in school. Make story time even more fun by choosing books that will enthral them.