Parents of young children are encouraged to read books and teach them how to read independently from an early age. Reading books sets the foundation for many literacy skills like comprehension, spelling, writing, and creative thinking. Teaching your child to read can help them perform better academically, increase their ability to articulate thoughts and emotions, and instill self-confidence. 

While some children take a shining to books easily, some are more difficult to teach. All children develop at different rates. Even if they have trouble reading or don’t demonstrate an interest in it, it is still possible to instill a love for books as they grow older. 

Depending on your child’s personality, telling them to read or bribing them with a reward may not work. It also probably won’t make them truly fall in love with reading or spontaneously want to do it. Sometimes you need a less imposing strategy. If you are the type of parent who doesn’t want to force your child to do something they don’t want to do, here are several subtle ways that you can try to encourage your young child to enjoy reading:

1. Talk to them about different topics

Children are naturally curious. If you have a child that asks you “Why?” twenty times a day, it’s not because they want to annoy you, but rather that they are trying to establish their own understanding of how the world around them works. Children want to find order in a chaotic world. Their senses are continually bombarded with new information and experiences, so curiosity is their response to try to make sense of everything. Help them by looking for information with them on web pages or in books.  Rather than provide an answer, show them the power of wonder, discovery, and inquiry; and show they the power of having knowledge at their fingertips through the skill of reading. “Let’s look it up!” is a daily refrain in our house.

2. Read incrementally

Children have very short attention spans. The younger they are, the shorter the time they can play or do anything independently before asking for attention from their parents or caregivers. If your older child still has a relatively short attention span, it will take some time before they think sitting down to read a book is an enjoyable activity. Start with short stories with lots of pictures and illustrations that break up the monotony of text. Give them access to magazines or children’s digests that have short articles on varied topics. There are plenty of kid-friendly almanacs and books of facts that your child can read sections without feeling pressured to finish the entire book.  My two little ones love our animal encyclopedia with lots of pictures and interesting facts.  Which bird is the fastest flyer on the planet?  “Let’s look it up!”.

3. Encourage them to tell you about a topic

As your child gets older and more independent, you will want them to learn to tell you about things that happen in school, or how they feel, or what they want. Coax the stories out of them by asking them plenty of open-ended questions. Avoid “yes” or “no” questions because they will not encourage you to have a conversation with your child. Instead of asking them if they are hungry, ask them, “What do you feel like eating today?” If you want to know how their day went, don’t say “Did you have a good time at school?” ask them instead “What subject did you find interesting?” or “What was your favourite part about school today?”  This question structure engages contextual conversation.  Validate whatever they say with comments like “I know that is important to you” or “I see how that would be your favourite part of your day”, rather than countering with oppositional statements (e.g., why would you like THAT?).  As children become more aware of their own personality, interests, desires and skills, we can find ways to integrate literacy into those activities or integrate those topics into literacy time. Further, children that learn to relate experiences as “stories”, narratives, or in a timeline/sequences of events are advantaged in comprehending stories as well as writing and composing. 

4. Read in front of them

The saying goes, “Monkey see, monkey do.” Children are observant and perceptive young people. If you have ever been frustrated with trying to discipline them, many behavioral experts recommend that you mirror the behavior you want to see in your child. The same can be said about reading. If you aren’t an avid reader yourself, how can you expect your child to be one? During playtimes or downtime at home, instead of browsing your phone or watching television, open a book instead. You might be surprised that your child will join you on the sofa with his book in hand.  Research shows that reading achievement is correlated with the number of books in the home, and the amount of time parents spend reading.  Like to read on your Kindle, phone, or iPad?  Tell your child that you are reading, not doing “screen time”, and tell them a little bit about what you are reading and learning. 

5. Make reading a deliberate activity

Reading books should have a time and place in your daily or weekly schedule. Read one book each night with your child as you put them to bed. Another idea is to try setting aside time on the weekend as “reading hour.” Bring everyone into the living area, turn off all distractions, and sit down to read together or on your own for one hour. Over time and with a lot of patience, you might notice your child looking for a book at bedtime, or that reading hour extends into two, or three.  Set a time that is manageable for your child and increase the length of time as you are having success.  You may read a book together for 5 minutes and then do “read to self” time for 5 minutes (you should read during this time too, to model reading habits as indicated in #4 above). 

Children react differently to instruction, so sometimes a more subtle approach might click with a child who has trouble reading. Try any one or a combination of these ideas and see if you can slowly build up an interest in books over an extended period. What matters most is that you allow your child to fall in love with reading, rather than forcing it upon them.  

Are you looking for reading intervention programs in Calgary? We offer specialized support for children to develop and improve their literacy skills. Call us today to get the help you need for your child.