Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.
Get a child to love reading for life with the help of today’s five tips. Plus, five inspiring quotes from famous authors to motivate you to put these practical tips into action in your home or classroom.
“One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”— Agatha Christie
1. Whenever possible, give children physical books
Ah, the smell of a new book! A scent beckoning adventure. Indeed, for many readers, an emotional bond forms while reading a physical book of their very own. Beloved books feel like old friends.
Technology is one of greatest advantages – and setbacks – of the modern child. Even into the 1990s and early 2000s, physical books were still the norm. Cell phones were mere flip phones—not portable computers with professional cameras. Social media was in its infancy.
Today, many children too young to recall a world without pervasive technology say they prefer e-readers to physical books. They don’t realize what they’re missing, presenting an opportunity for parents and teachers.
Science tells us that when a child reads text on physical paper, they will better retain the information. We also know that reading on e-readers in the evening—when many children do homework—is more likely to contribute to eye strain and insomnia than reading physical books. To be fair, there are benefits to e-readers such as the ability to increase font size for the visually-impaired.
While physical books are ideal for a child’s library, I certainly recommend augmenting with audiobooks. For situations like family road trips, listening to a story will engage a child’s mind far more than scrolling on a device. Audiobooks can also help with family bonding by generating great conversations. I have fond memories of listening to audiobooks with my siblings during road trips or as a special treat after finishing our homework.
Weigh any potential benefits of technology for the children in your care and – when possible and sensible – encourage them to read physical books.
“I know there’s a proverb which says that ‘to err is human.’ But a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.”— Agatha Christie
2. Children benefit from books that engage the imagination
Unfortunately, all children will eventually encounter disappointments, challenges and setbacks. By curating good books for your home or classroom, you will give children powerful tools to help brave life’s headwinds.
A growing body of research shows there are many cognitive and emotional benefits to exposing children to high-quality imaginative literature like fantasy and science fiction.
Epic fantasies like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy are excellent for helping young adults process trauma. For younger children, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is an example of a useful book for teaching children about empathy, friendship, courage, and difficult subjects like death.
“It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.”— Frodo, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King
3. Discuss great books as a family or classroom
Stay engaged with what your children and teens are reading. Spark conversations that create a comfortable “book club” vibe in your family or classroom.
Allow children and young adults to voice seemingly “outrageous” ideas as they formulate their own thoughts on a book. Asking children open-ended questions will encourage dialogue and the articulation of creative concepts. Children will in turn learn how to think well—and therefore to write well—without it feeling like a “lesson.” This type of organic learning is a crucial addition to more formal, structured instruction in literacy skills.
A child will not develop the ability to write well if they have not first learned to think well. An effective way to foster strong thinking skills in a mind is for that mind to engage with other strong minds. Classic books are a highly accessible, affordable and effective way to “hire” world-renown literacy teachers for children.
Brilliant writing is ultimately the output of a robust mind–ethically, logically and sentimentally. Your child will be exposed to some of the greatest minds in history if you encourage them to read great books—and if you read great books to them.
A great way to jumpstart family discussions around books and help your child love reading is to build home library.
“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”— George Orwell
4. Help your child love reading with the right technology
Children, until recently, could develop literacy skills largely independent of – not dependent upon – “intelligent” technology. Modern children, in contrast, are using voice-to-text technology to “learn” to “write” papers by speaking into smartphones.
The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the serious problem of technology interfering with learning. An excerpt from When Fourth Graders Can’t Read: “Students who aren’t reading at grade level by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school and end up in prison, decades of research has shown. By fourth grade, students must be able to use their literacy skills to learn other subjects, such as math, social studies and science, educators say.”
The Phoenix school featured in the article developed a solution involving proven principles: phonics, repetition, and requiring students to swap smartphones for pencil and paper to write.
Typing is an example of an essential tech skill that may enhance one’s literacy skills. Don’t allow children to resort to “voice-to-text” when they are composing book reports, papers or assignments for school.
“Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” is one example of a proven system to teach children to type. (I myself learned to type as a child thanks to Mavis Beacon.) Make typing lessons fun. Reward children in simple, small ways for meeting goals.
Whenever utilizing technology in the home or classroom, carefully weigh its benefits over any potential downfalls. Utilize timers. Minimize distractions. Make technology work for your child.
“I had an old typewriter and a big idea.”— J. K. Rowling
5. Send children to the dictionary when they encounter new words
“Dad, what does this word mean?” I would lazily ask my father as a young girl, hoping he’d tell me and I could keep speeding through the story. To my chagrin, he’d consistently respond: “Go look it up. Every time you don’t know a word, look it up in the dictionary.”
Today, I’m grateful to have a much broader vocabulary because my father made me look up words for myself rather than proffering the definitions on-demand. I’ve also developed a love for language, including the fascinating connotations, origins and variations of words.
Do your child the same favor. When they request the meaning of new or difficult words – send them fishing. (If you don’t know the word’s meaning, look it up in the dictionary together.)
A physical dictionary is ideal for teaching children (at first) rather than having them “Google” the definition. By using a physical dictionary, children are more likely to retain new words. They’ll also learn the helpful skill of alphabetization. Lastly, by using a real paper dictionary, they will eliminate screen time and distractions from a smartphone or tablet.
“And people laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?”— Anne of Green Gables in the eponymous novel by L. M. Montgomery
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips on how to get a child to love reading. To get you started, here’s my free printable reading log for kids.