Most people would agree that reading is a good thing, and that it is critical to language and literacy development. But not everyone is a natural bookworm – so here are some tips on how to help your child develop a love of reading.
Tip 1: Reading should be fun
Your first goal is to convince your child that reading is a pleasurable activity that they will want to do again and again. Focus on making reading a fun experience.
Tip 2: Target their interests
Choose books that reflect your child’s interests – whether it be trucks/ princesses/ food/ shoes. There are books on just about every topic – the right one can get the reader hooked on reading for life.
Tip 3: Create a reading-friendly lifestyle
Create a comfortable space for reading – it can be a couch, or beanbag, or cushions, or in bed – and stock up on a variety of books or other reading materials, such as magazines or newspapers.
Incorporate reading into your weekly routine, for example by visiting your local library regularly, or by setting aside some “reading time” at bedtime or on weekends.
Tip 4: Model good reading habits
Let your child see you read. Show that you enjoy reading, want to do it regularly, and that you feel confident about reading. You can also explain why you love reading, such as “reading helps me make sense of things”, or “reading makes me laugh”.
If you want to improve your own confidence in reading, there are community resources to support you. Contact your local library or adult education organisation to see how they can help.
Tip 5: Try different formats
Reading isn’t just about novels. Some children prefer non-fiction (information books), particularly illustrated titles. Don’t forget that newspapers, magazines, even recipes and instruction manuals, can offer good reading opportunities – whatever interests the child.
If your child prefers pictures to words, then why not try picture books or graphic novels? There are many sophisticated picture books aimed at older readers (such as The Arrival by Shaun Tan) , and the graphic novel format has been used on a range of topics including literary classics (for example Nikki Greenberg’s adaptation of Hamlet) . Children who like to listen to stories can try to read and listen at the same time – play an audiobook and encourage them to follow the story on a printed copy.
Tip 6: Make it a family activity
Some children may find reading more appealing if it is done as a family activity. It could be reading aloud to each other; or reading silently side by side; or listening to an audiobook together during a car trip. It can even be watching a film adaptation together (and discussing how it differs from the original book). Be creative, and choose something that all of you can enjoy.
Tip 7: Talk to the experts
Teachers, school librarians, local librarians and children’s booksellers all have professional knowledge and experience in engaging reluctant readers. Talk to them and ask for useful strategies and/or book recommendations. Beloved author Paul Jennings, who is also a teacher and speech pathologist, has written a guide called “The Reading Bug and how to help your child catch it”.
Final tip: Relax
Remember Tip 1: Reading should be fun? Encouraging children to read should not be stressful for parents either.
Don’t worry if they don’t read everyday – this is understandable, especially at the beginning. Be gentle but persistent with your encouragement.
Don’t worry if they don’t choose “good” literature, or if they only read about a single topic or character; sooner or later they will branch out.
Don’t worry if they choose something that is too hard or too easy; gently offer a more appropriate alternative, but also respect their choice.
Finally, try not to feel disappointed if your child shows no interest in reading your own childhood favourites. Encourage them to read widely, and one day they may give your favourite books another chance!