Not only do many kids stop reading for fun around age 9, we’re also in the midst of a pandemic that brought much of their learning into the virtual space. That has many parents and educators worried about the potential for a “COVID slide,” in which some kids fall behind academically. One of the best things kids can do right now is read, read, and read some more — but getting them to do so is often easier said than done.
Some kids practically grow up in a corner alone, their face ever-buried in a book. But others would rather do just about anything besides read one sentence more than they absolutely have to for school. For those kids — the reading-resistant — a few extra tactics can go a long way toward helping them develop a love of reading.
We’ve written a lot over the years about getting kids to read more; here are our favourite ideas for you to try. (If you have more, drop them in the comments!)
Novels aren’t just for big kids
Longer novels or chapter books might seem out-of-reach for little kids, but the lack of pictures can actually light their imaginations on fire. As former parenting editor Michelle Woo wrote for Offspring:
Picture books can be magical for readers of all ages, even adults. But when it comes to reading aloud to young kids, I’ve learned not to ignore chapter books and novels. It may seem daunting to open up a hundred-plus-page tome when your audience has an attention span the length of a Peppa Pig episode, but the experience of making it through the story can be deeply rewarding.
Combine bath time and reading time
If you can’t figure out when to squeeze in some extra story time with your little kids, try reading to them while they’re in the bathtub:
Reading to your little kid while they’re bathing is great because 1) you’re multitasking, 2) your child is contained (he has no choice to but to listen to your dramatic performance of The Gruffalo), and 3) if he’s fidgety, he can play with toys and splash around as he soaks in the tale. The routine can last an hour or more — or as long as the water stays warm.
Reading a book is great! But the goal is really to read some words, any words, and lyrics are words:
If their books are collecting dust but they roam through the house all day singing to themselves, it’s time to introduce them to the wonderful world of song lyrics.
Back in the day, when you got a new cassette or CD the first thing you did was pop that puppy in and unfold the sheet of itty-bitty lyrics so we could squint and sing along. Kids these days will never get to experience that joy, so we’ve got to recreate it for them.
Also? TV captions are words.
Let them read past their bedtime
Some kids will do anything to stay up a little later — even read, and even if they’re not super into reading. Losing 30 minutes of sleep to extra reading is a price worth paying:
A couple of weeks ago, around the time we were transitioning from the later-than-usual summer bedtime routine to a back-to-school bedtime, we made a decision: OK, fine, you can stay up a little later if you want to keep reading on your own.
We do put a time limit on it, at least for now. But I know some parents who let their kids stay up as late as they want as long as they’re reading. (After all, they’re bound to fall asleep mid-paragraph at some point like the rest of us.)
Clutter up every room with books
OK, you don’t have to go so overboard that you’re constantly manoeuvring around stacks of books, Hoarders-style, but Woo found that keeping books out in every room is a great way to encourage impromptu reading:
Because we have books all around the house, my five-year-old will plop down on the sofa, and instead of immediately begging to watch TV, she’ll spot some titles on the side table — Chopsticks, After the Fall and Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing — and ask, “Mum, can you read this to me?” When she’s in a cranky mood, I’ll sometimes notice a pile of books next to the backyard door and suggest, “Hey, let’s go outside and read together on the rocking chair” (It’s a winning calm-down technique, I swear.) On days we arrive to swim class 10 minutes early, I’ll notice there are books in the seat pockets of my car and we might breeze through one before going inside.
There’s an app for that
Sometimes technology can be overwhelming, but sometimes it can come to the rescue, and help our kids hone their reading skills:
Google launched “Read Along,” an app for elementary school students that helps them practice reading skills. The app is based on Google’s existing app, Bolo, that launched in India last year.
The app has an in-app reading buddy that will listen to your child read out loud and offer them help if they start to struggle with a word of phrase. When they’re successful in reading a passage they can earn stars, giving the app a bit of a game-like quality to it.
Read to them even when they’re older
Just because they’ve learned how to read on their own doesn’t mean it’s time to ditch your regular routine of reading together. You can even take turns reading to each other:
There’s magic in reading books aloud to little kids, especially when you do the voices (you’ve got to do the voices) and they giggle at the pictures and you talk about the characters as if they’re your BFFs. Once kids learn how to read on their own, this parent-child ritual often ends, but it shouldn’t. There are great benefits to reading books to already-proficient readers, even up to age 14.
Start your own “reading program”
We’ve previously talked about signing up for virtual reading programs, but there’s no reason you can’t craft your own at-home reading program to hold year-round, to encourage kids to read more and earn prizes:
You could set up your own additional rewards’ system at home: Start by deciding on the milestones you’d like them to hit (maybe after every 10 books completed or every 10 hours of reading) and then come up with “prizes” they can earn for reaching each of them.