9 easy tips to help your child enjoy reading

Help your child become a lifelong reader
It's never been harder for parents and teachers to inspire children to read – we're competing with shiny screens and addictive games, and a child's interest can change like the weather! In How to Raise a Reader, Pamela Paul and Maria Russo describe unexpected, innovative ways to introduce your child to the wonders of the written word.
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1. Involve your child in rebuilding the story

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best (and the most fun!). Pamela and Maria explain that reading aloud a rhyming book, such as Dr. Seuss, and leaving out a word for your child to fill in can keep them engaged. Your child can simply read the word for you, try to guess at what the word might be, or playfully suggest a different rhyming word that isn't in the book. 

"It's fun and it's reading, in its way. And you can persuasively appreciate the result with a clap or a laugh, whichever the case calls for." 

2. Note your reading mistakes and embrace theirs

Everyone, regardless of age or ability, stumbles over words and occasionally misreads what's right in front of them. Pamela and Maria say it's important to embrace these moments. 

"Note when you make a mistake and don't make a big deal out of it. This lets your child see that even grown-ups and fluent readers make mistakes when reading. Laugh at your own silly syntax. Let your child laugh at you too. This creates a forgiving atmosphere in which their reading stumbles won't stand out as some form of tragedy."   

3. Listen to a story, watch a story

if your child struggles with reading, or perhaps need something else to keep stimulated as well as the printed word, audiobooks, picture books and videos of books with subtitled captions may be the answer you're looking for.

Not reading a book yourself "doesn't mean you don't enjoy stories or appreciate a good narrative. Audiobooks are especially great at teaching everything else literature brings us: nuanced characters, interesting word choices, complex sentence structure, engrossing plots."  

4. Submit to the series

Children beginning to read for pleasure will, inevitably, start craving a good series to get stuck into. These days there are hundreds to choose from, and early reading series are particularly good at turning new readers into lifelong readers, though adults might fail to see the appeal of a string of very similar fairies or beasts!

"Explore the available books, and steer your child to a series you think brings a little pizzazz to the table. We suggest mainly stocking up at the library or buying just a few and then swapping with friends, since each book is usually read once and only once." 

5. Character connection

We all like to read something we can relate to in some way. We see ourselves in the main character or can relate to the interactions between others; children are the same. 

"Be on the lookout for books to bring home that will connect to your reader right where they are – not just as a reader but as a human being. There are books that address nearly every milestone, occasion, worry, fear, goal, and interest (look through TheSchoolRun's book recommendation guides to find titles about football, rugby, performing, superheroes and more; we also have suggestions for books that tackle difficult subjects and great kids' books that feature BAME characters).

"When a book helps introduce a subject or illuminate a topic or answer a burning question, children learn that books are a place to turn for enhancing and enriching their lives. 

"In many ways, every book is a kind of self-help book for kids. They anticipate concerns, answer questions, and solve nagging problems. And when children learn from an early age that books can do this for them, they never forget that lesson." 

6. Screen stories

We're not talking about watching stories on screens. Pamela and Maria highlight books that have cleverly taken on the subject of screens and the culture around screen time

"These are excellent choices to give to a kid who may be surrounded by screens and trying to figure out where reading actual books fits into it all. In Hello! Hello! by Mathew Cordell, for example, a heroine ventures outdoors when her family is glued to their screens to notice her." 

7. Be the pipeline, not the gatekeeper

It can be difficult as parents not to push our own opinions and interests onto our children. When it comes to books, Pamela and Maria emphasise the need to draw a line between encouragement and pushiness. 

"You want to avoid being too pushy or opinionated, but you are still, after all, the pipeline – the main supplier of books in your child's life." 

They suggest adopting a tricky combination of enthusiasm and being nonchalant. 

"Go ahead and plant books around the house that you've tracked down for her. Keep a stack of your own childhood favourites available and just out of the way. The plan is for your child to 'discover' them when they're ready. They will be found, and when they are, they will be opened by your child, and not by you. For many children, it's an important distinction." 

8. Reading outside the book

Reading doesn't always have to involve books. If your child's interest seems to be fading, or it hasn't even begun, Pamela and Maria suggest playing a game with your child instead. 

"Many games heavily incorporate reading, from the obvious candidates like word games Boggle and Scrabble and Bananagrams to the less obvious ones like games on the Playstation." Even Monopoly has a lot of words in it, and it all counts as reading. 

9. Fostering a book critic  

Ask your child to review a book and help them decide what they like – and don't like – to read. 

"Thet can use a five-star system, a thumbs-up/thumbs-down, or a scale from one to ten. The more choice you give them, the more they feels in control of the situation. They're choosing the book; they're choosing the review format. Don't make them write anything down unless they actually likes writing!" 

Build-a-bookworm quick tips

  • Create a comic: "Comics are simple enough for even very young children to write on their own." 
  • A vacation story: "Ask your child to write captions for the photos from a family holiday. They can pick which ones go in the album and in which order (sequencing!) and write the captions themselves." 
  • Mummy's biography: "Ask your child to write the story of your life, as they see it. They can interview you about your childhood or your favourite books." 

Extract adapted from How to Raise a Reader (Workman Publishing) by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo. Copyright © 2019.

How to Raise a Reader front cover