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Raising healthy readers: How to get kids hooked on books

Carol Weston Author of 14 books & Advice Columnist Girls' Life

Want to help your kids become readers? When they’re little, give them board books and read aloud to them. When they’re bigger, get them library cards, and leave books in every room. If your kid becomes an enthusiastic reader, start a parent-child book club, and seek out author events at community bookstores. Even if your kids aren’t natural bookworms, let them see you reading newspapers, magazines, and books. Give books as gifts too, whether to newborn babies, college grads, or friends turning fifty. If children see that you value books, sooner or later, they may just acquire a taste for reading that will serve them well all their lives.


Do read with your children

It’s never too early to read to your kids. Did your mom or dad read to you? If so, it’s probably a sweet memory. Reading to babies and kids gives you a time of closeness and helps kids build vocabulary from the start. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to your infant. Give your baby board books, not just rattles or stuffed animals. Snuggle up with your infant or toddler and enjoy reading together.

Do get them a library card

You know the expression “like a kid in a candy store”? Libraries are even better for growing minds and bodies, and a child with a library card feels empowered. How often do kids get to choose what they want to read and exercise free rein? Next time you have an extra hour while you’re waiting for a sibling to finish tutoring or swim practice, spend it in the library. It’s a cozy, happy, place and a good habit to instill. (Bookstores are great too!)

Do leave books and magazines around

Many parents lament that their school-age kids don’t read for pleasure. The solution may be simply to leave the right “bait” around. Even kids who think they don’t like to read will succumb to a strategically-placed Snoopy, Spiderman, Sports Illustrated, or Seventeen on the kitchen counter or in the bedroom or bathroom. Girl magazines are like catnip for preteens. If you ask your teen daughter if she’d like a copy of Girltalk or a subscription to GL or Seventeen or Teen Vogue, she may say no. But if you leave a copy at her bedside, she’ll jump in. Make it easy for kids to dive into reading.

Do keep a reading record or journal or start a book club

Some kids get motivated if you write down the names of the book they read or put gold stars on calendars. Other families find that starting a book club can make a big difference. Get a book club going with each of your children when they are old enough to read longer books. Pick a book that is a good fit for both you and your child based on age and interest. Going for a classic can never hurt, like Charlotte’s Web or The Giver. Avoid heavy reads or school books. The goal is to bond over books.

Do set designated reading times and let kids see you read

Why not establish a family reading time during which everyone reads for thirty minutes? After dinner? Before bed? Sunday before brunch? Turn off the electronics please. When kids see parents curled up with books (or even newspapers), they know their parents value reading.


Do not criticize their reading choices

Rather than tell a child that a book is too easy for him, just let him enjoy reading. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in comic books, graphic novels, sports biographies, etc. and a boy who learns to enjoy reading will be an adult who cares about books. And when a book seems too hard or too advanced or adult? Okay, in this case, say, “I bet you’ll like that even more when you are older” and steer them to more age-appropriate fare.

Do not tell them a book is just for girls or just for boys

No one tells girls that Harry Potter is for boys only, and you shouldn’t tell a boy that a book is just for girls. In fact, when a boy reads a book about girls, even a diary, this can help him learn more about the wider world. Girls and boys can learn a lot from whatever books interest them, and when there are strong male or strong female characters, so much the better. Look too for books with diversity and multicultural settings and characters. Reading is learning.

Do not make it too easy for kids to play games instead of reading

If you automatically hand a child a phone when he or she acts bored or fussy, the child will quickly get used to playing games. If, however, you hand little children books rather than devices, they’ll read instead of play. Some families keep devices on high shelves to help kids resist temptation. Strive to make it easy for kids to develop the habit of reading and harder for them to get into mindless games.

Do not make a child feel bad about not being a bookworm

If your child is not a natural born reader, that’s still OK. Some kids have other strengths and passions. Keep encouraging reading and keep tempting reading material handy. Is your child reading a book in English that interests you? Great. Ask about it in a friendly casual way. In general, your goal is to help your kids feel good about who they are and to help them become their best selves.

Jumping cartoon

Some kids are born bookworms. Some need a little encouragement. If you read to your child and have family reading times and leave enticing books around, your reluctant reader may just come around. Anna Karenina, anyone?

More expert advice about Help Your Child Succeed Academically

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Carol WestonAuthor of 14 books & Advice Columnist

I’m the author of over a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction for kids, teens, and adults. Newest novel: AVA AND PIP. Next up: AVA AND TACO CAT. I’ve been the “Dear Carol” advice columnist at Girls’ Life for over 20 years. and have been a guest...

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