Reading helps kids understand the world around them in a multitude of ways, which is why early exposure can be so powerful. But getting kids to love books and reading can be an uphill battle for some. “Literacy is a foundational skill, not just in education but in life,” says Stephanie Dua, cofounder and president of HOMER. “Having positive associations with books from a young age makes learning to read less intimidating.”
Dua founded HOMER after noticing that her own daughter was struggling with reading in school. “I recognized that there had to be more parents that needed flexible and adaptable solutions,” she shares. “Children are naturally wired to learn… but there is no one way in which every child learns.” Flexibility is key—especially if you want to tap into your child’s intrinsic motivation.
Encouraging a love of reading in your child doesn’t have to mean adding more books to your bedtime roster or coming up with involved lessons and games, Dua tells Motherly. Instead, keep it simple. “Words are everywhere. It can be as simple as asking your child to help you out by reading the shopping list to you at the supermarket or by telling them the street name you’re looking for and having them read the signs as you’re driving,” she suggests. When you make reading part of life, kids may be more naturally drawn to it—rather than when you approach reading as work or something they need to practice all the time.
“When a child is naturally approaching a new skill from a position of curiosity and playfulness, the child is intrinsically motivated and that’s a win for the whole family,” says Dua. Incorporating reading as a fun element in their everyday life is the best method for success.
Here are Dua’s top tips for how to actively and passively help your child love reading.
Active ways to encourage your child to read
Kids who are reading proficiently by 4th grade are more likely to stay enrolled in high school and perform better in other subjects, like math and science, says Dua. “These impacts flow through an entire lifetime of benefits including increased incomes, greater job stability and better health outcomes,” she notes.
- Label it: Similar to reading road signs or grocery lists, labeling items around your house or their bedroom with sticky notes can help make reading more front-and-center in their everyday lives. “You can even let them label you,” Dua suggests. “Write ‘nose’ on a sticky note and let them match the word to your body part—they find that really silly and fun.”
- Set up a sing-off: Set up a family sing-along where you have to read the words to follow along. Karaoke is a big winner for kids with lots of energy.
- Help them see themselves: Seek out stories with characters your child can relate to. “The faster kids discover that they can see themselves in the stories, the more excited they will be to read,” Dua notes. Try looking for a book that matches your child’s reading level based on a show or movie character they already love. Kids already know there’s going to be someone they relate to in the book, making them more interested in reading, she notes.
- Start young: Reading aloud to babies helps their rapidly forming brains create powerful neural connections from an early age. You don’t even have to read them a children’s book, Dua points out. “Do you have a new novel you’ve been dying to read but don’t have the time for with a new baby? Why not read it aloud while nursing?”
- Make a routine: Starting a habit means no new mental load required. Keep up with nightly bedtime stories as long as possible. Visit the library regularly to explore new stories. Schedule daily “reading time” with your whole family. Create a book exchange with playdate friends and swap books every week or two.
Passive ways to encourage your child to read
Making your home a naturally reading-rich environment is one of the best ways to encourage a love of reading, Dua says. And while it can be helpful to have your child see you reading, parents are busy and shouldn’t put pressure on themselves to role-model reading for their kids, she notes. But it’s important to treat books and reading with respect. Reading should be honored as a worthy way to spend your time, and protected as such. “Children read a lot into our value systems and how we treat reading time speaks volumes on the way our children think about books.”
- Keep books around: It’s actually as simple as just having books on your shelves. “A two-year long global study showed that the mere presence of a home library can increase a child’s academic success, vocabulary development, attention and job attainment. You get the most impact by having around 80 books in your home library so if people are asking what to give your child on a special occasion, the simple gift of a book can go a long way,” Dua shares.
- Turn on subtitles: Yep, you can even turn TV time into reading time by toggling on closed captioning.
- Take books to go: Turn the car into a mini library by keeping a small collection of books in the back seat or tucked into a seat pocket.
- Asking for reading assistance: “Start asking your kids for help with anything that involves reading. ‘Oh what does that laundry liquid say?’ ‘Can you help me with this recipe?’ It doesn’t matter if they are just guessing or making things up. What your kids learn when they try to figure it out is more valuable than getting it right,” Dua says.
It’s important to remember that it’s OK to adapt to what your child needs when it comes to reading. Literacy methods aren’t as rigid as we’re sometimes led to believe. “Oftentimes, we think that our child is having a learning problem, but sometimes the problem is actually how we’re teaching it,” Dua stresses. Your best method? Tapping into your child’s natural love of learning and play to help them see reading in a new light.