How to Tempt Your Child to Independently Read

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

So many of us are in this weird mess of staying home together. And, I have to say- it's a beautiful mess. Yet, in many ways, a new mess, and still, a mess.

We often have this list of things that WE want our kids to do- clean the house, play nicely together, teach themselves to play guitar, make a scavenger hunt, silently read. And then there's what out KIDS want to do- drink 5 cups of chocolate milk, jump on their brothers, and watch Peter Pan again.

In the past year of learning to take care of my almost 3 year old son, I discovered a couple tricks that really work for Brody and I- ways that I can trick him into wanting to silently read by himself. Although- is it really a bad trick? And is it really even a trick, or did I just do a better job of marketing so he could see the value in a book that he really wanted all along? Who knows. I'm okay calling it a trick.

These are ideas that help HIM come up with the idea of reading and start reading without me having to force or suggest anything at all.

1. Strategically place a fun book right where they might run into it. Instead of leaving books on their shelves, why not take one off and put it right on their bed? Or in the middle of the coffee table? Or on the middle of the couch? Somewhere that they are bound to go, and bound to see it, and bound to notice that it's not always there.

2. And in relation to #1- Have that book be the only cool thing around. Wherever you put that book, try to clear the space around it. If The Cat In the Hat is right next to a bowl of pretzels and their favorite Lego toys- you can guess what they'll go for.

Did you put it on the coffee table? Take the other magazines and cups and toys off. Did you put it on their bed? Clear the stuffed animals. Is it on the couch? Take off those extra blankets. Seeing one thing at a time provides more clarity for options of what to do. And a cleaner space (even if it's a small space, like the top of the coffee table) also provides the peace and quiet that is needed to want to get going in a book.

3. Covers are better than spines. Most children cannot read the print on the side of a spin because it is too small, and it's sideways. Covers are big, colorful, and flashy, and super inviting. If you have to choose between displaying 10 books sideways on a shelf or 1 book facing out on a shelf, well, clearly one option is more space efficient, but the other option is WAY more likely to get your child actually picking up the book and reading it. `

4. Less books = more reading. Children are more likely to choose and read one book when they see a stack of two or three sitting there than if they see a bookshelf full of hundreds of books, or even a stack of ten. Two books just isn't intimidating- it's so doable.

5. In order to enable #4, rotate books. Keep a decided number out and on display (5 is fine, 10 is fine, 50 is fine), and then don't feel bad hiding the rest in the garage or the closet. Getting it out of sight, even for just a few months, will really help them seem new and exciting and intriguing again when they make their next appearance.

6. Feature books of interest because of season, hobby, or recent learning. As you are rotating books and strategically leaving certain books out to be found, you are going to have more success with a book that reflects the current season (spring or Easter right now), a hobby they have recently been practicing (soccer, drawing, telling jokes), or something they've recently been fascinated with or been learning about. Did you recently go on a trip to the beach? There's lots of beach books. Did you see an owl by the side of the road yesterday? Read both fiction and nonfiction titles on owls!

7. Screens off. Don't get me wrong- screens are totally saving our sanity in my house right now. But you have to understand that the human brain is wired to pay attention to motion (this is a survival tactic!) way more than still life. So it's just not a realistic expectation for a child to crave independent reading when any type of other screen or big motion is going on in the room. Even if I have an exercise video going, which my son HATES, he will almost unwillingly have his eyes tied to that screen rather than looking for books.

8. Let go of your personal expectations around reading. If you want them to be able to read without you, then YOU are going to have to be okay with them reading in a way that might be very different than you think they SHOULD read.

If they want to start at the end of the book and just look at pictures, that's fine. If your toddler wants to open a chapter book and flip through it upside down and backwards, okay! If they spend 10 minutes on the same page because they are playing with the pictures, that's great! Any type of interaction and meaning making with a new text is exposure that should be counted as a success! Just because it doesn't look like typical reading to you doesn't mean it's not valuable or okay.

What are your tricks? I would love to hear!

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