Motivation- It Can Be an Aggravation!

Tips and tricks on motivating your child to read.

“My kid hates reading. What do I do?”

“It’s such a struggle getting her to read every night!”

“How do I motivate my child to read?”

These are some of the most common questions that parents and the general public often ask me as a Literacy teacher. Some kids have no trouble finding a book to read, (my own parents had to take away my independent reading books so that I would do my homework), but with others reading can be a struggle!

Many kids struggle with reading for a myriad of reasons: for some, reading has become synonymous with “work”. Mandatory school reading can sometimes take the fun out of reading for pleasure. For others, it’s due to a reading difficulty or disability. Many kids need or simply like to take their time with reading, but feel rushed due to outside pressure from parents, teachers, or their peers.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret… it can. Be. Done.

I believe to my core that the key to motivating students to read boils down to one word: CHOICE. Giving your child choices when it comes to reading makes an incredible difference when it comes to developing a child’s positive reading culture. My overall thesis pertains to the choice of reading when it comes specifically to fantasy novels, because growing up those were always my choices for independent reading. However, it was not the best feeling when I was told “put it away” or “save it for later” when it came to my schoolwork. I’ll always be grateful for the breadth of choices and exposure to nonfiction and canonical works of literature that my teachers gave me, but there was always a little nugget in the back of my mind saying, “Why can’t we read fantasy too?”

So, without further ado, here are some tips on how to motivate your child to read:

1. Create a culture of reading in your home and your classroom.

Let’s face it- kids see EVERYTHING. Even when you think they’re not paying attention, they are watching and taking in the world around them. If kids see you reading, they will read too! Taking the time to model how enjoyable reading is can go a long way. Invest some time in taking them to the library- show them how you pick out a book, what interests you, and what you do to find a book when you’re stuck (and best of all, libraries are FREE!).

If your child is young and likes to be read aloud to, take the time to read to them even if it’s only for ten minutes. If they’re picking the same book over and over again (I have Brown Bear Brown Bear memorized by now), that’s okay! They’re taking in the vocabulary and the prosody in which you are reading, and they’re picking up the skills that you are modeling for them. Ask them questions as you read, and let them ask questions too.

Fun Fact: Reading aloud to your child helps develop their early vocabulary acquisition and their oral language skills!

If your child is older and reading independently, read alongside them and show them your reading interests. Many schools and teachers require 20 minutes of reading a day- take those 20 minutes and read as well! It doesn’t necessarily need to be a novel- if you like to read the newspaper, a scholarly or medical journal, or a magazine, you can read that too, as long as your kid sees that you’re reading. This also may be a good opportunity to put down your technology and read a print book, but if you do use an E-Reader, make sure you stick to the book!

Teachers, I know your lives are full- you have all of these mandates from the District, you have Common Core Standards that you need to teach, as well as the new professional development strategy that you just learned at the last meeting. But here’s the deal- no matter how many strategies you try, how many gimmicks the higher ups give you, there is nothing, nothing that will raise your test scores higher than giving your students time and space to read. Consistent, timely practice is critical for students to develop their reading skills and become better readers. Set aside SOME time for your students to read- whether its ten minutes in a 40 minute period, 30 minutes in a 70 minute block, or one full period a week (scary, I know!), make sure that your students are reading!

2. Give your kids choices.

Now, when I say choices, I’m not only talking about the books they’re reading. Giving your child choices about reading and motivating themselves to read gives them the opportunity to learn strategies on what does and does not work for them. There’s no “one size fits all” strategy when it comes to how WE read, so why not try them all?

Some kids are motivated with extrinsic strategies and rewards. Work with your child and decide what those strategies might be. You can try a sticker chart, a reading log, a journal, or a point system. Many kids and adults get satisfaction from seeing the progress they make in their reading (future post on Goodreads, coming up!). Talk to your child about what helps them feel accomplished, whether its in reading or in other activities. However, be careful about the rewards you give for reaching their goals. Rather than framing it as “If you read ten books, I’ll give you candy,” try something that relates to reading, like “If you reach your reading goal of five stars, I’ll buy you your next choice of book at Barnes and Noble.” Bribing your child with TV or candy won’t build a positive reading culture, but you do want them to see the reward of reaching a goal (particularly a difficult one!).

When kids have the power to choose the books they are reading, they are more likely to consistently read. Have book options available for them, either at home, the classroom, or in the library based on their interests. Many teachers create “book bins” for their classroom library for organization purposes: each bin can be labeled by genre, topic, or interest. This will help your child make positive reading choices, and eventually you can coach your child to explore outside of their comfort zone once they’ve started independently making reading choices.

3. Talk to your kids about their reading.

Have you ever asked your child, “What did you do in school today?” And their first answer is, “I dunno.” That’s because conversation is a practice, and it needs to be approached in different ways. Sometimes kids simply don’t have the language yet for describing their emotions or their tastes, and they need models for what those conversations can look like. For example, instead of asking, “what did you do in school today?” You can start by asking, “What was your favorite activity in science today?” Asking specific, framed questions about their interests and activities gives them a specific talking point, rather than a general one. Start small, and work your way up.

The same goes for reading. There are lots of things we may like or dislike about a book, but if someone asks me, “Did you like it?” Then my brain freezes. Ask your kids questions about the plot, characters, or even simply break it down by page or chapter. “Why is Ron Weasley your favorite character?” “What was your favorite chapter in The Hobbit?” “Which illustration in this picture book did you like the most?” Starting small and asking specific questions can lead to the bigger questions and supported conclusions on their reading.

Furthermore, do the same with your own reading. Talk to your child about the parts that you enjoy, even if you’re worried that the content might be too complicated for them. When I talk to my own students about my reading, I tell them about the characters, the structure, and the major plot points. For example, if I’m reading The Lord of the Rings, which is WAY above my toddler’s heads, I would say, “I love how the characters in my story work together to make sure that everyone is safe in their community.” While I don’t have to go into extraordinary detail about Tolkien’s sophisticated world building and the intricacies of Elf and Dwarf politics, I’m sharing an important theme with them that will last. They still understand that I enjoyed the community building and fellowship (pun intended) in the story.

Final Thoughts

The list can go on and on when it comes to motivating kids to read. The possibilities are endless when parents and teachers put their noggins together and share ideas. If you’re looking for some more resources on how to motivate your child to read, I’ve included some links below!

Reading Rockets: Simple Practices to Nurture the Motivation to Read

NYTimes: How to Raise a Reader

Reading Rockets: Top 10 Resources on Reading Motivation

International Literacy Association: Choices Reading Lists

Happy Reading!

Author: Elise TC

Fantasy Literature Scholar and Literacy Educator MA: Teachers College Columbia University and Signum University

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