Hook a Book Lover: 10 Clever Ways to Get Kids to Read

child amazed at the contents of a book

by Janeen Lewis

One of the most important things parents can do is raise a reader. Successful reading leads to successes in academics and gives kids a solid start in life. In fact, recent research shows that kids who read at least 15 minutes a day have accelerated reading gains.

But no matter how diligent parents are at supporting reading, sometimes kids resist. Books have to compete with those oh-so-scintillating devices, video games and TV streaming apps. 

Why not shake things up a bit and try some stealthy ways to hook a book lover? The following 10 ideas are sure to win over the most reluctant reader.

daughter and mother reading a book
Let your keiki stay up a little bit later to squeeze in a little extra reading time.

1. Free Stuff!

If your kids don’t believe you, ask Siri or Google “free stuff kids can earn by reading” and oodles of free items will pop up. By merely recording the titles they are reading, my own children have earned these things free: Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pizzas, frozen yogurt, books from Barnes and Noble, and amusement park tickets. One time my son turned in the most reading logs in our local summer reading program and got to be interviewed on the radio by a DJ. She gave him a basket of goodies including movie tickets for our whole family.

2. Reward with extra bedtime reading.

Have you noticed that your child who has a plague-like aversion to reading during the day suddenly develops a fondness for reading when it’s time for bed? Why not embrace this motivation and let your child earn extra reading time at bedtime? If he or she reads for a specified amount of time or reads a certain number of books, extend lights out for a few minutes — as long as your child spends that time reading.

3. Let the books out.

Don’t cage them up on the shelves! When my son was eight, he announced that he didn’t want to read non-fiction books because they bored him. I checked out a big stack of nonfiction titles from the library and in my most nonchalant voice said, “You don’t have to read these, but I think I will. They seem very interesting.” I strategically placed the books throughout the house, concentrating on his favorite places. That kid read every book by the end of the week.

Research shows that kids from print-rich homes are better readers, but it helps if the books, magazines and newspapers are out where kids can see them. Put bins and baskets of books in the bathroom, in the car, and spread out books with inviting covers all over hard surfaces in your home. 

young girl reading a book surrounded by stuffed animals
Make a comfy reading area.

4. Make your book nook the envy of the neighborhood.

Think: tent with twinkle lights. Plump pillows. Comfy chairs. Make your child’s reading space as comfortable and inviting as you can. The most original reading space I’ve seen was at a school. It was a model of the fictional Narnia ship Dawn Treader.  Kids climbed a ladder to a reading nook on top that was cushioned with carpet and pillows. 

But don’t think your home’s reading space has to be fancy. When my children were young they draped a sleeping bag over the footboard of our queen-sized bed. Extending it from the back of the bed, they lapped it over a chair and then curled up with their books in the “reading fort.” When reading time was over, we put everything away. Another fun thing my kids have done is build a “reading cave” with old moving boxes. 

young girl reading a graphic novel at the beach
Comic books and graphic novels are still reading!

5. Make it a double feature.

Every year new films come out that are inspired by books. If your child wants to see a movie that was based on a book, have them read the book first and then rent the movie and watch it together. Compare the two, and have your child explain which he or she liked better, the movie or the book.

6. Get graphic.

Umm. . . I’m talking graphic novels here. They may not be the conventional kind of books parents grew up with, but they may draw your child into reading. And while you are mixing it up, let them read comic books. Oh, and throw in some audio books and let them read on a device sometimes. Imagine all the possibilities that might engage your child in reading.

7. Let them order a magazine subscription.

I let my daughter have a magazine subscription, and she chose “Ask Magazine” for science and art lovers. She reads them repeatedly, quoting facts and digging further into topics she finds in the magazine, like poisonous plants and venomous animals. Magazine subscriptions that come specifically for the kids of the house make them feel grown up and tempt them to read. Some good ones to try: Ask, Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids, Cobblestone, Ladybug, and Highlights.

young girl reading under the blanket with her dog
Let your kids read under their blankets with a flashlight or a cool reading light.

8. Tickle a funny bone.

From Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, to Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia, or Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine, a funny story is a good way to hook a book lover. And if you read a humorous book with your child, you might find yourself chuckling along, too.

9. Let there be light.

Come on, don’t be so stuffy! Let them read with a flashlight under the covers. (Or try a little reverse psychology and forbid them to read with a flashlight under the covers — maybe they’ll sneak and do what you want them to!) Also, there are a plethora of really cool reading lights in today’s universe. Headlamps are a unique option, and there are even book lights that keep track of minutes read.

10. Be a rock star reader yourself.

Carve out time daily for your child to see you pouring over the paper, curling up with your favorite book, or discussing a tidbit from a magazine. Model a reading life, and your child will be more likely to embrace the same literature-loving values.

Janeen Lewis is a writer, teacher and mom to Andrew and Gracie. When she’s not trying to tame the whirlwind that is her life, you’ll find her curled up with a good book.

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