This is a guest piece written by Kayleigh Alexandra of MentionMe.
It’s always important to support reading in early childhood, but it becomes essential when children start to read on their own. Independent reading is a fundamentally different experience from being read to, which can lead to an initial drop in enthusiasm. Parents have a unique responsibility to help children overcome this lag. If you can manage it, children will view reading as more than a utility. Here are some tips for helping cultivate a passion for reading.
Talk about your favorite book
When trying to get your child to see what makes reading so magical, one of the best things you can do is talk about a book that you feel deeply about. Maybe there’s a comic book you read countless times during your childhood or a novel that lifted your spirits while you were going through a difficult time. Perhaps there’s a children’s book you love to read again and again because one or both of your parents initially read to you.
By explaining what makes your favorite book so meaningful to you, and showing the passion you feel for it, you can help your child understand that reading is for more than just education or short-term entertainment. A great book can stay with you forever, giving comfort when facing challenges and helping to make good decisions.
Introduce relevant activities
Kids love playing, especially activities that let them make things and indulge their innate creativity. You can take advantage of this to encourage reading! Consider that many such activities feature reading as a necessary component. Even if your child isn’t quite convinced about independent reading, you can solidify it as a precursor to something fun, thus building a core positive association that can be refined over the years.
A great example of a suitable activity (or set of activities, to be more accurate) is a kids’ subscription box. If you pick something with a lot of variety (e.g. the Sago Mini has activities that range from crafting to finding places on maps), kids can get lost in the enjoyment of play and never notice how much reading they’re doing.
Use tie-ins with other media
It can be frustrating to position reading as a wonderful pursuit while your child wants to watch TV or play video games. Those things are flashier and more immediately arresting, so how can books compete? One way is to direct children to book tie-ins of TV shows, movies, or video games: sometimes these are direct adaptations; other times they feature central characters going on new adventures.
For instance, if your child loves Arthur (the longest-running animated children’s TV series in the US), introduce them to the many Arthur books. As it happens there are plenty to choose from, covering various accessible topics. If you think the move from TV or movies to books will be odd, you can read a book with your child, then let them take over when they get into the story. Their love of the characters should make all the difference.
Encourage them to write
Reading and writing support each other extremely well. The more you read, the more you have to write about. Conversely, the more you write, the more you appreciate reading and understand the effort and dedication that goes into it. As such, it’s a good idea to encourage your child to write their own stories. Offer them a prompt (ThinkWritten has a massive list) or help them develop their ideas.
It doesn’t matter how complicated a story is or how good it ends up being. What’s important is that your child is invested in the narrative process—and you can use their creative direction to find books they will enjoy reading. If they want to write about animals, for instance, look for books about animals.
Listen to their feedback
Lastly, one of the most important things you can do is listen carefully to your child’s feedback. It’s easy to come up with a plan for getting them to enjoy reading and just as easy to become frustrated when it doesn’t work as expected—but that frustration won’t achieve anything. Instead, talk to your child about what they think.
How do they view the books you suggest? Are they too long? Do they dislike the covers? Are there other books they’d prefer to read? Would they like you to read to them first? Even if they aren’t old enough to articulate their preferences very well, you can use their reactions to guide you. Every child is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.