How Do I Even Get My Child To Start Reading?
- Set an Example
The first step is to become an avid reader yourself. If you can’t appreciate reading, what makes you think you can convince someone else to?
Books shouldn’t be treated like health food or bitter medicine. Don’t point at a novel and demand your child read it because “books are good for you”. Children imitate their parents (even if older children hate to be caught doing it). If you’re seen enjoying books, your child will eventually poke his nose in, and try to participate. But don’t throw your child a book you’ve never read, then head off to watch TV. That feels like a punishment.
If you aren’t into literature, or never learned to appreciate it, visit the book clubs at your library or, easier still, look for the age appropriate books (Under 1, 1 to 3 or 4 to 6) at Owl Readers Club!
- Stories First, Language Second
Children start with an interest in content. It’s only when they grow older (around their late teens) that most of them appreciate form.
In other words, children care more about the characters and action. They aren’t in it for the existentialist metaphors, or the writer’s skillful use of unreliable narrators. And that’s fine.
You should cater to the demand for story first. Story reading should be playtime, not Literary Theory 101. Most importantly, don’t turn story time into a comprehension test. Children hate reading when they are in perpetual fear that someone will ask questions afterwards. It’s more important to roar like a lion when reading Peek A Boo Zoo, and stomp like a dinosaur when reading Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs.
- Vary the Genre
You wouldn’t enjoy a diet that’s 100% lettuce, or 100% beef. Aside from the nausea, it’d be unhealthy. Treat books as food for the mind, and apply the same principle.
Explore new genres during reading time. Have a genre that you stick to, but introduce new genres every so often. Your child might nag at you to go back (doesn’t enjoy the new genre), or to read more of “this type of story”. That’s a good sign. When children try to pull you in other directions, that means they’re cultivating their own interests. In time, they’ll be motivated to make their own choices.
Tell your children that if they want to go back to “the usual”, or read more of the new genre, they can pick a book and do it on their own. Then they can tell you the story afterwards.
- Let Your Child do the Ending
So you’ve hit a dramatic moment. You’ve got your arms in the air and you’re wearing your “villain” face, and the hero has fallen into a deep pit. Your child wants to know what happens next and you say: “Nothing. I don’t know.” If your child wants to find out what happens, she has to read the last bit on her own (with help from you). It’s a little bit devious, but it motivates children to read.
The process of deciphering text takes effort. Interpreting little ink squiggles is much harder than watching TV, or playing a video game. Without the right motivation, children get tired and give up quickly.
With the right push (find out the ending!) children are more likely to spend the effort. If you picked the right story, they’ll be so engrossed they won’t even realize the effort they have spent.
Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.
When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.
Co-Written by Grace Chai, mother of a newborn baby boy.
Grace is a new mom and currently undergoing intensive On-The-Job Training for her new role. Between pumping milk, changing diapers and taking selfies with her baby, Grace manages stress by writing about her motherhood experience for ParentTown.