Tips for Raising Children Who Love to Read

As a middle school language arts teacher, I see every day the difference between those kids who love to read and those who don’t.  When a child loves to read, school comes easier for them.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they are the smartest in the room, but their reasoning and processing skills are much quicker compared to a child who hardly ever picks up a book.  Reading is a complex process in the mind of a child.  Not only are they visually deciphering images, but they are reading words, comprehending what is being said, and then internalizing and processing that information so that they can understand.  What takes a child a quick minute to read is really a massive amount of work going on in their brains.

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I think what would surprise parents the most is that kids who read a lot are also not necessarily the most fluent readers.  Sometimes, even the best readers struggle, and it’s in that struggle where true learning happens.  I hear kids all the time in my own classroom say, “This is too hard!” or “I don’t understand it!” and then they immediately shut the book – and their brain.  But kids who are avid readers and who struggle through a book are really pushing themselves.  Not only are they learning academically, but there’s so much psychologically that goes on in the mind of a child reading a book.  They begin to understand that just because a book takes them a while to read, doesn’t mean they can’t read it.  This kind of tenacity translates positively into all areas of their life.

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Not only do I have the extreme fortune of teaching and instilling a love for reading in my middle school students, but I also get to share that gift with my own two kids.  I am so proud to say that both Bean and Gracie are big readers.  They love books, bookstores, libraries, silent reading, reading aloud, story hours, comics, and just about anything else in the shape of a book.  In fact, when I asked Gracie what she wanted to do on her birthday, one of her two requests was to go to Barnes and Noble, which instantly made my heart burst with pride.  That’s my girl!

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As I was sitting in the bookstore, marveling at my kids and their love of running their hands over books, choosing just the perfect one, and then sitting down to devour it before we even left the store (all of these things I can relate to completely, by the way), I realized that there have been some distinct actions we have taken as a family, and I as a teacher, to impress a love of reading on my kids.  I thought I’d share them here today.

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  •  Read to your kids every night, preferably as a whole family.  Chris and I have been reading to our kids at night since they were born.  As infants, it was really just a time to rock in the rocking chair and focus on something soothing and calm.  As they entered daycare and preschool, it changed into one of our favorite times of day as a family.  Each kid was able to pick a book and we all piled up together in Bean’s room.  Then, we read the books together as a family.  When Bean started kindergarten, we sort of shifted our reading structure again.  Bean was learning to read and so when we all got together to read, he would read both books to us, instead of Chris and I reading them.  Then, after those two books, I would go into Bean’s room with him and the two of us would read a chapter book together.  So far, The Indian and the Cupboard, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Ralph S. Mouse are a few of our favorites.  By the time Bean started first grade, we finally stopped reading together as a family every night.  Our schedules were a mess, and it was too hard to get both kids in the same place at the same time.  Plus, Bean was now reading chapter books to himself.  These days, Chris and I still read to Gracie every night, but Bean reads in his room on his own, which he prefers.  I am 100% confident that our family reading together every night is the most important factor in raising our two readers.

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  • Treat books and reading as the reward.  I always cringe when I hear parents say things like, “He was so terrible that day that I made him go to his room and read.”  If you treat reading as a punishment, then your kids will see it like a punishment.  But, if you treat reading as a reward, then your kids will see it as a reward.  The punishment at our house is that you CAN’T read before bed, and let me tell you how many dinners have been finished, chores have been done, and attitudes have been changed with this threat.  Why?  Because my kids have grown up in a house where reading is the prize.

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  • Let your kids pick out the books.  Always.  We have zero classic books in our house.  This used to drive me insane.  I was always trying to push classic children’s books on my kids, and they were absolutely not interested in them at all.  I’d pay $20 for a really nice hardcover book, we’d read it once, and then they never wanted anything else to do with it.  By the time Bean was three years old, I realized that I would rather spend my money on whatever it was they actually WANTED to read, and so I never again chose a book for my kids.  Even when I buy books for them now, I only buy ones that they have already pointed out at a different time to me.  And the reasoning is simple – would I want someone picking out books for me and then making me read them?  Absolutely not.  I love to read, but I love to read what I choose to read.  Half the fun of reading is in selecting the perfect book.  Why rob a child of that part of the reading experience?  So, while there may not be any award-winning books in our collection, every book we own is beat up, dog-eared, and well-loved because of how often it is read, and that’s worth more than an Amazon rating to me.

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  • Don’t worry too much about the reading level of a book.  This is a principle I adopt in my own classroom, as well as my own home.  I don’t care if one of my middle school kids is reading a book way below their reading level.   They are a fourteen year old kid with a book in their hands – who cares?!?!  Same story with my own kids.  Bean is at the point now where he wants to read some bigger chapter books.  Whenever he brings me a book from the library or bookstore, I never, ever say that book is too hard for him.  DON’T EVER TELL YOUR CHILDREN THEY AREN’T CAPABLE OF READING SOMETHING.  Talk about a blow to the reading ego.  Instead, I praise the crap out of him for choosing such an awesome book, and then I ask him to read me the first page of the book out loud.  Nine times out of ten, he will stop himself through the page if it’s too hard because he doesn’t like stumbling through it so much.  If he keeps pushing (today he was really pushing because he wanted this Star Wars book that was just a little bit above his reading level), then I tell him to count.  If he doesn’t know more than three words on the page he is reading aloud, then the book is just “not right for him yet.”  I hold this same rule with my middle schoolers, too.  Three words or more that they don’t know on one page and the book is probably just a bit out of their range.  However, this is a teachable moment and a perfect change to incentivize teaching.  Today, for instance, Bean struggled through reading me one page of that Star Wars book, but because he tried really hard and he really was very close, I told him we could go ahead and get this book and it could stay on his bookshelf until he was ready to try another page again.  And then we talked about how the more we read, the better we become, and that we bet by the summertime, he would be ready to read that book.

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  • Search out series of books.  Series of books are a great way to get a kid reading long term.  If they really liked the first book, then now they have a whole series of books to work through.  Perfect!  That’s reading material for months!  Plus, kids identify with things they already know about.  I know very few kids – whether they are Bean and Gracie’s age or full grown adults! – who like things that are unknown.  There is safety and confidence in things we already know.  The same holds for books.  Kids get to know characters and storylines, and this connection is what keeps them coming back.  No matter how many books I may suggest to Bean, he will always prefer series he already knows about.  Also, don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure.  One of my favorite questions to ask Bean is what his friends are reading.  He has found several series of books this way.

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I thought I would also share some of the books and series that are big hits around my house.  First of all, “number books,” as we call them (which are any leveled reading book – we prefer the “Step Into Reading” series), begin in my house around the age of three.  At that point, they can really begin to recognize letters and even some beginning sight words, which make the Level One books perfect for new readers.  Plus, they have them in ALL the popular characters, movies, and TV shows, which is really how you can snag a young reader.

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Another kind of book that my kids love are the story book collections.  These “5 Minute Bedtime Stories” (which are NOT five minutes, let me warn you…) are favorites, and we read them over and over again.  One story counts as one book at bedtime for us.

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We also have Bibles and devotionals for each of the kids.  I love this children’s Bible because it tells the real stories, but makes them very kid friendly and easy to understand.  My favorite devotionals are the VeggieTale ones.  They are simple and scripture based, which is nice.

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AT FOUR/FIVE YEARS OLD, GRACIE’S FAVORITE BOOK SERIES ARE:

Click, Clack, Moo Books by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.

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Llama, Llama Books by Anna Dewdney

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Pete the Cat books by James Dean

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IN FIRST GRADE, SOME OF BEAN’S FAVORITE BOOKS ARE:

Monkey and Robot by Peter Catalanotto

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The Notebook of Doom Series by Troy Cummings (his current favorite)

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Secret Agent Jack Stalwart by Elizabeth Singer Hunt

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And what elementary boy’s book collection would be complete without Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey?!

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Those are my recommendations, as both a teacher and a mom.  But what about you?  What gets your kids reading and what books are they loving right now?  Be sure to include ages in your comments!  HAPPY READING!

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17 Thoughts to “Tips for Raising Children Who Love to Read”

  1. Erin

    My 6-year old daughter loves listening to the Little House books. She has been enjoying reading Amelia Bedelia, American Girl books, and Fancy Nancy lately.

    My 3-year old daughter likes Daniel Tiger, Llama Llama, Pinkalicious, and we’ve read Mrs. McNosh and the Great Big Squash every day for weeks now 🙂

  2. Miriam

    Have your kids read any Mo Willems? My kids love the elephant and piggie books. They usually choose which character to be and we encourage them to read with lots of emotion paying attention to punctuation. May be a little too young for bean but I could see Gracie getting the giggles from them 🙂 thanks for all your recommendations! Planning a trip to the bookstore tomorrow for them!!

  3. HeatherM

    So we weaned my daughter off breastfeeding through reading. At about 15 months I started reading to her after every time she nursed. Eventually when she craved comfort and cuddle time she would come to me with a book instead of asking to nurse. She weaned herself off of breastmilk and onto books, and I loved it!

  4. Sarah

    Thanks for this! Natalie likes Fancy Nancy, Berenstain Bears, Max and Ruby. She just started reading Hop on Pop so we’ve been in a big Dr. Seuss mood here. Nolan is 2 and likes books about trucks or animals. I love that each year their school/daycare has a book fair and we pick out pikes of books to get as well as to donate to the classes.

  5. Amy

    When the kids are older (4th grade and up), get them The Action Bible. It’s the Bible in comic book format, and my kids loved it. It’s 700+ pages, and they each willingly read the whole thing on their own.

    And oh, to be Bean or Gracie and have the whole entire Harry Potter series, unread, waiting in front of me!

  6. I. love. this. The entire post. I’ve been reading chapter books with my boys since they were each 3. We LOVE that time together. And the comprehend everything! People were skeptical about it, but if you quiz them both they can answer detailed questions. We’ve read SO MUCH. Ramona books are my youngest’s favorite. My oldest is reading Magic Tree House by himself now (he’s in kindergarten). We’re reading Harry Potter together and our youngest ADORES it.

  7. Rachel

    Love this post! My little 15 month loves to look at books and “read.” Thanks for the encouragement to continue reading to her daily to help her develop in many areas. I was not much of a reader as a child, but I’m working on it as a parent! I’m super happy you’re back around writing.

  8. Courtney

    I loved this post! I taught 1st grade before my kids came along and refused to do AR because I wasn’t going to punish kids just because the book they were interested in wasn’t a test. If he’s interested in bats, let him get a bat book! I bet he actually reads it before the AR book you’re forcing on him!

    I also recently introduced my almost 4 year old and 2.5 year old to the Fly Guy series. Hey both love it! And they love that as a former early childhood teacher I have a plethora of books I pull out with each change of holiday or season.

  9. Amy

    Let me first say that I’m so glad you’re back to writing!

    Our 2 year-old LOVES books. We’ve been reading to him as part of his bedtime routine since he was infant. It started out as creating a consistent bedtime routine, but now he’s just as into it. We let him pick 2 to 3 books from his bookshelf- his favorites are anything to do with construction and trains. He loves Little Blue Truck books. He’s got most of his favorite books memorized, meaning that if you stop reading he can usually pick up where you left over. Reciting favorite storybooks in the car is also a great activity.
    We read as a family as well- my husband and I take turns on reading to him in our rocking chair, and the other parent just sits on the floor. (Usually the non-reader is sneaking in a personal book on their Kindle!) Then our son switches to the parent on the floor for prayers. We’re about to move him out of the crib, which will make floor sitting non-existent, something this pregnant mama is looking forward to!
    Bedtime reading has translated into daytime reading, it’s one of Caleb’s favorite activities. He can sit and look at books by himself, murmuring to himself about trucks, or he’ll pull a stack of 10 or so to your sit and happily sit for half an hour being read to. I’m really grateful.

  10. Chanon

    Katie, welcome back! We’ve missed you! 🙂

    I can honestly say I’ve never heard of the Notebook of Doom. It’s one I’m putting on the list for my K. He currently loves the Magic Treehouse Series (thank you Scholastic for a sale on the whole series!) and wants to buy (with his own money) the Fact Tracker books on the stories he really likes.
    My 20 month old is another story – I can only get him involved with books if they are touchy-feely or pop up so we look at Where’s Baby’s Bellybutton? a lot.

  11. Elsa

    Thank you for this post! My nieces are similar ages, and I love giving them books for their birthdays, so your suggestions are really helpful!

    p.s. I am so glad you are blogging again! I missed you!

  12. Glenna

    I love these suggestions! Especially letting kids choose their own books and not worrying about the levels so much– so important! As a librarian, I’d like to add one suggestion to parents/teachers building a personal library: seek out characters who look like your children/students, but also strive for a high level of diversity on every scale: gender, race, abilities. Seeing oneself represented in books is linked to higher levels of reading (kids want to read about characters who look like them) and increased self-efficacy. On the opposite end, reading books about characters who are different from oneself increases empathy and understanding. All important skills!

  13. Kristen

    Great post, so informative. I’m expecting my first so I’m looking for this kind of advice and will definitely implement it starting with infancy! Thank you!

    P.S. Welcome back!! Was so sad when you left and so, so happy now that you’re back. You’ve always been my favorite blog, despite not having kids of my own yet!

  14. Kelly

    Mine are 11. My daughter loves the Percy Jackson books and the Olympus books. My son loves the Treasure Hunter books by James Patterson, anything Star Wars and Harry Potter. It seems like we have worked our way through every age-level series and we are constantly looking for more.

    On a side note, can I just say how much I adore the Skippyjon Jones books. I wish I still had little ones to read them to.

  15. Katie L.

    I always let my kids pick out a book to read (or sometimes a coloring book) when we go to Target- keeps them from begging for toys and it gets them excited about books! My 3.5 year old boy picked out a captain underpants book a few weeks ago, we haven’t read it yet but he looks at the pictures and thinks it’s hilarious. My daughter is in Kinder and is starting to read, so we sit down with the “number books” and read those together. She loves anything girly – Fancy Nancy and Princesses are a big hit. I’ve taken her to the library every week since she started walking and now at 5.5 and 3.5 my kids scream with joy when I tell them we’re going to the library! Something Bean and Gracie might like: Dory Fantasmagory. I read this one aloud to my two and they both loved it and so did I. There is one other book in the series and another available in Sept. Seriously, so funny and plenty of illustrations too. Great post, and thanks for the recommendations! 🙂

  16. Love this!! As a teacher and a mom, I couldn’t agree more. My first grader loves the Magic Treehouse series but he also loves lots of non-fiction, especially anything about animals. My 4 year old loves Pete the Cat and Mo Willems books (plus any good picture books), and my just turned 2 year old still loves board books. =) My kids are also HUGE fans of themed books. We pull out Christmas books at Christmas and Easter books at Easter, Fall/Halloween books in October, summer and beach books at the start of summer, etc.

    Thanks for all the suggestions and recommendations!!

  17. Emily

    Love this post! My little guy is only 4 months old, but his first giggles were when my husband was reading him Little Blue Truck. My husband would make all the sounds and my guy just LAUGHED!!! It was precious and still makes me teary. We had plenty of books then, but after that I bought ALL the books from Amazon. We read three or four each night to our little guy. One of the Click Clack books was in his Easter basket and we received the same bible as a baby shower present and love it. I know we are a ways off from him reading his own books, but thanks for the tip about not knowing three words on a given page. That’s a helpful indicator tool.

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