Tricking my kids into reading the good stuff

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Written by contributor Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy

My kids will happily read just about anything–unless it’s assigned reading. 

And if I make the further mistake to try to sell them on it? Well, forget about it. They won’t touch that book for years.

(Am I the only one?)

This used to upset me–as a parent, a teacher, and a curriculum director.

Of course, I could make them just read the book, and they’d do it. But you know what? We’ve worked hard to foster a love of learning in our kids. Instead of forcing them to begrudgingly read, I’ve decided to play to my strengths–and to theirs.

Because my kids will read just about anything–happily, and of their own initiative–if they think it’s their own idea. We’ve found a few ways to take advantage of that.

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Our approach to reading with our kids is pretty simple.

1. We assume reading is awesome.

We don’t talk about why kids should read or how important it is. We have a deep core assumption in our house that reading is pretty fabulous. It’s a family value.

2. We model a love of reading.

My husband and I make it pretty clear that we enjoy reading. In quiet moments, we often grab a book and hit the couch. We always have great stacks of books lying around, and we are always reading them.

Our bookshelves aren’t just for decoration: they’re stocked with good books that we actually use. And on the rare occasion that the UPS man delivers a new book, I do a little happy dance. Our kids know how we feel about books.

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3. We read together.

We have always read to our kids, since they were teeny tiny. A nine-month-old may not get a lot out of Frog and Toad, but I couldn’t wait to read to them, so I did it anyway.

My strong readers love to read to my three-year-old. We’re teaching our six-year-old to read right now so she can get in on the fun.

During the cooler months, we read nightly as a family. We try to make this a special time, with candles, cozy blankets, a yummy bedtime snack–and a really great book. (Our current selection: The Chronicles of Narnia.)

4. We leave good books lying around. (Carefully!)

My kids will read just about anything they find lying around the house, so I make sure we always have good books within easy reach.

(My kids choose plenty of their own reading material, but I heavily supplement their selections. Otherwise, one child would always be reading about trains; another would read only American Girl books.)

We occasionally rotate the selections on our family bookshelves and the ones in their room, we have well-stocked book baskets for reading time, and we are heavy library users.

This works so well I have to be careful about what I leave lying around: I don’t really want my kids reading The Atlantic yet, we vet each issue of Sports Illustrated before dropping it in the magazine basket, and many of my own books-in-progress belong on my nightstand, not the family coffee table. If I don’t want them to read it, I don’t keep it in the family spaces.

5. We talk about what we’re reading.

Not just because it’s an assignment or “school” time (although we do that, too). We discuss our reading because people like to talk about their favorite sports, shows, games, and … books.

We all talk about our current reads at the dinner table–what we like, what we don’t, what we think. Even our preschooler and early reader can chime in on a conversation like this.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. How do you get your kids excited about reading?

About Anne Bogel

Anne is a certified bookworm and homeschooling mom to 4 crazy kids. She loves Jane Austen, strong coffee, the social graces and social media. You can find her blogging at Modern Mrs Darcy.

Comments

  1. We use many of the same “tricks”. My kids have special needs and reading has come with much pain, sweat and tears. However, they are developing a love of the written word. It just took more time.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. It’s not a trick, nor have I employed it with my kids yet (6 and 5yo)… but growing up my mom would choose every other book we’d read. So if I was really wanting to read my next choice- I’d have to read hers first. And, I’d generally end up loving it!

    One idea I’ve started with my boys is to read the first book of a series for our chapter book read-aloud. But leave the rest of the series for when they are reading on their own! It whets their appetite, and creates joint memories.
    Kelly’s latest post: feeling like Jacob…

    • I love this idea of alternating books… why have we not instituted that rule? ! I love that my kids have serious interests, but the All Horses All The Time reading program instituted by my 5YO middle child becomes tedious and exhausting after a while.
      I also buy books by the dozen via Etsy and various book sales, and find some jewels that I would never have suspected. The horse-lover found a new favorite: “Ootah’s Lucky Day” — a simple reader about an Inuit boy who finds, kills and brings home a walrus for his hungry village. (Really.) It replaced the horse books at least once a week, which was one small step for her, one giant leap for parentkind.

      • Chiming in to say I love the idea of alternating books, too! I’m going to keep that in my back pocket if we need a new strategy down the road…

  3. I’ve used some of those same “tricks” without realizing they’re tricks. I also don’t get upset if we start a “good” book and decide it’s not for us “right now”. Often that book makes its way to our house (via library) a year or so later, only to be LOVED. The only “trick” I have to add is to tell my son that he is too young for a certain book. It started by accident when he was four and picked out a Scooby Doo chapter book at the library. I told him four was too young for chapter books because it would take too many days to finish one book and he was used to several picture books at one sitting. But hey, it was Scooby, so he begged and I said we could try it. While Scooby is not a “good” book by any means, it was the gateway to reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many others since (he’s 10 now). Once I realized that “trick”, I’ve used it many times since :-)

    • “The only “trick” I have to add is to tell my son that he is too young for a certain book.”

      Oh! That’s such a good one!

  4. My parents followed a pattern similar to yours– good books, like good food, were always very available. Just as kids will eat healthier if they help prepare the veggies themselves, we read more eagerly because we picked out (or helped pick out, depending on age) our own library books.

    Thinking back to my own childhood, I can understand kids’ suspicion of the books their parents praise. I remember how a number of my friends and I agreed that *Across Five Aprils* was “one of those books that the moms all like and the kids don’t.” I preferred that my literary heroes be fairly noble, brave, and clever, but my mom liked books with more nuance. I didn’t yet “get” nuance.

    Yet I still remember snippets of *Across Five Aprils* and my reaction to them, which shows that even if a kid isn’t read to “get” a book, it still becomes part of their consciousness and may return to their mind at a later date.

  5. Love, love, love hearing about reading families.
    Caroline Starr Rose’s latest post: Quotes from The Selected Journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, Volume IV

  6. Love these ideas! My oldest is not quite 6 and I can’t wait for him to discover all the adventures possible through good books! I started making book lists for my kids years ago!
    Do you read any Lamplighters books? They are starting to convert the stories to digital so looks like it might be more cost effective than the hardbacks… Although they are gorgeous!

  7. When my kidlets were small, they had access to the entire library basement, which was the Children and Teens Library. I didn’t have to “vet” them much because in those faraways days (hahhaha), the books were pretty much G-rated. When my 4 year old insisted on checking out the Nancy Drews, I let her have one a week even though there are few pictures and she was not reading yet. But how she wanted to read them! By the time she was 6 she was reading fluently and had devoured all of the Nancys she could get her hands on. And when she found Trixie Belden, well…!

    And within a year or two her favorite author became Louis L’Amour. She read her way through about everything that the library and our own bookshelves (no small bookshelves, those!) had to offer. I think it was letting her have her head that instilled in her a great, life-long love of reading!

    • I’ve never read a Louis L’Amour book. (Maybe because my mom adores him? Hmmmm…. :) )

      • Jennifer Huggins says:

        Louis was actually quite the romantic. His heroes were always strong men who stand up for right, no matter what it might cost them. They protect the ‘womenfolk’ back in a time of the Old West when women really did need more protecting with the lack of law around and the surfeit of ‘varmints’ in sheep’s clothing and native tribes that might be friendly, or might be wanting your scalp. I remember in several, the woman didn’t actually think much of the hero at first since she was used to the more civilized men back east, however when the bullets started flying, suddenly a guy who could take care of himself seemed not such a bad thing. Good stuff . . .

  8. We do a lot of the same things that you mention. Like you, I leave good books around. When my kids are hungry enough for a new book, they will pick one up.
    Julia’s latest post: Make It From Scratch: Fresh Naan, Lentil Salad, and Our Week in Review

  9. We do a lot of the same tricks. A couple of others: 1) Going to the library is a big deal. My kids love to spend time there, and we make it a point to go often. 2) I let my oldest read a chapter book from my Kindle. For some reason, this is a special treat, and he loves getting to read on something special.
    Kelly Wiggains’s latest post: Organizing the Homeschool Life: Time Management Resources

    • We’ve only just started the Kindle books for my oldest two, and I completely agree! They definitely perceive that as something special.

  10. We do many of the same things, Anne. I usually have a huge pile of books from the library (just got back about an hour ago!)– and my kids have followed suit. If a child can’t get into one of their “assigned” reading books, sometimes I’ll help them a little by sitting with them while they read aloud to me. {my second least favorite thing to do. I fall asleep. I always make sure I have a LARGE iced coffee in my hand. [Incidentally, my least favorite thing to do is listening to their oral stories and "dreams"--they just go on and on...and I have to try so hard to look interested. Then I feel like a horrible mom for not being more interested! lol] } Great article, Anne.
    Sarah Beals’s latest post: Comment on Limitations Make Children Creative. by Sarah Beals

    • Oh…bad mama admission but I too hate listening to my kids dreams. I always suspect they are making them more outlandish just for the spotlight. Definitely a gritted teeth moment. Now to slink back under the rock I have peeked out from under…

  11. What great and simple suggestions! Our oldest daughter reads everything all the time so reading for homework was never a problem for her. My youngest though still prefers to be read to so “having” to read to herself is a much bigger challenge. I have been trying to sit down with her and read myself during her reading time and it is helping. When I am feeling particularly busy, I find that I can sit with her for a few minutes and then sneak away to finish dinner…
    Stacey’s latest post: Why I Love Soccer (Really)

  12. Wonderful! I don’t think you’re “tricking” your kids at all. ; )
    People often ask me why I do well in English, how I have a rather encyclopedic memory (mostly of useless trivia, trust me), and how I taught my young children how to read. Not only do I echo all of your suggestions, I also add:

    1. Work with your child’s natural love of learning. Don’t overthink it. Don’t make it rigorous or difficult. Children want to learn, and they learn best in a way that is specific to them. Give them every opportunity to.
    2. Fill every room with books. Growing up, we didn’t have TV for several years nor did we ever have video games or more than a small handful of toys (mostly blocks, balls, and puzzles). Our house was rather plain and sparse. But we did have lots of books, and my parents were deliberate about putting them in every room – yes, even in the bathroom, along the staircase, and on the patio. Because these books were my only real possessions, I viewed them- and the knowledge and imagination they afforded me – as treasures. Consequently, I’ve always loved reading, if not for the fact that it transports me back to a simpler time in my childhood. When I had my own children and home, I was sure to create the same “love of learning” environment and am touched to see my children similarly view reading as a treasure.

  13. Love this, thanks! Adding to my arsenal. Currently I trick them as well. My boys do exactly the same thing if we suggest a book. Usually I order stuff from the library and then when I bring it home I leave it on the shelf where books go when we are going to return them to the library. They’ll inevitably notice it and want to know all about it. Or ask why it’s already going back. In that second case, I often say something like… I’m not really sure you’re going to like it, or it’s a little old for you. Hook. Line. Sinker. And I feel like a secret ops agent, filling some of my need for adventure. Win/win. :)

  14. …my mother always put good books in the bathroom…. ;)
    priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)’s latest post: overworked & uncommitted married priest, bitter & busy wife, sullen & sinful children- Our Future?

  15. the post picture made me smile – reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins with my three year old right now, – very, very fun! We 1-4 consistently, but need to work on more intentionally discussing lit together AS the conversation rather than it just happening to come up in the conversation every now and then.

    • That’s the hardest part for me, too. But I keep reading everywhere about how valuable the discussion is, so I’m continually forcing myself to make the discussion a firmly entrenched habit.

  16. I always wondered if this tip I am going to share counts as reading until I sat in on a talk given by a well known reading expert and he suggested exactly what I was doing. I got my children hooked on books on CD very early in life and now they rarely don’t have one on. They listen to them as they do their chores, or play Lego, they even listen to them while swimming in the backyard pool. In the car I get to choose what we listen too and so I choose classic books on CD and this has gotten my children hooked on certain author’s they would never pick up themselves. The reading expert I mentioned said this was second best to parents reading out loud to kids but certainly did improve children’s reading comprehension and vocabulary as well as breed a love for books.
    Victoria’s latest post: 100 Ways Thrifty People Save Money

    • Sounds good to me! (Our very favorite books on “tape” around here–as we still call them–are the Little House books read by Cherry Jones, and the Henry Huggins books read by Neil Patrick Harris. The kids love them, I love them, we’re all happy. :)

  17. Good suggestions and cute approach. Talking about literature and books helps them to see there are many stories about different lives out there. When they express an interest in a book, it’s easy to download it on their Kindles. That works great for us.
    Diana Boles’s latest post: Sep 19, Freshman English Curriculum

  18. I’m excited about reading and we carve out time in our day to read. That’s about it! We suffer from the other extreme — can’t get them away from their book to come to play outside or come to supper!

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