Helping Kids Become Lifelong Readers

I remember a public service announcement about reading from my childhood. I don’t remember the images, but the message said, “Reading is fundamental.” Growing up in a book – filled home with a family of readers and frequent library trips, I naively thought everyone knew this. I was saddened to learn that not everyone loved to escape into fictional worlds of words as much as we did. This article gives parents five tips for helping their kids learn to enjoy reading and become lifelong readers.

1. Let kids make their own reading choices. Young children enjoy the bonding experience that comes from hearing their parents read stories aloud. Just about anything will do – as long as it’s read somewhat dramatically. They will sit and listen intently. However, pre – teens and teenagers want independence. Parents can use this to their advantage to help get their older children to enjoy reading.

This does not mean parents should let their children read inappropriate material. Provide reasonable content limits on their reading choices. For example, some parents may not want their child reading horror novels. Let them know what’s appropriate, then take them to a bookstore or library with a large selection of books. Help them choose books that match their reading level to reduce frustration. Kids won’t feel pressured to read; instead they’ll feel empowered by being allowed to choose for themselves.

2. Model good reading habits. Children who see their parents reading regularly are more likely to become readers themselves. Let your kids see you reading. Whether it’s the newspaper, a magazine, or a book, show them the importance of reading by letting them see you read daily. When you read, turn off the TV and find a quiet place to read (easier said than done for some people, I know!). Read for 30 – 60 minutes a day to model average reading time.

3. Stock up on reading material. Public libraries are perfect places to take your kids regularly. Encourage your kids check out three or four books at a time. If they don’t like the first book they start reading, they will have a ready replacement. Teach them that it’s okay to abandon books they’re reading if they don’t like it after a few chapters.

If you don’t have the resources to buy a lot of new books, try online book exchanges like Bookmooch ( I’ve been a Bookmooch member since January 2008. Members create inventories of books they’re willing to trade and wish lists of books they’d like to read. Bookmoochers can search your list and request books. The only cost you pay is shipping (about $1.50 - $2.00 for media mail) to send Moochers your books. You earn one point for each book you ship. Points are used to Mooch books from other Moochers (one point = one book). Most book exchanges have a minimum initial inventory requirement (usually 10 books) to open a free account. This is a great, low cost, way to exchange books you’ve read for ones you would like to read.

4. Ask your kids about the books they’re reading. Ask your child questions about the book they’re reading. This will help you gauge how well they understand what they’re reading. You can also help them through any frustrations that arise. A third benefit is that your child will become a more critical reader by thinking about what they’ve read and explaining it to you in their own words. (This is actually a complicated mental process.)

If your child is frustrated, let them know that it’s okay to abandon books they’ve started. Encourage them to choose another one. Also let them know that they can skip sentences, paragraphs, and chapters if they’re reading a novel or other book for fun. There won’t be a book report to do when they’re done! “School reading” and “fun reading” are two different things.

5. Introduce books they don’t normally read. Sometimes kids stick to familiar or popular books. Tell them about books you see that might interest them. Outline what you know about the book and tell them why you think they’d like it. You’ll broaden their reading horizons even if they only try reading one book out of ten you mention. With patience and perseverance, you can help your child spice up their lives as readers.

You can help your child develop a lifelong love of reading by letting them make their own reading choices and supporting their interest in books by surrounding them with a wide variety of reading material. Public libraries and online book exchanges like are low cost options for getting books into your child’s hands. Model good reading habits by letting them see you read 30 – 60 minutes a day and tell them about the books you’re reading. Tell your child if you find a book they might like. These tips will help your child build a solid foundation as a reader and learner.

Today’s article is in remembrance of my late grandfather, a lifelong education advocate who loved to read and believed in the power of words to take us to worlds beyond our imagination. A World War II, U.S. Army veteran, he passed away at the age of 94 on November 11, 2012 – Veteran’s Day.

"To live in hearts we left behind; Is not to die.” ~Thomas Campbell, "Hallowed Ground"

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