Reading a book is one of life’s purest pleasures and children’s books in particular open a door into an enchanted world peopled with fairies, goblins, wizards and talking bears. A world where anything can happen. A world of great villains like Voldemort, the White Witch and Captain Hook. And a world of great heroes be they humble hobbits, weedy Vikings or friendly giants.
Reading for children is both a passport to adventure and a form of escape. It can be a comfort and a joy, a magic carpet that flies them away. Numerous studies have shown that children who read are more likely to do well in all aspects of education.
So what do you do if your children never seem to want to pick up a book? Here are some of the ways I’ve found to encourage children to read, both from my time teaching seven-year-olds in London and as mother to two compulsive bookworms.
Read to them every day
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Albert Einstein
This is the best possible way to make children want to pick up a book themselves, whether they’re toddlers or young teenagers. If you read to your children from when they are tiny, they will grow up knowing that books are filled with wonderful stories that they will want to discover for themselves.
Even babies can hear your voice and look at the pictures and as they get older, children can engage even more with the stories you’re reading, whether it’s a rhyming picture book or an exciting novel for older children.
It’s a wonderful thing sharing the experience of reading a good book with children. If the book’s really exciting you’ll find it harder and harder to stop reading at the end of the chapter. You may well have to hide the book on top of a tall cupboard to stop your children – and yourself – reading ahead.
When they’re listening to a story, children can understand more than they might be capable of reading themselves so it’s a great opportunity to try out books from different genres and for younger siblings to enjoy the same story as their older brothers or sisters. We’ve read classics, science-fiction, adventure, fantasy and historical fiction. Books about knights, ballet dancers, spies and horses. And books about goblins, kings and magic carpets.
Reading aloud is also a great way of calming your children down. I’ll sometimes suggest a story if my two are getting a bit manic and it always works.
It’s easiest to make time to read if it’s part of your daily routine. We always have ‘Milk and Story’ before the boys go to bed. We cuddle up on the sofa in a quiet room, with a mug of warm milk and enjoy a couple of chapters of our current story. It’s one of our favourite times of the day.
JK Rowling once said, “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” If your children are struggling to find something that captivates them, look for books that are about something that interests them, whether that’s animals, spies, fairies or footballers. Funny books can often draw them in – or non-fiction books about their favourite hobby.
Don’t force your child to keep reading a book that doesn’t engage them but try and find something that does. If you’re stuck for inspiration, ask around. What are their friends reading? What do the local librarians and booksellers recommend? Look at the lists of best children’s books all over the Internet.
Go to the library
When my two were little, we were lucky enough to live near a small town with a tiny but wonderful library. We went every week and chose armfuls of books to take home. The librarians got to know the boys really well so that my two would beg to go into the library every time we walked past.
Your local library is a great place to discover new books and there are often special activities for children, like the storytime sessions for preschoolers. The librarians should be able to help recommend new authors to try too. Go as often as you can but don’t just choose your books and leave. A good library should have lots of comfy chairs to curl up in. Stay a while and encourage your children to pick up all kinds of different books and read for a bit while they’re there.
Listen to stories when you’re travelling
There are some fantastic recordings of actors reading books on audio CDs. Liven up boring journeys by listening to stories in the car and downloading them onto iPods for plane and train journeys.
Have a reading routine
Help your children get into the habit of reading by having a set time every day for reading. My two always read in bed for half an hour before lights out. It helps to relax them before bedtime and they always look forward to snuggling under the covers with their books.
Take an interest
Engage with what they’re reading. Talk to them about their current book. Ask them about the characters and plot. What do they think will happen next? Who is their favourite character? Don’t overload them with questions though or you’ll be more likely to put them off!
Use books for finding out
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Walt Disney
Let them see reading as an activity with a purpose. Use books to find out about topics that interest your children and use reference books to get the information when they’re given research as homework.
There are some excellent reference books around, most of which are beautifully illustrated and full of information. The Usborne and Dorling Kindersley books make wonderful starting points.
Let them see you reading
You can’t expect your children to pick up a book if all they ever see you reading is your phone, tablet or computer. If you choose to pick a book up in your free time they’ll be more likely to do it themselves. Why not try family reading time at weekends and holidays when you all pick up a book, curl up somewhere and read together?
If your kids are reluctant to pick up a book of their own accord, a reward chart can be a really good incentive. You can reward them for either finishing a book or for spending a set amount of time reading. The rewards should be something that motivates them, whether that’s buying a new book, a trip to the local swimming pool or time to spend on their chosen activity (Minecraft, a TV programme, Lego etc).
Go to bookshops
If you’ve got a spare 10 minutes when you’re out shopping, take the children into a bookshop for a treat at the end. You don’t necessarily have to spend any money there. Most bookshops have attractive children’s corners, with comfy chairs, tables and colouring pencils – and of course loads of wonderful books.
Once your children are really hooked on books, you’ll find it extremely difficult to get them to stop reading. Before you know it, they’ll be picking up their book every chance they get: on the toilet, at the dinner table and with a sneaky torch under the bedcovers… You have been warned.
For more inspiration, check out some of our favourite books for 8 to 10 and 10 to 12 year olds. I’ll be writing lists of the best books for reading aloud, the best books for 6 to 8 year olds and the best picture books very soon.
COMING UP NEXT: A Visit to the SS Great Britain