Have a Reluctant Reader? How to Motivate Your Kids to Read for Fun

Do your children sigh or whine when you tell them to pick up a book? Do they spend too much time in front of the TV or computer and not enough time practicing their reading skills? Are they capable of reading but reluctant to crack a cover because it's "too hard" or "boring"? You're probably frustrated by their reluctance because you want the best for your children, and you know that kids who read regularly tend to do better in school, have a wider vocabulary, and constantly sharpen their young minds.

Here are some ideas to encourage your kids to read--without the pleading, fights, or arm-twisting.

Don't make reading a chore

Teachers know about this problem. The most common complaint kids make about assigned reading is "It's boring. I don't like being forced to read something I don't like!" Students now have easy access to Sparknotes online--they don't even have to buy those reader's guides at the bookstore anymore--and a lot of kids skip the reading and just skim the chapter summaries these days.

What can you do about this? Well, if your kids are already teenagers and displaying these dubious reading habits, it may be too late to change their attitude. Better to encourage reading when they are younger. It's like teaching them to eat their broccoli or not to smoke--the earlier you start, the better.

If you're tempted to force your kids to read, or bribe them, you may want to reconsider. Children hate to be nagged (who doesn't hate to be nagged?), so don't nag--you and your kids will just be even more frustrated. And shelling out cash for each book they read isn't very effective. Of course you should praise them for their reading effort and skills, but they should learn to love reading for its own rewards, not for the cash prizes.

Why do boys lag behind girls in reading?

You may have noticed that it's harder to get your son to read than your daughter. This gender gap is typical, and there are a few reasons for it:

  • Girls mature faster than boys.
  • Boys often prefer nonfiction and dislike the "girl books" taught in school.
  • Reading is "not cool" for older boys.

It's not that boys aren't as intelligent; they just prefer to read things that they can relate to their lives. They may not see fiction as "useful." So help them find what interests them, whether it's science magazines, comic books, science fiction, gross-out humor books, biographies, books about hobbies or sports, or other informational texts.

Let your kids discover what they like to read

Kids have a lot of assigned reading in school. Let them have their fun books, too. When we were kids, my brother and sister and I went through all the popular book series: Goosebumps, Animorphs, The Baby-Sitter's Club, Harry Potter, comic books. Sure, not all of them are high quality literature, but we read the classics, too. Why? Because we'd learned to enjoy reading when we read for our own entertainment. Reading is a skill that improves with practice and patience. Even if your kids are just reading light, silly books, they're still getting in that practice.

Additionally, children get satisfaction from developing their own tastes. They know what TV shows and music they like--why not books, too? They'll find what they like through trial and error, be it fiction or nonfiction, adventures, mysteries, biographies, etc. So encourage them to read what they enjoy. If your kid loves one particular book, find him other books on the same topic. If your boy loves Star Wars, let him read Star Wars books.

Denying children what they love will just make them resent the choices you force on them.

Model the behavior you want your kids to follow

Do your kids see you read? According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, one in four Americans read zero books in 2006. Of those who did read, they averaged four books that year. Even if you're busy with work or household tasks, are you more likely to read a book or magazine or veg out in front of the TV for your downtime? Kids follow what they see. Even if you just read the newspaper every morning, that's a good example for your children to observe. (Let them read the funnies page, or discuss current events while you're at it.)

Show your kids that reading's important to you for entertainment as much as learning.

Connect books to real life

Whenever possible, take what your kids are reading about and let them experience it. Is your daughter enjoying Little House on the Prairie? Visit an exhibit on pioneer life. You don't always have to go far--keep an eye out for special museum exhibits, aquariums, zoos, plays, Civil War reenactments. Take them to see the film version of their favorite book and talk about the differences between the book and the movie. Meet authors at book readings/signings. Open their eyes to the fantastical worlds available in books. 

Read to them

You probably read to your children when they were young--picture books, fairy tales, bedtime stories. It truly helps foster a love for books. And it doesn't have to stop when they get older. Read with them. Pick up some of the books they're reading so you can talk about them. Describe your favorite books. On long car rides, give the DVD player and video games a rest--play some books on tape so the whole family can enjoy a good story. We used to pass hours in the minivan listening in silent rapture to Harry Potter, Black Beauty, and Old Yeller.

Work reading into your family time. In the sixth grade, our class had Reading Day as a treat. Everyone brought in his or her own book and we read quietly for hours. You can do the same thing at home. You may already have a movie night or game night--set aside a book night. Get comfy together on the couch, spread out some pillows, and enjoy one another's company as you read.

Limit TV and electronics time

There are so many devices competing for kids' attention these days--TV, Internet, texting, video games, etc. (Inactivity is also a big factor in childhood obesity.) If your kids aren't playing outside or doing homework, encourage them to pick up a book instead of the remote or smart phone.

I see kids using handheld video games everywhere I go. They can even watch movies on their iPods. Next time you're waiting at the doctor's or the dentist's, hand your kid a magazine instead of a Game Boy to pass the time. Don't let TV be the great time suck in your household. There are so many better things your kids can be doing!

Visit the library

Not only is it important to support local libraries (because who knows how much longer they'll be around?), but kids get a thrill from browsing and picking out new books for themselves. Let them explore the stacks. Ask the librarian for recommendations. See what activities the library has for children.

Also, build up your own library at home. You don't need lots of cash--hit up used book sales and garage sales, or buy used books online. Your kids will be much better off with their own bookcase in their bedroom than their own TV.

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Comments 9 comments

WildIris 5 years ago

Terrific Hub! To get my reluctant reader to open a book, we tandem read. We follow the plot together and talk about the characters and new words as we read. It is a wonderful, shared experience.


Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA Author

That sounds like a great strategy! I'm so glad my parents helped me become such a ravenous reader. Thanks for the comment!


you know who 5 years ago

clearly you have an extensive vocabulary from reading as displayed by your usage of "ravenous"

om nom nom


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Oooh, these are some really smart tricks, Painted Seahorse! Great Hub!


Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA Author

Thanks for reading, Simone!

And thanks, you know who, I think I know who you are! ;) I think I meant to write "voracious," but "ravenous" works too.


Michelle Skamene 5 years ago

What a great article. I think definitely one of the most important factors is choosing the right books. Even I am reluctant to read if I have not picked out the right one, and will find other things I'd rather be doing... With my kids, TV and video game time was the biggest problem. So I used an incentive program: you read, you earn TV time! An online reading log program like www.reading-rewards.com can help with rewarding reading in various ways. It's lots of fun, and it works!


Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA Author

Thanks for the great suggestions, Michelle! I'm the same way too--if a book just doesn't grab me, I usually put it aside and start something else.


carcro profile image

carcro 5 years ago from Winnipeg

When my kids were young, we had no problem getting my son to read, in fact he loved it. We had plenty of good story books to read in our home and also frequented the library. But my daughter was just the opposite, always on the go, everything we tried that worked for our son, didn't work for our daughter. In the end, our daughter probably now reads more books than my son, funny how it changed as they got older... wish I had this hub info when she was younger, lol. Thanks for sharing!


Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA Author

Thanks for sharing your experiences with your children, carcro!

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