Instilling a love of books

Hints for getting kids to see reading as a pleasure


Michelle Sussman and April D. Nauman


Ten tips Cassie Jensen, 9, of Darien, likes to read, especially with her mom. "Reading together is really fun. We get to tell each other our feelings about the book," Cassie says. But she also admits that watching movies is more fun and given the choice, she’d rather see the movie than read the book.

As a growing number of children’s books hit the big screen (and the small screen in the form of television shows and video games), we parents are left scrambling for creative ways to encourage kids to read for pleasure. Here are some ideas for making reading a joy, not a chore.

1 Start early. During quiet time with your baby, or even while he or she’s still in the womb, grab a book and read it aloud. Hold your baby in your arms and let yourself relax. At this young age, you can read anything from a soothing board book to the Wall Street Journal and still reap the benefits.

"There’s a wonderful feeling of comfort and nurturing in this that transfers to a lifelong love of reading," says Esmé Raji Codell, a former teacher, librarian and Chicago author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading and Educating Esmé.

2 Offer a lot of book choices. Don’t stop at storybooks. Young children have a natural interest in information, so look for nonfiction books as well. For an infant or toddler, be sure to have books that can’t be destroyed. Your baby needs plastic books to bathe with, cloth books to chew on and board books to bang around.

3 Play with sounds and letters. You probably have letter-shaped blocks, magnets and other items for your child to manipulate. Children also need to practice manipulating sounds in words.

This is called "phonemic awareness"—the ability to hear individual sounds in words. Read lots of rhyming books and sing songs with rhyming lyrics. Play silly name games—say a name, such as "Melissa," and ask, "What would happen if the first sound fell off her name? She’d be ‘elissa.’ Then what if the next sound fell off her name? She’d be ‘lissa.’ Then ‘issa.’ Then ‘sa.’ Then ‘uh.’ "

4 Get to know your local librarian. She (and increasingly, he) can be a great source for book recommendations. "Part of what keeps kids from reading is that they aren’t connected to the right book at the right time," says Janice Del Negro, professor of library and information sciences at Dominican University in River Forest.

5 Do the opposite. So your middle-schooler hated the dry novel he was assigned in English class. Don’t let him use that as a reason to stop reading.

"Reading books is like going on a date," says Codell. "Lots of kids have had really bad book dates and say they no longer like to read." Instead, encourage him to read something fanciful and fun. It will drive home the point that reading is a way to escape the problems of everyday life, not compound them, says Del Negro.

6 Connect with the author. Most authors have their own Web sites. Encourage your child to visit the site of a favorite author to learn more about the person, the book or the writing process. Even if kids never send a letter or e-mail to the author, visiting the Web site shows them how normal and human authors are.

7 Read, read, read. This is that role model thing—they’ll read more if they see you reading for fun. And be sure to read what they’re reading. Check out the children’s best sellers lists and then read the books. You’ll know what your child and her friends are reading, and you can spend time discussing the book.

8 Make it easy. "Books need to be around and available," says Del Negro. Pack a few books into your baby’s diaper bag. Buy books or check them out from the library regularly. That way you’ll have them on hand. So when your baseball-loving son says he’s bored, you can toss him a book about his favorite sport. For younger kids, be sure to keep the kids’ books on low shelves where children can see and reach them.

9 Set goals. Admit it: You know it’s easier to watch a movie than to read the book. So use the movie as a reward—promise to take the kids to see the flick as soon as they finish the book. Then, after the movie, go out for ice cream and talk about the differences between the book and the movie.

10 Don’t stop. Keep reading aloud, even after your child can read on his own. And make it fun. Use silly voices, get excited, make funny faces. Even sophisticated tweens will laugh. But reading out loud is more than entertainment. It’s a way to build comprehension, vocabulary and listening skills. "Read two or three levels above their reading skills. Read at their listening ability," says Jane Whiteside of the Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook.

Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer living in Bolingbrook. April D. Nauman of Oak Park is a mom and associate professor of reading at Northeastern Illinois University.


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