The 3 Secrets that Turn Kids Into Readers

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It’s surprisingly easy to create a reader. And surprisingly easy not to. So when reading is what helps you learn subjects, it's a fairly significant skill to master, right?

It’s sad but true: Most of us are failing our kids as reading role models. Nearly one-third of parents do not read to their children, research shows. According to the National Literacy Trust’s Words for Life campaign, 29 percent of parents polled think that someone else plays a more important role in their child’s reading than they do (they rated teachers and other members of the family as more influential than themselves). But those parents are wrong. Literacy experts agree that it’s really, really important for young kids to be read to and to have reading modeled to them by their parents. When children aren’t engaged with reading from an early age, they can develop a distaste later on without a foundation for it and far too many kids in elementary school see reading as one big pain in the neck. If that’s the case in your home, then some intervention is needed.

There are three secrets to getting your children to love reading, and they are surprisingly simple: Read yourself, read to your kids and let them read anything to themselves that they want.

You wouldn’t expect your son to learn to drive before he’s watched you behind the wheel for 17 years. You shouldn’t expect him to learn to read before you’ve read and read and read in front of him and to him. We all know that kids do what we do, so if you want your children to be readers, you have to be one, too. The great part is, parents can read just about anything in order to model good reading behavior. As long as we are prioritizing reading over other activities, our children will, too. If I ever find myself getting too busy to read, I read middle grade or young adult novels. By definition, they can be easier to read but equally if not more thought provoking than adult books.

And then read aloud to your children for as long as you can and definitely after they have started to read on their own. Read often during the day, not just at bedtime. Keep books all over the house to make this easy. A basket at the breakfast table, a basket in the car, books in your purse.

And read to children who can read to themselves. Children’s listening comprehension and reading comprehension do not converge until the eighth grade. Therefore, you are able to read books to them that they are not yet able to read to themselves. This activity loads their brain with new vocabulary, comprehension skills and a fantastic model of what fluent reading sounds like. Reading aloud sounds too easy but in fact, as Marilyn Jager Adams, author of Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print (A Bradford Book; 1994) states, “Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.“

Research shows that to be strong and avid readers, children need to read a lot. One study reports that proficient fourth grade readers read for at least two-and-a-half hours a day while the poorest fourth grade readers read for only half an hour a day.

Often we look for magic bells and whistles to get our non-readers reading when the solution is so simple. Let them read what they want to read. Literally think in terms of quantity not quality, at first. Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook (Penguin Books; 2006), states, “Research demonstrates the powerful role that recreational ‘lite’ reading plays in developing good, lifetime readers. Is it classic literature? Of course not. Does it have a better chance of creating fluent readers that the classics would? Definitely. And can it eventually lead to the classics? Yes, and certainly sooner than would The Red Badge of Courage.” So let kids read series books, comic books, e-books. Literally whatever they want.

With secrets revealed, parents can do simple things to encourage their children to read. Without the pressure of flashcards and tutors both parents and children alike can rediscover the joy of a good story and time spent sitting still.


Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mom of two.

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