Motivating Kids to Read

Father Reading to his Son, Sitting in an Armchair
Digital Vision/PhotoDisc/Thinkstock

The editors of Focus on the Family magazine asked parents how they've created a culture of reading in their homes. Their answers were surprisingly creative and practical:

Book Bingo

I gave my son a blank bingo card and helped him fill in each square with a reading-related activity. Some squares had book titles he wanted to read or the names of people he wanted to read aloud to or share the plot of a story with. Reading the Bible and writing a short letter to a family member about a story he'd read were also activities included in the bingo squares. Each time an activity was completed, I put a sticker in that square. Once he earned a bingo, he got to choose a reward, such as a trip to the library or skipping a chore that week.

—Diane Stark

The Reading Hour

"Can I stay up 10 more minutes?" I took that frequent request and transformed it into a reading tool. I had one simple rule: You can stay up an extra hour after bedtime, but only if you spend that hour quietly reading.

My kids gladly spent their extra hour reading page after page. I let the kids read comic books and graphic novels on the weekend, but I saved weeknights for character-building novels and educational nonfiction.

—Jessica Snell

An Audio Approach

I couldn't get my second-grader to read. I tried several different approaches: I read to him, gave him books that were under his reading level and allowed him to pick the topics. None of it worked.

My stepmom, a literacy specialist, asked, "Have you tried audio books?"

Why would I let him get away with listening to a book rather than reading it? I thought. However, I was desperate, so I gave it a try.

From the start, I was amazed at how much he loved listening to books. There were days he spent hours in his room listening.

Gradually, I noticed less fighting from him when I asked him to read. Then he started taking books with him everywhere. The audio books even helped him read dialogue with voice changes. I was pleasantly surprised that my son developed a love for reading through audio books.

—Erica Sirratt

Book Towers

My two boys love to compete with each other, so I held a "book tower" contest. After a book was read, my kids would stack it on the last book read. Whoever had the tallest book tower at the end of the month was the winner. This activity was both fun for my children and motivated them to read more.

—Courtney Roberts

Bringing Books to Life

I have found that my kids love to read about things that they can experience. Before taking them to the petting zoo, I researched what animals would be on hand and then found books at the library about these animals. My children were excited to read the books because they knew they would soon be petting these animals.

—Jessica Tyson

Reading Between the Times

Seven-year-old Samuel and I sat on a towel in the shade. His hair was summer-swim wet, and his hands were wrapped around our tattered copy of Charlotte's Web. He read slowly but clearly.

Reading and fun in the sun. Both are key to my children's development. But shimmying books between baseball games and bike rides? Potential stressor. When my two older boys were small, I scheduled our days. Morning meant reading. Afternoon was for fun. But the boys resisted. They wanted to run, climb trees and make forts in the backyard. Books became a battleground.

With Samuel, however, I've hit a more gentle flow. Reading has become integrated — not separated. When we go to the park, I pack a book. My swim tote holds a book sealed in a plastic bag. There's always an inviting place to read. Sam will need rest and a snack sometime. Playing in the yard can bring tender moments for page turning under our old maple when fun-spent bodies are quiet and still. And real-life adventures can blend with those on the printed page.

—Shawnelle Eliasen

Free Parent-Child Discussion Questions 

Sign in to get great discussion questions that parents can ask kids for over 1,000 children's and young adult books.

Or use the "Reading for Fun" file in this set of downloads. The "Parent-Child Book Club" sheet can be used with any book that your child reads, and the full download contains even more — a book scavenger hunt and a boardgame that helps motivate kids to read more.

The whole download is set up so that you can customize it to each of your children's reading needs. Enjoy!

—Sheila Seifert

Help for Struggling Readers

When my twin boys began learning to read, I discovered that success came more slowly for some kids than for others. At the end of six months, one son was reading Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books; my other son still couldn't sound out the word it. I sought a reading specialist for advice. Here's what helped us:

Auditory games. We practiced rhyming words, as well as words that begin with the same sound. In one fun rhyming game, I would point to a body part and ask my boys to name it and come up with a rhyming word. I usually pointed to an arm, eye, hair, leg or nose. We'd also pay attention to sounds that were easily confused, such as the j and g in jar and guitar. (To practice these and other sounds, you can search for "phonics games" online.)

Memorization. After learning the alphabet in order, we memorized a scrambled version using the beat of a metronome. My sons learned to say common alphabet sounds, on beat, and in random order. We also used this method to learn Fry's first 100 sight words.

Today my sons are in the sixth grade and are confident readers. My son who initially had trouble reading now gives me plot advice for the Adventures in Odyssey "The Imagination Station" book series for first- and second-graders. But he won't read them because he says they're too easy. After the struggle it was to get him to read, I can live with that!

—Marianne Hering

Helping Your Reluctant Readers

When Owen started second grade 20 words under the reading benchmark, my husband and I knew it was time to do something. But how could we motivate a boy who found reading frustrating and insurmountable?

Owen loved football, so we used trading cards as a reading reward — one card for every 10 minutes he read to us. Two keys helped this method work: The rewards were easily achievable, and we constantly replenished his supply of interesting reading material.

By the end of second grade, Owen's reading level was 15 words above the benchmark, and we felt like we had scored a touchdown.

—Kim Harms

Finishing the School Year Strong

My kids begin the spring semester with a bang but often lose steam as the term rolls on. To keep them motivated and engaged during the final months of the school year, our family posts a special calendar that is enhanced with stickers and color-coded for each child. We highlight the holidays and events the kids look forward to, such as spring break, weekend getaways or parties. Books that have to be read are scheduled out by dividing the number of pages by the number of weeks until the due date, so our kids know how much to read each week. Long-term projects are divided the same way. Extracurricular activities, such as recitals, tournaments and so on, are also placed on the calendar.

We keep a pen near the calendar so our kids can mark off completed tasks and the days that go by. They enjoy having something to work toward, and they feel a sense of accomplishment. Before we know it, projects are completed, books are read — and we're ready for summer!

—Marcy Lytle

Little Ways to Raise a Reader

When our second child didn't like reading, I used simple strategies to make reading more fun. I asked her to read a book that included food, and then we made the food found in the book. If it included muffins, we would make muffins. We also explored nonfiction books that interested her, such as butterflies and horses. And spreading out a blanket at the park for reading also became a favorite activity — a reading date.

—Brooke Kramb

4 Ways to Motivate Kids to Read

If you're looking for more ideas on this topic, you might want to read the PluggedIn blog post called "4 Ways to Motivate Kids to Read" to get a few more ideas.

"Book Bingo," "The Reading Hour," "An Audio Approach," "Book Towers" and "Bringing Books to Life" first appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "How I Get My Kids to Read." "Reading Between the Times" first appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine; "Help for Struggling Readers" first appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "How to Help a Struggling Reader"; "Helping Your Reluctant Readers" first appeared in the December 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine; "Finishing the School Year Strong" first appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine; "Little Ways to Raise a Reader" first appeared in the April/May 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. The compiled article "Motivating Kids to Read" first appeared on FocusOnTheFamily.com (2016). If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.

"Book Bingo" © 2019 by Diane Stark. "The Reading Hour" © 2019 by Jessica Snell. "An Audio Approach" © 2019 by Erica Sirratt. "Book Towers" © 2019 by Courtney Roberts. "Bringing Books to Life" © 2019 by Jessica Tyson. "Motivating Kids to Read" compiled article © 2016 by Focus on the Family. "Reading Between the Times" © 2012 by Shawnelle Eliasen; "Help for Struggling Readers" © 2011 by Focus on the Family ; "Helping Your Reluctant Readers" © 2011 by Kim Harms; "Finishing the School Year Strong" © 2013 by Marcy Lytle; "Little Ways to Raise a Reader" © 2015 by Brooke Kramb. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: The Benefits of Reading to Your Children

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