My almost 11-year-old loves to read. I actually can’t keep up with her when it comes to book supply (despite our regular visits to our local library).
But it wasn't always this way.
Even with me doing all the right things — like reading to her daily from babyhood and encouraging her as she proudly poured over her first 'real' leveled reader — my daughter was actually quite reluctant when it came to reading independently. “No, you read, Mom. You read better,” she would say whenever I encouraged her to read to me.
Ironically, our daily read-aloud time had something to do with her reluctance. My imaginative, creative kiddo loved nothing more than being carried away by the story, and we had enjoyed many together. Reading herself? Well, that took more time, effort, and concentration on her part. And how can one enjoy the actual story when there's all of that decoding of words to be done?
My daughter needed to feel like she was a "real reader" and that the effort to read on her own was worth it. These tactics encouraged her to keep working towards becoming the voracious, independent reader she is today.
1. Take a step back with reading material.
Familiar books are easier to decode, which helps a child to build both fluency and confidence. The key is to find easy reads your child happens to love, which is what happened with both the Elephant & Piggie and Fly Guy book series. The Elephant & Piggie series was cleverly crafted for early readers, and the humor, carefully scripted text, and conversational, comic book style makes them a wonderfully engaging beginning reader series. (Browse the books in the Elephant & Piggie series.)
A step up in difficulty, the Fly Guy books are structured as basic, first chapter books, including large type, simple text, and gripping, humorous storylines. (Check out the parent's guide to Fly Guy.)
These two series were so engaging, my daughter was encouraged to make the effort to read. Plus, compared to leveled school readers, she was reading a "real" book, with the focus on story over decodable text, which in turn helped her to see herself as an actual reader.
Similarly, we would reread old favorites — beloved picture books from our family collection. Even when I felt my daughter was reciting the text more by heart than actually reading it, I would count this as a reading win. I would encourage her to slow down, pointing to the words as she read, and once she was done I would make a game of playing seek-and-find games with the words in the book. For example, I might ask, “How many times can you find the word ‘the’ on this page (or in this book)?” or “Can you find (and read) three words starting with a ‘p’ sound?”
(I should note, we did make the time to keep reading the school-allocated leveled readers as well.)
2. Show them how well they’re doing.
To encourage my daughter to see herself as a reader, we started keeping a simple list of the books that she could actually read. Each time she read a book, be it a new title or an old favorite, we would add it to the list. This motivated her to read more, and she would go looking for all of the books that she thought she might be able to read — including board books from her baby days! Once each book was read, it went on the list.
3. "Strew" books wherever your kid hangs out.
Have you ever heard of the homeschooling term "strewing"? Simply put, strewing is the process of putting toys into a learning space to further a child’s curiosity and engagement. Well, I decided to strew with books. I would hunt down books that I thought might be of interest to my daughter and leave them lying about the house where she was likely to come across them.
My local library was a wonderful source of books to strew and I would regularly scour the shelves for picture books with captivating illustrations or beginner chapter books that I thought would be of interest. I found the key was really to keep trying a variety of books and other reading materials, to see which would capture her interest and motivate her to read.
4. Reel them in with a series.
In your search for books to strew, always be on the lookout for books available as part of an ongoing series. There are so many book series available now, for readers at all different levels, and the magic of your child falling in love with a series is the promise of more with each book in the series.
Given time, my daughter slowly moved away from Elephant & Piggie and Fly Guy and onto other series, including a LONG obsession with the Rainbow Magic fairy books! I vividly remember her love of the Dork Diaries books and then later, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.
Often, I'd start off by reading aloud the first book to see if the series was of interest to her. The greatest reward would be when my daughter would rush into me the following morning declaring, “Mom, I couldn’t wait for you! This morning I read more of our fairy book — don’t worry, I’ll tell you what happened.”
She’s read many, many series now (her most recent obsession is the exciting Wings of Fire series) and each time, she’s desperate to read the next book in the series from the very moment she turns the last page of the previous title.
5. Keep reading aloud.
It might seem contradictory, given that I am sure it was our read-aloud time that led to my child’s initial reluctance to become an independent reader, but I am a huge advocate of reading aloud to children at all stages of their reading journey. Regularly sharing the wonder of books with your child provides them with such a valuable model. Plus, the time spent together reading really can be simply magical.