How to Get Your Kids to Pick Up a Book (On Purpose)


Today is National Read a Book Day, and among all the things I hope to share with my kids, a love for reading is at the top. Books have been like a best friend to me since I was a kid. Although our relationship has ebbed and flowed over the years, I’m still as faithful as ever to the written word. So, how do you get your kids to pick up a book, let alone love reading? Here are six ways that have worked like magic with my four kids, ages 7–14:

1. Start early.

There’s a reason why most hospitals include a bag of books when you take your baby home for the first time. Reading with your kids from the get-go builds social relational skills and gives them a heads up on developing literacy skills. You could research all the statistics on how to build literacy skills from infancy on up, but I prefer not to get bogged down with numbers and just do it instead.

Reading board books with my kids when they were babies was a great way to spend time bonding with them. Plus, I kind of fell in love with children’s literature and soon curated the books I loved reading over and over again. Reading every night became part of our routine. Often, the lessons and words in the stories were as much of a comfort to me as they were to my kids. How could you not cry and feel the warm fuzzies while reading Love You Forever?

2. Read yourself.

The saying “do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t apply to encouraging lifelong readers. Showing your kids that you love reading demonstrates its value—without having to be didactic. And I highly encourage you to read physical books and newspapers. If I’m reading on my screen, my kids tend to think that I’m just getting distracted on Pinterest, which is certainly true at times. Leading by example and disconnecting from the digital world and delving into the world of books yourself is bound to peak your kiddo’s curiosity.

3. Visit the library—and get your child a card.

Before my kids reached school age, I took them to the library all the time—primarily because I needed to get out of the house and engage with other mamas. The library story time was the perfect place to meet other mamas ready to pull their hair out. We’d come home with stacks of books that my kids would spend hours pouring through. Never mind trying to find those same 20 books later; to me, overdue fees have been a small price to pay for expanding my children’s horizons.

And when they’re old enough, you can sign your kids up for their own library card. I definitely recommend going over expectations (i.e., who’s responsible for those overdue fees) when getting them their own card. It’s a fun rite of passage, though.

4. Buy books for your home.

After checking out hundreds of books with your kiddos, it’s only natural that they’ll want to have some of their favorites to keep at home. I love being able to read books for free. But even I like to have my favorites on my shelf to read over and over again. We have dozens of used library books from the Book Cellar at Central Library. Half Price Books is another great source for inexpensive books to add to your personal collection. And of course, there’s always Amazon.

5. Get them their own books.

I love gifting my kids a new book for each birthday and special holiday. I’ll write a little note with the date on one of the first pages, and it kind of commemorates that time in our lives. This is also my chance to handpick books that I secretly want them to read. I recently gave my high schooler his first copy of The Alchemist with hopes that he’ll soak up something of the message without me having to be the mom and express the message to him through nagging. Literature does it so much more eloquently.

6. Listen to audiobooks.

As an alternative to screen time (I’m talking TV and video games), I give my kids free range to listen to our collection of audiobooks. Oftentimes that means I’m sneaking into their rooms after they’re asleep to turn their stories off. But it also means they get even more excited about reading physical copies of the same books, too. I wouldn’t recommend audiobooks as a replacement to reading with your kids. But they are a good way to encourage kids’ love of books without relying on reading. They’re a lifesaver on road trips! Check out my list of Seven Great Audiobooks for Kids for ideas to get you started!

All of these tips can be summed up under the cliche “lead by example,” really. But I like to look at reading as less of a responsibility and more as a hobby to relish in. And when you’re passionate about something, chances are it will rub off on your kids.

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