Life hack

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

These are powerful words, and they speak to the power of reading to open doors to empathy, adventure, and learning. A love of reading doesn’t happen automatically though. It needs to be nurtured and guided until it flourishes into a well-read, well-rounded human being.

That’s why we put together a presentation of some of our favorite ways to help kids learn to love reading, gathered from the contributions of Edutopia’s educators and parents.

As we compiled this presentation, we noticed four major themes:

Choice: Children are more likely to read when their interests are taken into account and they have control of how and what to read.

Availability: Opportunities to read should be plentiful and books (and other reading material) available in all the places children visit.

Safety & Support: Safe, comfortable reading spaces encourage visitors. As do confidence in being able to find the right book and having a reading buddy to read to.

Creativity: Reading a book doesn’t have to be where the story ends. Kids can have fun creatively expressing what they’ve read, and they don’t have to know that they’re also demonstrating their comprehension. 🙂

You’ll find all the tips in the presentation below:

Reading helps us in every area of our lives. It helps us become successful in school and later in our careers and it helps us grow as individuals by either teaching us new information or by allowing us to step into someone else’s shoes. Reading can also help us become more compassionate and empathetic, as well as give us pure enjoyment and relaxation.

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Instilling a love of reading in your child is one of the best gifts you can give them in their life. Here are 11 ways to do just that.

  1. Read to them regularly, with expression and in different voices.
  2. Model reading. Let your child see you read often. It can be cookbooks, magazines, the newspaper, novels or non-fiction.
  3. Talk about the books or articles you have been reading. This is a great thing to do at dinner time. Share the excitement or intrigue you have experienced.
  4. Schedule 30 minutes after dinner or every Thursday evening as “Family Reading Time”.
  5. Start your own “Family Book Club” if your children are between 10-18 years old. If your child is studying a novel in school, why not make that the book for the month?
  6. Buy books where their name appears. This is a fabulous technique for encouraging reluctant readers! It worked brilliantly with me as a child. I used to be the student who would read the first and last chapter of a book, along with the summary, and write a book report. This all changed when my mother bought me a novel with the main character’s name being Erin. Powerful, yet so simple!
  7. Find books that come with a CD either in bookstores or the library so your child can listen and follow along. This is also a fantastic way to encourage reluctant readers or to keep the motivation high for those children who are struggling with learning how to read.
  8. Always give books as at least one part of a birthday, Christmas, Easter, or holiday gift.
  9. Give books “just because” for teamwork tasks (aka chores) being well done or because you noticed them demonstrating a positive virtue like compassion.
  10. Take your child to the library regularly. It could be to participate in a library program or just to hang out and read. What about making every second Sunday your family’s library day and follow it up with a hot chocolate so you can all talk about the books you read?
  11. Read aloud books that have been made into movies and then watch the movie and do a comparison about which was better – the book or the movie. I had read the book “Coraline” to students of mine five years ago and now that the movie is coming out these students who are now teenagers are organizing themselves to meet at the movie theatre to watch it and compare – just like we did as a class with “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”. Beautiful!

Did you learn to love reading as a child? If so, what did the adults in your life do to encourage your passion for reading to grow?

A national reading survey by Scholastic reveals something they’re calling the “decline by nine.” According to the report, the percentage of kids defined as frequent readers—those who read books for fun five to seven days a week— drops from 57% among 8-year-olds to 35% among 9-year-olds. Between ages eight and nine, the number of kids who say they love reading plummets from 40% to 28%. What happens during this year, and more importantly, what can parents do to keep their young readers reading, willingly?

Lauren Tarshis, publisher of Scholastic Classroom Magazines and the author of the bestselling I Survived children’s series, tells me that kids become increasingly autonomous starting in the third grade. And there’s now so much competing for their attention—schedules become packed with sports, extracurricular activities, social events and homework. Also d uring this time, they no longer have adults reading to them or curating books to fit their growing tastes and interests. “As kids get older, fewer see reading as something to do just for fun, and more as something that’s expected of them,” Tarshis says. “The joy begins to fade, and it becomes a chore.” (Third grade also just happens to be the age when most schools begin standardized testing for reading, though the study doesn’t point to this fact.)

As a parent, it can be hard to see your kids’ love for reading dwindle, especially if it was something that once gave them joy. But you can—and should—step in. Here are some ways to prevent the decline.

Don’t stop reading to your kids once they learn how to read

Once kids learn how to read on their own, parents often end the ritual of reading stories aloud. But there’s no reason to—in fact, continuing to read to already-proficient readers can be beneficial. For one, it can help them devour more complicated plots. Explains Jim Trelease, the author of The Read-Aloud Handbook , on GreatSchools : People often say to me, ‘“My child is in fourth grade and he already knows how to read, why should I read to him?” And I reply, “Your child may be reading on a fourth grade level, but what level is he listening at?”’ Also, being part of their reading experience can help you navigate tough topics with them, such as peer pressure and body image.

Use the in-between moments

As kids get older, life gets busier. You can’t expect your kid to get an hour-long stretch of leisure reading time every night before bed—it’s just not realistic. Still, there are opportunities for them to read throughout the day. If you have a kid who always gets ready the fastest in the morning, pull out a favorite chapter book for him to read while the rest of the family catches up (just make sure to sell it as a reward, not a punishment). If you arrive at Tae Kwon Do class ten minutes early, capitalize on those moments, too. A secret is to keep books everywhere—in your bag, in your glove compartment and in every room of your house . Says Tarshis about carving out time to read: “Even if it’s just for a few minutes, those minutes count, and they add up.”

Start a book club with your tween

One of my favorite ideas for helping kids continue their love of reading comes from Lifehacker writer Geoffrey Redick, who suggests starting a book club with your tween . It’s a fun, low-pressure activity he does with his daughter—if she comes to him with a book she’s just read and he can tell she’s excited about it, then he’ll read the book, too, so they can discuss it. “Our talks are informal,” Redick writes. “I don’t ask her to explain symbolism or justify her opinions. We walk, and we chat. Sometimes, she’ll just say the name of a character who died or turned evil. I know what she means. I couldn’t believe it either.” Bonus: Talking about the stories helps the two of them connect in a way that asking “Hey, how was your day?” never could.

Remember that comic books are books

There’s still a notion that comics aren’t “real” literature, or that they’re simply a gateway to help reluctant readers transition from picture books to chapter books. But they can be so much more . If your kid likes them, encourage them to go even deeper into the format. Help them explore genres they might be interested in, such as fantasy, classics or even nonfiction. The New York Times Book Review features new graphic novels that will keep kids reading, geared for readers starting at age 8.

See technology as a bridge—not a barrier—to reading

Yes, screens may play a role in the decline. But Tarshis says “technology doesn’t have to be the enemy.” For kids who love their computers, phones or tablets, she suggests using them as an aid to open new portals. For example, if they follow YouTuber Mike Wilson (formerly known as Coma Niddy), who raps about math and science, look for books on the topics he explores ( string theory or how to find water bears , perhaps?).

Model reading

This may be the most important step. “If kids aren’t surrounded by people who encourage them to read and who read themselves, why would they value it themselves?” says Tarhis, who herself is “a mother to reluctant-turned-voracious readers.” Make an effort to read in front of your kids—books, newspapers and magazines. Read aloud whatever you find interesting. When I was a kid, my mom was always reading some celebrity tabloid at the kitchen table, and she would eagerly share with us the “news” she just discovered (most of it involved Elizabeth Taylor). No, it wasn’t quality literature, but I was still able to catch the excitement she got from words. Read what you like to read, and your kids will find what they like, too. Start early and your kids won’t see reading as a task, but simply a thing that your family does.

Parenting editor, Lifehacker

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


I can’t pinpoint when my reading for fun slowed, but it was somewhere around this age. There were a few factors that really led to that, one of which is explicitly mentioned here—organized sports and running around outside with my idiot friends became far more important to me. That meant that once I got out of school, I was doing that until I had to go inside, which was also bedtime, so I wasn’t supposed to be staying up reading.

This is related to another reason: The appropriate time to be reading never seemed to exist any more. I’d go to read, and always be told I was supposed to be doing something else. Doing homework, go to practice, eat dinner, clean my room , go to bed. I would have been perfectly happy to read while eating, but my mom always (fairly) insisted that I not do that and we eat as a family. But all that meant to me was that I was sitting there eating in silence because I didn’t want to sit and talk to my family during dinner.

The t hird was assigned reading for school . And not like reading for BOOK IT! or choosing books off a summer reading list, but “ here is a list of books you have to read for the year, now read them” . Nothing turned me off quite like being forced to slog through books I didn’t want to read. If the time I had available to me to read was being spent on books I didn’t want to read, I’d rather just not read.

My 10 Favorite Books

  1. The Book Thief
  2. The Little Prince
  3. Anne of Green Gables
  4. A Gentle Creature and Other Stories
  5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  6. A Tale of Two Cities
  7. The Last Battle
  8. The Kite Runner
  9. North and South
  10. Jane Eyre

A t AbeBooks we believe there is something undeniably special about reading. And we don’t just love to read books. We love to talk about them. So over the past few weeks, we’ve asked our Facebook followers to answer a few questions: When did they fall in love with reading? Why? What is their favorite thing about books?

The responses we received were a treat to read. Some, like me, have loved reading since before they even knew how. Others came to appreciate the hobby later in life. I could relate to many of the memories shared. The adventure of having my first library card. The frustration of being continually told by my parents to “take a break” from reading and “go outside.” The wonderful feeling of refreshment that I continue to experience each day that I spend reading a book (most recently C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford).

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Whether we came to love reading at five or at fifty, the experience has become a significant and treasured part of many people’s lives. Here are seven of the most common reasons why.

Benefits of Reading

1. Reading dares you to grow.

Before you can read, you must learn how. You must push yourself to interact with meaningless lines and squiggles until they transform into stories, characters and ideas. And once you master picture books, you move forward to children’s novels. Novels without pictures. Classic literature. Books in foreign languages. Reading is an exercise in perseverance, in which you constantly challenge yourself to achieve more than you did with your last book.

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Children’s (Picture Books)

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Children’s Novels

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Classic Literature

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

Foreign Language Books

2. Reading allows you to experience multiple realities.

We all have a uniquely valuable role in life. But many of us, even if satisfied with that role, often wonder what it would be like to live in a different place, work at a different job, or even be a completely different person. For brief moments of time, books release us from the constraints of our own reality. They take us beyond our world and into someone else’s real or imaginary one. They satisfy the curiosity of the elusive “What if?”.

3. Reading challenges your perspective.

When you experience life through the eyes of another, you encounter diverse angles on life’s most common situations. Talented authors will naturally inspire empathy for their characters, and empathizing with viewpoints different from your own can feel uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable. While reading doesn’t mean that you’ll agree with different perspectives, it does offer you the opportunity to understand them.

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

4. Reading helps you remember.

Reading isn’t only about discovering the new. It’s also a vehicle for reflection. Many bibliophiles can trace their love of reading back to a cherished memory, such as being read to by a parent or discovering the first book they ever loved (Winnie the Pooh, Dr. Seuss or Enid Blyton, anyone?). Re-reading those favorite books, or reading about familiar places, times and people helps us recall the details of our own lives. It reminds us who we are, where we are and how we came here.

5. Reading helps you forget.

Chronic escapism is by no means a healthy habit, but neither is dwelling on stressful life circumstances one hundred percent of the time. In short doses, allowing your mind to focus on things other than your challenges can be highly beneficial and even necessary. Reading, like exercise, offers a safe, healthy and productive replacement for negative thinking. It gives your mind a safe place to rest until you regain the strength you need to overcome your obstacles.

6. Reading means you don’t have to be alone.

During your life, you will experience numerous transitions. Changing schools, jobs or cities may require you to replace old relationships with new ones, and sometimes successful adjustments are harder or take longer than expected. Whether it’s through the comfort of a favorite book or through an emotional connection to relatable characters, books provide a stable source of companionship during the times that you feel the only person you can count on is yourself.

7. Reading brings life.

If you’re a book lover, chances are that you’ve experienced reading to be a rejuvenating activity that renews your energy and elevates your mood. Numerous book lovers have testified that reading gives them purpose, helps them persevere through difficulty and unlocks parts of themselves they didn’t even know existed. For all of the reasons in this article and more, reading makes us feel optimistically, breathlessly, tenaciously alive.

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

One of my favorite quotes is by Marjorie Hinckley, the author of the book Small and Simple Things. In it she says, “The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days waiting for better ones ahead.”

It seems like an easy principle to live by, but in reality many of us live our days fighting the Worry Monster — that constant internal voice that tells us we aren’t doing enough, succeeding enough, gaining enough, earning enough. For our kids, this trickles down into fears like “I won’t be able to pass my spelling test,” “I won’t do well in soccer practice” or “I’m not smart enough or cool enough for my friends. “

So how do we instill tools within our children to help them combat these universal and common anxious feelings? How can our children learn to live in the present rather than worry about the future that has yet to come? Encourage these six simple, practical and healthy habits for daily living:

1. Make a worry list.
Have your child make a list of all his or her worries and fears, both small and large. Just the act of recognizing and writing down worries can sometimes make the scary emotions seem less intimidating for your child. This allows you to identify which worries and fears you want to work on with your child, tackling one by one together.

2. Practice thinking strategies.
Help your children convert their worries into reassurances by teaching them new thinking strategies. For example, if their consistent worry is “I am afraid my mom won’t pick me up from school,” have them replace it with “I know my mom is coming for me because she ALWAYS does.” Together, you can say each worry and fear and come up with new sentences to combat the old. Practice these with your kids until they become habitual replacements for the old, incessant worries. This is a key skill for building resilience.

3. Don’t skimp on sleep.
Make sure your child gets enough sleep on a regular basis. Well-rested equals well-equipped mentally and physically to deal with minor daily stresses. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that 3- to 5-year-olds get 11-13 hours a night, 5- to 12-year-olds get 10-11 hours per night, and teens get 9.25 hours per night (although some do fine with 8.5 hours).

4. Make good nutrition a priority.
Make sure your child gets a steady dose of protein throughout the day. Many kids experience low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar usually occurs a few hours after breakfast and it looks and feels a lot like anxiety: they feel dizzy, start sweating, feel weak, and their heart beats really fast. Staying away from caffeine and energy drinks is also recommended as they mimic the effects of adrenaline and cause people to feel anxious.

5. Get some exercise.
Exercise burns adrenaline. If it’s not already a part of your child’s daily routine, add daily exercise to your child’s plan, and let him know that not only is it good for his body, but it will help keep the Worry Monster away. Exercise can include any activities that your child enjoys such as swimming, shooting baskets, hiking, soccer, dodge ball, tennis, martial arts, jumping rope, rock climbing, bicycling, dancing, gymnastics or yoga. Anything that increases your child’s heart rate will help fight the Worry Monster.

6. Don’t underestimate distraction.
Arm your children with a little healthy distraction. Let them pick a favorite activity such as ten minutes on the computer playing a brain game, time out for reading a favorite book, watching a half hour television show or bike riding around the block — and allow them to do that activity whenever a worry attack comes on. This allows them to combat worry with pleasure and takes their mind off the often paralyzing thoughts and feelings brought on by the Worry Monster. Before you and they know it, they have been distracted from their worries.

All of us experience worry and anxiety, but Worry Warriors know that the trick is to understand how the Worry Monster works, be prepared for his sneaky ways, tackle him head-on and not leave him lurking silently in the closet. We can arm our children to battle their anxious thoughts and engage in life — and we can do the same. By maintaining these six healthy habits, your family can put their worries aside and experience life to the fullest in 2014.

  • Research, Guides and Resources
  • Our PBS Shows
  • Video
  • Blogs
  • Fun Stuff
  • Audience

Helping your children to enjoy reading is one of the most important things you can do as a parent and well worth the investment of your time and energy.

Kids will learn reading skills in school, but often they come to associate reading with work, not pleasure. As a result, they lose their desire to read. And it is that desire – the curiosity and interest – that is the cornerstone to using reading and related skills successfully.

Read aloud

By far the most effective way to encourage your children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them, and the earlier you start, the better. Even a baby of a few months can see pictures, listen to your voice, and turn cardboard pages.

Make this time together a special time when you hold your kids and share the pleasure of a story without the distractions of TV or telephones. You may be surprised to find that a well-written children’s book is often as big a delight to you as it is to the kids.

And don’t stop taking the time to read aloud once your children have learned to read for themselves. At this stage, encourage them to read to you some of the time. This shared enjoyment will continue to strengthen your children’s interest and appreciation.

Keep books around your home

Simply having books, magazines, and newspapers around your home will help children to view them as part of daily life. And your example of reading frequently and enjoying it will reinforce that view.

While your children are still very small, it’s a good idea to start a home library for them, even if it’s just a shelf or two. Be sure to keep some books for little children to handle freely.

Consider specially made, extra durable books for infants, and pick paperbacks and plastic covers for kids who are older but still not quite ready for expensive hardbacks. Allowing little children to touch, smell, and even taste books will help them to develop strong attachments.

How you handle books will eventually influence how your kids treat them. Children imitate, so if they see that you enjoy reading and treat books gently and with respect, it is likely that they will do the same.

Choose books your child will enjoy

When you read aloud together, choose books that you both like. If a book seems dull, put it down and find one that is appealing. There are, however, so many children’s books in print that making the best selections may seem a formidable task.

One approach is to look for award-winning books. There are two famous awards for children’s literature made each year by the American Library Association that are good indicators of quality work: the Caldecott Medal for illustration and the Newbery Medal for writing. But these are given to only two of the approximately 2,500 new children’s books published each year.

Fortunately, there is a lot of other good help available. For instance, there are lists of books recommended by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress and some excellent books to guide parents in making selections.

The best help of all, though, is at your neighborhood library. If you are not familiar with the library, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The children’s librarian is trained to help you locate specific books, books that are good for reading aloud, and books on a particular subject recommended for a particular age group.

The library also has many book lists, including ones like those mentioned above and probably some published by the library itself.

In addition, your library will have several journals that regularly review children’s books, including The Horn Book and Booklist. These will give you an idea of what’s new and worth pursuing.

And there’s nothing like just browsing through the many books available at your library until you find ones that appeal to you and your kids.

If your children are school-aged, keep in mind that the school library is an excellent source for a wide variety of materials and the school librarian is knowledgeable about children’s literature. Encourage your kids to bring home books from their school library for pleasure as well as for their studies.

How to help your kids love reading as much as you do

“Mom! Dad! Can we go to the library to check out a big stack of books? After I do all of my chores, I would really like to spend the rest of the afternoon reading quietly!”

. said no child, ever.

Just kidding. Some kids really do love to read! Actually, it’s natural for children to love to read. And that’s a wonderful thing. Research shows that kids who love to read often have bigger vocabularies, better problem solving abilities, and a higher degree of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to “identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways.”

If you’d like to see your child reading more — especially over the summer holidays, while school’s out of session — there are steps you can take to help that come about. (And no, bribing your child with a scoop of ice cream for finishing Anne of Green Gables is not one of them!)

If your child seems highly-resistant to reading — perhaps because of boring, unpleasant experiences in the past — try to figure out which kinds of books might spark excitement, and start there.

After all, if your child has at least one positive, engrossing, exciting experience with a book, he or she will be far more likely to want to read more!

Ready to ignite a lifelong love affair with books?

Here are 5 questions that can help you to light the first spark:

1. Which movies, TV shows and video games does your child love?

Is your child glued to the Cinderella movie?

Constantly re-playing the soundtrack from Inside Out?

Begging to watch the next episode of the TV show Arthur?

If there’s a plot line that your child already loves, tell them, “How about reading the book version of that [show / film]? I bet it’s got even more details that aren’t in the movie about all the characters you love. Let’s head to the library and see if they have it. “

Someday (hopefully!) your child’s appetite for books will expand beyond the realm of film-and-TV-related titles, but this can be a good place to begin — especially if your child is super-resistant to reading.

2. What is your child passionate about?

Does your child enjoy watching endless YouTube clips of jaw-dropping surf competitions? You could recommend a memoir written by a young surfing champion who has succeeded despite incredible adversity.

Is your child a budding entrepreneur who’d love to make some extra cash over the summer holidays? A book on teen-entrepreneurship could be just the ticket.

Encourage your child to read books on topics that he or she already loves, especially over summer break when there’s less homework and “required reading” to do. This can spark a love of books that may eventually spread, like wildfire, into other topics too.

3. Who are your child’s role models and heroes?

If your child idolizes a particular athlete, actor, musician, celebrity, blogger, writer, or some other public figure, do some Googling and see if you can find out if that person has written a book, has been featured in a book, or has a favorite book of their own (that they’ve mentioned in an interview, for example).

If it’s an age-appropriate book (of course), you can say to your child, “Did you know that [name of hero’s] favorite book of all time is [title]? Would you like to read it, too?”

4. Does your child have a competitive streak?

If so, why not hold a family-wide reading competition?

Create a score chart, put it on the fridge, and have everyone in the household participate. Whoever reads the most number of books (or pages, if you decide that’s more fair) within a set period of time wins a fabulous prize!

The prize could be: a special trip to a theme park, a new t-shirt that your kid has been ogling, an iTunes gift certificate, whatever you deem fair.

Note: this is not “bribery” because you are not trying to persuade your child to comply with the “bare minimum” that is expected in your household. You are rewarding your child for going “above and beyond” and for doing something exceptional (say, reading seven books in one month). There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy competition to get everyone’s book-reading-engines roaring. (Grown ups included!)

5. What are YOU reading these days?

It’s tough to inspire your child to read more if you don’t read much, yourself. You are the single most influential figure in your child’s life, so be sure to model the kind of behavior that you wish to see.

Set aside the phone, laptop and tablet, pull out a great book, and dive in with passion. Talk about what you’re reading around the dinner table. Plan special trips to the library and bookstore. Read together, side by side, both of you snuggled up on the sofa with your books. You can also take turns to read out loud to each other.
If your child sees you reading, and loving it, then he or she will be far more likely to follow in your footsteps.

But you’ve got to take that first step — and turn the first page.

PS. Not sure if a book is going to be OK for your child? Simple solution: read it yourself, first. Bonus: if you pass it along to your child, afterwards, you’ll be able to chat with them about it, book club-style!


Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.

She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back — no matter what has happened in the past.

Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TIME, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and many other places.

Step into her virtual office at, explore her blog or sign up to receive a free meditation and her weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.

Disclaimer: This article, including all of its links, is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your health practitioner before beginning any new health or well-being practice for yourself or your family.

Do you remember the first book you ever read? For me, it was the “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” a famous Norwegian fairy tale complete with fattened goats, a troll, and the quest for greener pastures. I would ask my mom to read me this story almost every night as I would gaze on, listening, absorbing, and connecting the syllables and sounds. Eventually, I made it a habit, spending countless hours reading books and expanding my vocabulary.

As it happens, the whole basis of literacy at home is to encourage and foster children’s building of vocabulary and to instill a sense of joy for both writing and reading. This can be done by first considering what kinds of materials to have on hand and then arranging those materials so that your child has easy access to them. But how does setting up a bookshelf translate into literacy? These four tips can help you discover some ways to get your child leafing through books at home.

1. Focus on Vocabulary

Just as with learning any language, building vocabulary is the most important aspect of literacy. Help your child make an effort to learn new words. You can do this by encouraging her to look up big words as you are reading together instead of skipping over them. Be sure to give your child concise definitions that are easily understood at his level of comprehension. Focus on technical words that children need in order to understand a concept they are currently learning about, such as sonar mapping of the ocean floor for her second-grade science project. Try to find concrete examples of new words when you are out in the community so your child can make connections and reinforce learned vocabulary.

2. Model Good Habits

It’s no secret that children will mimic what they see others around them doing. When children see the adults in their lives using reading and writing, they’re more likely to become readers and writers themselves. Set up a reading nook with a bookshelf of books that you actively engage with. Read literature in magazines and the local newspaper. Read suitable graphic novels together on your child’s iPad. Simply reading or journaling alongside your child as he does his school work emphasizes the importance that these tasks serve in everyday life and will reinforce good habits.

3. Actionable Steps

Looking for some specific tips on what you can do to instill in your child a passion for reading and writing? Dr. Timothy Shanahan is an internationally-recognized professor of urban education and reading researcher who shared his best practices with Reading Rockets, and these were some of my personal favorites:

  • Talk to your kids (a lot). You may be hesitant to use complex words with your youngster, but this actually helps in her development of literacy skills. Research suggests that exposing your child to a variety of words helps to stretch his capabilities and builds up a reservoir for conceptual understanding.
  • Teach phonics and phonemic awareness. Play language games so children begin to recognize sounds and their associations to letters.
  • Have your child tell you a story. Write it down as a dictation, and read it aloud to them. Then, read together what you’ve written. Keep the words your child begins to recognize in a word bank for later review.

To Dr. Shanahan’s list I would add some of my own points:

  • Bargain bins at bookstores offer a great way to save on bringing new books into your home.
  • Have children read the books which go along with a favorite movie, such as Bridge to Terabithia.
  • Watch movies or TV shows with the subtitles switched on.
  • Encourage your child to re-read favorite books and poems. Re-reading helps kids read more quickly and accurately.
  • Help your child to correct his own reading errors through re-reading and asking guided questions.

4. Don’t Forget About Writing!

When discussing literacy, writing can often be overlooked but is just as essential to practice as reading at home. Have them practice writing by asking your child to help you write out the grocery list, a thank you note to Grandma, or to keep a journal of special things that happen at home. When writing, encourage your child to use the letter and sound patterns he is learning at school.

Providing an array of materials, modeling good behavior, and a willingness to devote time every day to practicing reading and writing are bound to cultivate a natural appreciation of these skills. It all starts with one great book. One great book about three billy goats, in my case.

Good reads … picking up a book for pleasure helps with maths as well as spelling and vocabulary. Photograph: RelaXimages/Corbis

Good reads … picking up a book for pleasure helps with maths as well as spelling and vocabulary. Photograph: RelaXimages/Corbis

It won’t surprise anyone that bright children tend to read for pleasure more than their less skilled peers. But does reading for pleasure increase the rate of children’s learning? This is the question Matt Brown and I set out to answer using the British Cohort Study, which follows the lives of more than 17,000 people born in a single week in 1970 in England, Scotland and Wales.

Every few years we interview the study participants to track different aspects of their lives, from education and employment to physical and mental health – an approach that lets us look at what influences an individual’s development over a long period of time.

Of the 17,000 members, 6,000 took a range of cognitive tests at age 16. We compared children from the same social backgrounds who achieved similar tested abilities at ages five and 10, and discovered that those who frequently read books at age 10 and more than once a week when they were 16 had higher test results than those who read less. In other words, reading for pleasure was linked to greater intellectual progress, both in vocabulary, spelling and mathematics. In fact, the impact was around four times greater than that of having a parent with a post-secondary degree.

Reading clearly introduces young people to new words, so the link between reading for pleasure and vocabulary development is expected. But the link between reading for fun and progress in maths may be more surprising. I would suggest that reading also introduces young people to new ideas. Along with teaching them new vocabulary, it helps them understand and absorb new information and concepts at school. Independent reading may also promote a more self-sufficient approach to learning in general.

Some people are concerned that young people today read less in their spare time than previous generations. This is particularly worrying because our research suggests that it is likely to negatively affect their intellectual development. We also know that reading for pleasure tends to decline in secondary school. Our findings emphasise how important it is for schools and libraries to provide access to a wide range of books and help young people discover authors they will enjoy.

Another question we asked was whether the effects of reading for pleasure continue into adult life. We will soon be able to find out, thanks to the 1970 cohort members who were interviewed again in 2012, at the age of 42. We asked them once more about their reading habits, and about many other aspects of their lives.

The study will continue to follow them as they age, when we will be able to examine whether reading protects them against cognitive decline. Without the extraordinary generosity of these people, who by happenstance find themselves in our study, we couldn’t research these and other vital questions.