5 Tips to Encourage Kids to Read Independently

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If you like practical suggestions for overwhelmed moms, this one is for you! I'm honored my friend Amy wrote this post for us, as she is a treasured sounding board to me for so many facets of my life. Her joy and passion for homeschooling are contagious and her tips below are perfect for simple steps that can inspire readers of all ages!

I love books.

And I love reading books.  I think this is evident by the stack of books on my nightstand and strategically placed piles around our house (much to my poor husband’s chagrin!).  We are in dire need of more book shelves around here!  It can’t possibly be that we have too many books (ha!).

I have wonderful memories of my childhood teachers reading aloud to us after recess each day.  My third grade teacher chose all Roald Dahl books.  We discovered The BFG and Fantastic Mr. Fox and entered many other fantastical realms involving giant peaches, chocolate factories & great glass elevators.  We even wrote Mr. Dahl a letter – and he wrote us back!

I was the kid that saved her allowance money to spend on book orders as a kid.  Likewise, as a teacher, I spent precious pennies on books to share with my classes of students.

For the Love of Reading

There is tons of research out there about how reading aloud – just a few minutes a day – does amazing things for kids of all ages!  It helps develop vocabulary and writing skills.  It aids in understanding story concepts (like character, setting & plot) and a host of other things.

But – confession time – I really struggle with reading aloud to my kids at home.

It’s hard to talk over 5 other people (my people REALLY love to talk!).  I get frustrated by interruptions from little people wanting to see the pictures or asking questions (or just making noises, because, well, babies do that).  It’s hard to find a single story that will appeal to the teenager and the 2 year old and everyone else in between.  And I have yet to find multiple spots in the day to fit in multiple read aloud times.

I have, however, found some things that have helped encourage reading in our home – even if it’s not ME reading aloud.

Audio books

Audio books have saved us MANY times!!  I set my phone in a glass on the table (poor man’s speaker) and we listen to stories as we eat lunch.  This was an especially great tactic for night shift months.  The kids stayed quieter to hear the story giving my husband a better chance to sleep!  We’ve listened to audio books in the car on long road trips, too.

You can find audio books in many places.  Our public library has an app that allows you to download books for free for a period of time (just like checking out a physical book).  Check with your local library to see if they offer one, too.  Librivox is an app/website with free stories.  They have many, many classics – but the quality varies as the readers are all volunteers.  (One of our favorite readers is Karen Savage).  Audible is a big source for audio books, across multiple genres.  You can get Audible deals through Amazon when purchasing a print book (they sometimes throw in the audio book for free or at a reduced cost).  You don’t need an audible account to listen to the books purchased through Amazon – you only need your Amazon account!  Simple Homeschool keeps a wonderful, updated list that I have often consulted for free & discounted Audible books.

Movies

Another way to create interest in books is with movies.  I know many families that view movies AFTER their child completes a book.  We often celebrate the completion of novels with a movie viewing here!  It’s an enjoyable way to end a literature unit.  And I love that it naturally brings out literary opinions and comparing and contrasting without me having to try to direct a conversation.

Field Trips & Travel

There are some books that naturally encourage further exploration or field trips.  Books with animal characters followed by visits to a zoo or farm are a fun way to expand on a story.  Or maybe you attend an event or class or historic site having to do with the story.  Attend a live Shakespeare play, visit a one-room schoolhouse like the one Laura Ingalls Wilder attended, read Robin Hood and try archery.

And, conversely, sometimes field trips encourage kids to read books!  A few years ago, we attended a family wedding in St. Louis and stretched our trip a couple days to accommodate visiting tourist sites – including those having to do with the Lewis & Clark expedition.  I assigned the book, The Captain’s Dog, to my oldest as one of his novels that year in preparation for the trip.  He loved sharing what he’d learned in the story with us and opted for an unabridged version of the Lewis & Clark diaries as his souvenir.  And, then, between his sharing and experiencing the places we visited, his younger brother was inspired to pick up The Captain’s Dog and read it on the drive home!

Dedicated Space

My kids all take books to bed & enjoy reading on the living room couch, but I feel like having a ‘special’ place JUST for reading has really encouraged them in this habit.  We turned the formal dining room in our house into our “library”.  Calling it a library makes it sound so much fancier than it really is.  It has a big bookcase we didn’t want to carry upstairs when we moved, a small bookcase I’ve had since high school, and two over-sized chairs handed down to us. (My friend’s daughter , upon hearing we had a library IN our house, thought we must live in a mansion - ha!).  We are nowhere near the level of the library nirvana in Beauty & the Beast (swoon) or even Mr. Darcy, but it is one of the favorite rooms in the house for many of us.  It doesn’t have to be a whole room in your house.  The corner of a room, a bean bag chair, or corner of the couch can work just as well!

In addition to physical space, having space in the daily routine for reading is important.  My kids often bring books to read in the car for short (and long) drives.  I am totally okay skipping the radio to allow them to keep their noses in books!  Nap time for the little people is quiet time for the big people and it’s a great time to fit in some QRT (Quiet Reading Time).  And another way we devote dedicated time to reading is by participating in the Read-Aloud Challenge.

Read-Aloud Challenge

We have participated in the Read-Aloud Challenge hosted at Read Aloud Revival three or four times.  This is a great – and EASY – way to encourage a love of reading!  Kids can read aloud to themselves, you, a sibling, a pet, a stuffed animal – whatever works best!  I’m always surprised how quickly the minutes add up just by reading 10 minutes a day.  I love that it gets my big kids to read to their younger siblings (and buys me a few extra moments of quiet(er) time!).  And it encourages ME to sit and read to my little people, too.  You can sign up for the Read Aloud Challenge here.

Encouraging a love of reading is a wonderful goal to pursue.  Whatever little things you do to encourage a habit of reading at home, it’s worth it!!

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