Read Across America Day: How to Encourage Kids to Read
It’s Read Across America Day! Celebrated every year on Dr. Seuss’s birthday and created by the National Education Association, Read Across America Day encourages children all over the country to read and engage with books.
There are countless benefits to raising your kids to be readers, and there are steps you can take as a parent to encourage your kids to read and to instill a love of reading in them from a young age.
We sat down with Dr. Terry Salinger, chief literacy researcher at the American Institutes for Research, and Dr. Katherine Stahl, clinical professor at New York University, about how parents can encourage their kids to read.
Psst… Here are events to celebrate Women’s History Month in NYC and nearby!
Bolster Your Kid’s Literary Taste
From a young age, kids have an idea of what they enjoy reading.
“Even very young children are entitled to preferences,” Salinger says.
As a parent, it’s important to be “very generous in allowing kids to choose what they are reading,” even if “it may not be what we think is the most high quality literature,” Stahl says.
Salinger says parents can help their children develop their personal literary tastes early on by “varying the kinds of books that children are given,” paying attention to the kinds of books their kids enjoy reading and “then taking advantage of that observation” by helping to find more similar books.
Don’t Discourage Repeat Reading
It might get monotonous to read the same storybook before bed every night, reading the same stories multiple times is actually beneficial.
Stahl says repeat reading can help kids who are learning how to read develop print concepts, which can be described as how print works and how text can convey messages.
It also gives them the opportunity to gain more repetitions reading things like high frequency words, commonly used words that children are encouraged to memorize by sight.
“The way children recall high frequency words is they need to have a number of exposures to them so that they can begin to see those not as individual letters but as a word unit,” Stahl says.
Read Aloud to Your Kids
Reading out loud to your kids is one of the best ways to welcome them into the world of reading.
“Allowing children into that world is really powerful,” Salinger says.
While we tend to associate reading aloud to children with stories before bedtime, it can also include involving children in the reading you do in your everyday life, like reading recipes, road signs and more.
Explain What You’re Reading and Why
When you’re involving your kids in the reading you do in your everyday life, it’s important to explain what you’re reading and why.
Telling your children that you’re reading a news article to get informed, reading a recipe to make dinner or reading a novel for your enjoyment “explains the value, the reason, the importance” of reading that “surrounds the whole home environment,” Salinger says.
When parents do this, “the purposes of reading are very obvious to kids right from the very beginning of the relationship” and it helps them develop a stronger relationship with reading, Salinger says.
Make Reading a Family Affair
Encouraging reading doesn’t have to stop with your little ones! Make reading something you do with the whole family.
One way Stahl recommends reading doing this is by organizing a family book club. Pick a new genre or theme every month, and then meet as a family to discuss what you read and what you learned.
“That’s a special kind of reading time that you have together,” Stahl says.
You can also include family members and loved ones that don’t live in your household.
Stahl says you can schedule in-person or virtual read aloud times with family members like grandparents or ask family members to record themselves reading stories so you can build your own recorded story time library.
Bedtime Stories Don’t Have Age Limits
Mentioning reading at bedtime conjures up the image of a parent and young child reading a picture book together before the parent tucks the child in for the night.
But connecting with your child through reading doesn’t have an expiration date.
“Reading at bedtime doesn’t have to stop, and reading with one’s child doesn’t have to stop either,” Salinger says. “The bedtime story is not just for lulling preschoolers and kindergarteners to sleep.”
When your kids get older, storytime can look like setting aside time for you and your child to independently read the same thing and then talking about what you read.
Doing this is a way to continue to connect with your kids through reading, even after they’ve outgrown being tucked into bed at night.
“Having that ongoing dialogue about books is, I think, really important,” Salinger says.
In addition to allowing you to continue to encourage your children to read, talking to them about shared reading gives them the opportunity to practice engaging in text-based discussions at home.
Salinger says these conversations at home will help kids feel more comfortable expressing their opinions about texts in other settings like school.
“It’s such good practice, mental practice, and it builds confidence,” Salinger says.
Be Flexible When It Comes to Tech
Technology has changed a lot of what we do, and that includes reading. Salinger advises parents to recognize that “some kids are probably going to gravitate much more toward reading online” and “be really flexible in how they think about technology.”
If your kids opt to read on an e-reader or a tablet, it’s still reading, even if they don’t have a physical book in front of them.
Use Your Libraries
Libraries contain a wealth of resources, the most well-known of which include more than enough books to keep your little ones reading for years.
Stahl says borrowing books from the library can be a better choice than constantly buying new books.
“It’s much more economically sound, whether you have money or not,” Stahl says. “I mean, books aren’t cheap anymore.”
There’s also something unique about the library as an institution, Stahl says while fondly recounting her own childhood trips to the library with her grandmother.
“There’s just something special about walking into that library,” Stahl says. “It’s just a special kind of place.”
Libraries also have engaging literacy programs specifically for young children, which provide something invaluable: other people to read with.
“Those are things that you really want to take advantage of and those can really help your child become part of a literacy community,” Stahl says.
Take a Reading Field Trip
Both Stahl and Salinger say that taking field trips are a great way to encourage reading. An easy and low-cost reading field trip can be as simple as a trip to your local library.
Stahl says being able to go in and check out books can be turned into a special activity, especially for younger children.
Other field trips to places like museums, zoos and aquariums can be great ways to encourage reading.
“Reading about the things to be seen, actually reading the legends on displays – which have become much more child-friendly in most places – and looking for books in the gift shop” are all ways parents can motivate their children to read while spending time with them, Salinger said.
Set Up a Reading Spot In Your House
Giving children a dedicated spot for reading is another way to make reading enticing.
“Creating a space [for reading] in your home, that makes it special,” Stahl says.
It doesn’t take much to create these dedicated reading spaces at home. Even a set up with a small shelf and a bean bag chair can be enough to signal to a child that this is their reading space.
Any family can take steps to making reading a staple in their children’s lives.